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January 15, 2008

MacBook Air=Portable Cube

MacBook Air @ Macworld
MacBook Air @ Macworld,
originally uploaded by viejomoeb.
I was excited about the rumors of an Apple subnotebook being announced today. I've loved what Apple has done in this space before, and have been a regular user of all three generations of Mac subnotebooks — the PowerBook Duo (I had a 230c), the PowerBook 2400c, and the 12" PowerBook G4.

Having watched the keynote, and gone over the specs with a fine-toothed comb, I'm mostly disappointed. The MacBook Air is a very sexy form factor surrounding some very ordinary parts -- you've got an iPod hard drive, integrated video that burns 144 megs of system memory, and 2 gigs of RAM that it appears are permanently attached, and cannot be upgraded. Unlike every portable Apple has ever built, the battery isn't even user swappable.

I initially thought Apple might take this opportunity to introduce a new form factor in between the MacBook and MacBook Pro that would, in a year or 18 months, serve as the model for the next revision of the MacBook. Such a machine would skimp a little in comparison with the Pro, but likely offer a dedicated video card, standard laptop components cleverly packaged, and an LED-backlit widescreen display.

Instead, what we got strikes me as a “café computer,” one that will be fine for e-mail and weblogging, but that I don't see using for on-the-go video work (there's not even a FireWire port) and that won't even open Photoshop. To better manage heat and power consumption, Apple has designed in a 1.6-gigahertz processor, significantly slower than a standard MacBook (and at least nominally slower even than the processor in the Mac mini). Instead of the commodity hard drive, a 5400-rpm Serial ATA model, the Air gets a 4200-rpm Parallel ATA model in the iPod's 1.8-inch form factor.

Apple has provided one option that could mitigate the machine's performance handicap a bit: A solid-state hard drive, currently 64 gigabytes. Unfortunately, building that drive in is a $999 option!

It's beautiful, certainly. Apple's design aesthetic seems to be collapsing in on itself, leaving just a single word: Thin. Beveled corners, like those on the iPod touch, make the Air's edges visually sharp, while the drop-down ports, required by the crazy thin-ness of the case, are very cool.

But it's beautiful at a price. Here's a machine for travelers that won't be able to connect to the in-room ethernet. Here's a machine that can't simultaneously handle a keyboard and mouse unless the keyboard provides USB pass-through (lots don't). I find myself wondering if it's true: You can be too thin.

Sitting here 10 hours from the keynote, the Air doesn't remind me most of the late, beloved 12" PowerBook or the 2400c, still my favorite computer of all time. The Mac it reminds me of is the Cube. Like the Cube, it's beautiful, offers little expansion capability, and looks pricey when compared to its Apple stablemates.

January 15, 2008 in Apple, Apple - General, Apple - PowerBooks, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)