Blog Post

Nothing But Air?

I think Apple made a few too many assumptions when creating the MacBook Air (MBA), but will that translate to a failed product? I highly doubt it.


The Developer Assumption

I think Apple made three assumptions when developing the MBA for the subnotebook demographic:

  • Subnotebook users regularly use WiFi hotspots
  • Subnotebook users will not use their notebooks at home
  • Subnotebook users have another computer at home

I’ve found free WiFi hotspots in my area and I seem fortunate enough to be surrounded by a few, but I imagine the average traveler would rely more on an Edge/3g card than a hotspot. So while you’re MBA may be completely wireless, I would argue not as many folks will use it now as in the future.

As a subnotebook, I imagine the MBA will suffice for day to day chores: internet surfing, document editing, etc. Does that mean I can’t use this at home more heavily? Will I not be able to edit photos? Edit films with iMovie? Maybe I’m an extreme case, but from Panther to Tiger, I ran my life around nothing more than an iBook G3 with 900 MHz. Slow yes, but it worked. So I have a bit of faith for the MacBook Air. Will it work as well as a MacBook Pro? That’s a resounding “NO.” So why differentiate into this new market? Frankly, because of the third assumption.

What People Expect Isn’t What They Need

Apple has to assume you have another computer at home to make use of the MBA. I think that’s another reason people are puzzled over it. People seem to equate SUBNOTEBOOK for a CHEAP entry into the Mac lineup. You want cheap and entry you get a Mac Mini. You want thin and portable, you get the MacBook Air. That said people may think Apple has stepped too far too quickly. In doing so they short-sided functionality with form. So I question, if you’re unhappy with the MacBook Air, why? What would you add to it that wouldn’t have you opt for a MacBook or a MacBook Pro instead?

People said the same thing with the Smart Phone market when the iPhone was released. It faced strong criticism that the market was too small for any new, dominant player to take over. So why can’t the same be said for the subnotebook market? Perhaps with Apple’s entrance into it, a revitalization will occur, and people will begin to find niche uses for it. Think of the student. I could see the MacBook Air becoming the dominant dorm staple. It’ll get you to class, it’ll write your papers, it’ll hook up to an external monitor, and it’ll edit a movie or song for you. It won’t do it as well as the MacBook Pro, but it will do it in an extremely small, justifiable space. I think cost then, would be the only deterrent for this product. If cost is an issue, why aren’t you settling for a MacBook?

21 Responses to “Nothing But Air?”

  1. Derek Bolander

    Unlike the prevailing web opinion of the MacBook Air only being a secondary computer, I believe it is much more than that.

    I think that it can very much be a primary computer for most folks. Posters this ate and others are not most folks. Most people, especially road warriors work mostly with the web, office documents, and email. But beyond that the MacBook Air will still perform admirably.

    You’ll notice many HD cams moving to USB. While we all love our FireWire, there is overwhelming market acceptance of USB and inertia from Intel’s baby is too much to fight.

    The MacBook Air represents a strategy perhaps for Apple’s entire product line. Centralized storage lightens the need for local storage and remote optical media reading begins to wean us from from a legacy medium.

    In May, we celebrate ten years of the iMac. It compelled the entire industry to embrace simplicity and ditch legacy. Few at the time would have believed that Apple would go on to sell millions. I think MacBook Air represents a continuation of this less is more philosophy. I won’t be surprised to see the entire product line move in this direction. Something really is in the air.

  2. We must assume that Apple have done their market research and it’s a very slick machine, although not for me.

    Like a great many people, what I wanted was a faster 12″ PB that’s a bit lighter and thinner, not least because I can get the lid open when I’m sitting in economy class and it’s about the same size as my A4 (i.e. non-US standard) paper.

    Now that I know I’m not going to get what I actually want, I might just settle for a white MacBook with lots of memory as a reasonable upgrade, and wait to see what happens with the Air in a couple of years.

  3. Arvin Dang

    @DBL & Rich: I understand the value of Firefire for editing films. When expressing the ability to edit films I was expressing more the processing capabilities of the MBA, not the transfer ability. So yes, firewire would be a huge issue in dealing with it getting film across. However I still think with Bluetooth proliferating even cameras, maybe one day wireless won’t be such a bad way to go?

    I’m very curious to see how Apple would have faired if they created a 12 inch super thin notebook. Would people have knocked it for not having a full size screen? But I sort of was looking for the 12 inch powerbook as inspiration as well. I imagine there’s more coming to it in the near future, so we’ll see where they go with it.

    I know one guy commented he was going to pick one up. But anyone else actually purchase the MBA specifically for it’s portability and functionality? Or does everyone seem to share the same common regrets?

  4. BTW, if you ask me, the real 12-inch PB replacement would just add dual cores and kept everything else the same (dedicated graphics, etc). Maybe add a FW800 port and Gigabit. THAT I would buy for $1,800.

    All Apple had to do was just deliver an update for the 12-inch PB. Was that so hard? I suppose the answer is yes.

  5. I’m an owner of a 12-inch Powerbook which is my main machine as well as mobile workstation. At home I use it connected to an external 22-inch LCD, keyboard and mouse and run it off an external Firewire desktop hard disk. It’s a great little machine that to me is the perfect desktop for the everyman. If this MacBook Air is supposed to be a replacement, I’m not buying it.

  6. “It’ll edit a movie…”

    And, pray tell, how do I get this wonderful footage into my MacBook Air?

    I’m working on a project right now to shoot video and edit it on the spot for review at a seminar. The “Air” would be a perfect box to use to capture the video because of its light weight…but the lack of FireWire makes it completely useless for the task. Hey, I don’t mind using a MB or MBPro for the task, but Apple missed the mark here–big time. A Mac without FireWire is too hobbled for any serious work I might throw at it.

  7. >> Edit films with iMovie?

    How the hell are you gonna get the film footage into the computer? Also, USB drives are not suitable for video-editing onto directly, because of USB’s high CPU overhead. So you would have to use another computer with FireWire to transfer the footage, and then you would have to transfer that footage to a USB drive (can’t reliably capture directly to the drive, again because of the USB overhead), and THEN copy the footage a THIRD time to the Air’s internal drive, and then hope you don’t run out of space, because if you do — you’re completely screwed.

    The lack of FireWire in the Air shows that Apple is abandoning the idea of unifying the ‘digital lifestyle’ and instead is now working to fracture it. It gives the lie to Apple’s emphasis on putting media-rich tools in the hands of average users, and shows that the Apple of 2007 is a company working at cross-purposes to itself and, most surprisingly, becoming confused about its mission and its identity.

  8. Skeptical

    As a prospective Apple notebook purchaser, it is difficult to see the advantage of the MacBook Air. I looked at the specs on the Apple website and it seems like a stripped down, light-weight, more expensive MacBook. If you do a lot of traveling, it seems unlikely you can consistently get by without an optical drive. If you are in a hotel room or in an office environment, and you need to connect to your host’s high speed internet, there is no ethernet connection. Moreover, there is no slot for a mobile wireless card so the machine is apparently totally dependent on accessing a wi-fi network. The only big plus seems to be the weight. Am I missing something?

  9. I think you’re missing the point. My main criticism of the Macbook Air is that it isn’t small enough. It isn’t a subnotebook. It’s thin, and thin can mean small, but mostly it just means thin.

    I genuinely don’t understand why everyone thinks a 13-inch screen, and a ‘full size’ keyboard, is a good thing. If the Air had a 12-inch widescreen panel, a smaller foot print, and was 1/2 a pound lighter, then even at the current price, it be a far better product.

    I do think the choice of WiFi rather than EDGE or even 3G is correct though, for international travellers at least, who have to pay extortionate data roaming charges. The lack of ethernet and internal optical drive is also no big deal, although the lack of user repalceable battery when the battery life is only 5 hours (not even enough to make it through a trans-atlantic flight) is a bit of an eyebrow raising decision.

    The Macbook Air is, unfortunately, not the replacement for the much beloved and mourned 12-inch Powerbook. Which surely is their target market? Who else except the battle weary international travellers could possibly afford it?

  10. Perhaps it is a “grandma/grandpa laptop” in terms of functionality, but don’t most of them just need a desktop or at worst a MacBook? Why would grandma and grandpa pay such a huge premium to have a thin laptop?

  11. ziggybop

    Along with the MBAs who will want the MBA, this is a ma & pop, grandpa and grandma laptop.

    Thin, light, an art piece with a large screen. The MBA is everything a fairly well off elder is going to want in a laptop.

    Firewire, ethernet, WTF? Just let me email the kids, see their photos/videos and attempt to decipher Medicare Part D.

  12. I only disagree with the “Subnotebook users will not use their notebooks at home” bit: I think the MacBook Air is a great computer to have at home, to carry over to your bed or the bathroom or whatever — it’s basically the ideal Remote Desktop client computer.

    And I think editing movies on the Air is out of the question when you consider the hard drive’s speed and size, and the lack of Firewire port. Which is the only thing I really consider a flaw — you can’t carry a MacBook Air with you while you’re traveling if you intend to offload video from your camcorder to your hard drive every night at the hotel.

  13. The only issue with the MBA for me is the price. I have a MacPro that does everything I need at home, but I’d love to have a 2nd computer for typing on the go, travel, coffee shop, etc…

    But I can’t justify $1800+tax, etc (let alone 3k for the SSD) on a “2nd computer”.

    Too bad. Had it been closer to $1100-$1400, then maybe, but at nearly $2k, no thanks.

  14. Another place Apple stepped out on a limb and succeeded was the original Imac and dropping the floppy drive. People absolutely lost touch over that, and yet Apple’s look into where people were headed was correct.

    Now they’ve pushed a bit further with the MacBook Air. It is a great companion to a desktop machine.

    I think they’ll be found to be successful again when the smoke clears.