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Friday, January 18, 2008

Macbook Air Analysis

The non-Mac-fanboy analysis of the new Macbook Air is very interesting. Here are a couple of blog entries by others:
Both of them miss the really obvious point: portability constraints aren't usually caused by the Z dimension (i.e., thickness). They're caused by the X and Y dimensions (breadth and length). When trying to stuff a laptop into a Carradice saddlebag, for instance, the limitation is not thickness but length and breadth. Similarly, that's also the constrained when you have a small backpack, suitcase, or when trying to use the machine on an airliner's seat-back tray. In fact, I don't see how a thin laptop helps anywhere in the area of portability, other than squeezing the weight down to 3 pounds, which my Thinkpad X-series laptops have always been at, and those laptops have far fewer compromises in terms of available ports, features, and price.

Obviously, if you want a 3 pound Mac, you have no choice but to get the Macbook Air. However, as a practical matter, it is not terribly portable, and not especially light. For the price of the Macbook Air, you can buy a fully loaded EEE PC, and still have enough change to buy a plane ticket so you can actually get in the air. And the EEE PC is a whole pound lighter, fits in a handbag, and also has more ports than the Macbook Air. So I don't know what problem the Macbook Air is trying to solve, other than to help beautiful people look even more fashionable.

Lots of other commentators complain about the lack of an optical drive. I don't see it as a big issue --- I've lived without an optical drive on all my laptops for 3 years now, and just attach an optical drive whenever I need it, which isn't often. For me, the point of a laptop is for it to be thin and light. If Apple had made the Macbook Air a 10 inch machine (just big enough for a full size keyboard) with a touch screen (to eliminate the touch pad), with a 2.5 pound weight, it would be seriously considered as an ultra-portable. As it is, I suspect that the only folks who'll buy it are the fashionistas and of course, the Mac fanatics who will buy anything with an Apple logo on it.


Greg said...

I'll come clean from the start with a....

***fanboy alert here***

...but I've watched my 8th grade daughter reshuffle and recombine her school folders to reduce the net "Z" dimension of her daily haul that she stuffs into her Arkel Bug backpack/pannier. When I saw the 'Air, I thought, "Wow! She might be able to work this into her pack."

Her current 800MHz G4 12" iBook is small in footprint, but is just too fat to ever merit a spot in 8.5x11-oriented pack.


Piaw Na said...

Yes, but are you going to get an 8th grader a Macbook Air? If so, then Berkeley parents are generous indeed!

Greg said...

Heh -- no, indeed! But I do see that Z dimension being relevant to the stuffed-backpack set, which spans a range of ages.

-Greg, who (to be fair) is trying to find a reason to need an EEE PC...

Piaw Na said...

I see your point --- maybe the Macbook Air's market is the trust-fund-endowed college student set. Those who aren't shelling out their own money for machines will see no reason not to get the sexiest looking hardware possible.

Christopher said...

Even if they fail to provide good value, or to sell well, I'm glad that Apple creates "fashion statement" products like the MacBook Air and G4 Cube.

The MacBook Air will give a lot of pleasure to those people who find it beautiful and don't care much about the compromises.

Are we ready for portable computers with almost no wired ports? Probably not, but the existence of the MacBook Air out in the fringe may hasten the arrival of a post-USB, post-optical, post-HDD future.

Will I buy a MacBook Air? Heck no! But I'll enjoy admiring them in coffee shops, and I'll look forward to whatever Apple does to step back from the impractical fringe in the next generation or two of the product.

In the meantime, that EEE is looking awfully good.

DWallach said...

Speaking as somebody who ordered a MacBook Air myself...

- Indeed, if you want a lightweight Mac, this is your only option.

- The lack of ports is the #1 problem. On my current ThinkPad X41 Tablet (>4 pounds with the extended battery), I have a PCMCIA / CompactFlash adapter which I used to read pictures from my camera. With the MBA, I need to get a USB adapter with a cord. Annoying. The ideal things to add would be a Firewire port (enabling the clever feature of other Macs to boot up in Firewire disk mode), and an ExpressCard/54 slot (but that would probably chew up more physical space than they're willing to spend).

- The larger width/depth is not really a problem at all. The laptop will fit nicely in my travel bag, and I'm guessing it's usable in a cramped coach airplane seat.

- I thought about an EeePC, but rejected it because it doesn't have enough storage. Sure, you can bolt on an external hard drive, but you loose your weight advantage, you loose your battery life, etc. (If I'm on the road and shooting pictures half-seriously, I can generate several gigabytes of data per day, and that's with my measly Nikon D70. When I upgrade to a D300, those numbers will balloon.)

- Most ultralight laptops have tiny screens and unusably reduced-pitch keyboards. The EeePC is better than the OLPC in this regard, but it's a significant problem if you want to attempt to get "real" work done while on the road. Apple has the largest screen in the ultralight category with what appears to be a fully usable keyboard.

- The ultrathin aspect is just a gimmick. I'd take extra thickness immediately in return for better keyboard feel (assuming there isn't an expansion in travel weight as well). I was just using one of Apple's new "slim" desktop keyboards. Yuck. My ThinkPad has a better keyboard.

- The battery issue is a non-issue at least for me. Five hours is plenty, and I've never hauled around a spare battery even when I could have done so.

- The lack of an Ethernet port is mildly annoying, but I'll just carry around the dongle for the odd hotel room or whatnot where they have wired and not wireless.

- I sprung for the SSD disk. My ThinkPad has a 1.8" disk, and it's unacceptably slow and annoying. My previous laptop (an HP Omnibook 510), with a much slower CPU, was noticeably faster than my ThinkPad, which I ascribe to its having a 2.5" disk with faster RPMs. Presumably, Apple's SSD disk, while stupidly expensive, will at least be fast, fault-tollerant, and low power.

Piaw Na said...

I think a solid-state disk is a great option. I'm pretty sure I'll go for that on my next machine. My EEE is faster than my thinkpad as well on boot up, mostly because of the SSD.

Unknown said...

I have the macbook Air and I love it for multiple reasons :
- I bought it when the price went down (much cheaper now)
- I bought it on the refurbished store (much cheaper again) for less than a macbook pro 13
- It is so light and yet so fast (SSD drive, 1,86GHz, Nvidia grahics)
- the battery life is good (a bit more than 4h)
- it did not fail me yet, well I did... twice... plop on the ground
- It is a pleasure to get a real keyboard and a real screen so far a real computer everywhere you go. Don't get me wrong here, I love the eeepc, I think it is great to have that kind of tool for that knid of money, but it's not a real computer ! Try to open photoshop while sending files in FTP and encoding a short vidéo... then try on a macbook Air... You'll get the point. The eeepc is ok to do most of the things you want, as long as you have time. I like when I click and it works pretty fast... It makes me feel like I don't spend my time working against the machine, but it's working with me, oh well, it might just be me...

Cheers for the comments

Adolf Skroatler von Baggenstein said...

***fanboy alert here also***

WARNING: Do to the graphic nature of this post, PC users should not read.

2 years ago, I bought a MacBook Air for me, my wife got some Dell piece of poop. The Air is still running like a charm, the PC, well, the kids use it as home base for the baseball diamond.

This machine does everything I need it to do, and does it with ease. It has never crashed, never broke, never caused me to wish bad things to happen to Jobs. The PC, well Dell and Gates certainly would of blushed if they heard my wife yelling about her machine.

Did I spend extra $$ on a slick, sleek machine, that still gets compliments everywhere I go, yes. It was worth every penny.

I bought my first Apple in 1980, I've had many Apples, and PCs since then. I can tell you that my favorite is the Apples. Sorry Bill Gates, your system is subpar and everyone knows it, but some people just can't let go.

Thank you,