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My Take on the MacBook Air
1-23-08

So, as everyone in the world should know by now, at Macworld this year, Steve Jobs announced Apple's new MacBook Air. Since then, the Air has received quite a bit of media attention, most of it negative.


Ooooooh....
Most complaints are similar. The MacBook Air has the following problems:
  • It's too slow
  • It has only one USB slot
  • It doesn't have a CD drive
  • It doesn't have a removable battery
  • It's too expensive
Partly because I'm a fan of Apple design and partly because I like playing the devil's advocate, I am going to refute each one of these complaints.
It's too slow

Ok, the notebook isn't quite a "screamer," but it's not exactly my HP Pavilion XT155 (more below). This laptop is not a gaming laptop. This laptop is not a video encoding laptop. This laptop was designed to be useful and portable and, with the exception of the two previous categories, it can do just about anything: Web browsing, Office, photo editing and browsing, music, etc. These tasks are what the laptop was built for. If you want to play the latest Command and Conquer game, don't buy a MacBook Air. It's as simple as that! This notebook is more than fast enough to do just about anything else, so please stop complaining.

It has only one USB slot

Before I talk about this point, I must ask: What exactly do you like about wires? Wouldn't you rather not need any?


With the exception of power and DVI, all of these cables could be replaced with some sort of wireless technology (and most people aren't geeks like me with big DVI monitors)

With a name like "Air", Apple was obviously aiming for a truly wireless machine. The notebook supports Bluetooth as well as the latest 802.11N wireless internet protocol. Why do you need USB then? Keyboard and mouse? Bluetooth covers that. Printer? Network your printer so all your computers can use it. External storage? Once again, just get a networked storage device that all your computers can use. Digital camera? Get one of these. Scanner? Well, I guess they don't make networked or Bluetooth scanners...but they might eventually.

The point I'm trying to make is that cables aren't necessary. We have the technology today to move past them almost entirely. Most cable utilities are of such low bandwidth that they could easily be made wireless and, as mentioned above, there are already a lot of wireless options available today. The biggest hurdle in the way of this utopian wireless future is the person who complains about computers having only one USB port. If everyone demanded that every new computer be 100% backwards compatible, our computers would still have 5 1/4 inch drives so we could still play our F-14. Maybe it's a little early to abandon a spec as widespread as USB, but we have to start somewhere. Maybe if Apple along with other computer manufacturers were to start playing down USB, peripheral companies would start making Bluetooth scanners. Seriously, how cool would it be to just pick up your notebook off your desk and run out the door without unplugging a single cable?

Update:

I got an email from Michael McDermott informing me that his HP6180 does support wireless networked scanning. So there. (Thanks for the info Mike)

It doesn't have a CD drive

Like the cables I mentioned above, optical media is an unnecessary hassle. I have a book full of CDs sitting under my desk somewhere that I haven't touched in over a month. The only reason I use any of them is to install or reinstall software. I never burn data to CDs because I can use my USB drive (which holds three times as much), and I don't drive to the record store to buy CDs, I buy MP3s off Amazon.

As far as DVDs go, I'd have to agree that I do use them quite a bit. My girlfriend talked me into watching all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls (we're only on season four so don't tell me what happens to Jess), and my laptop is the only DVD player I have access to in my dorm. She was kind of disappointed though to find out that the season six she received for Christmas this year wouldn't play because one of the discs came damaged. Had this been a digital download however, we wouldn't have to worry about it. I'm not going to claim that the online movie stores right now are a viable alternative to DVDs, but they could get there. If all the content providers could pull their heads out of their butts and agree on a single DRM spec, we could end up with a very good alternative to DVDs. Imagine downloading movies from your couch to watch instantly and store forever. You could then move them to your portable movie player for a trip or even lend them to a friend. It's possible, we just have to get there.

So my point is that the disc drive isn't 100% necessary. Yes, I could imagine a situation in which I'd be kicking myself for not having a disc drive, but hopefully this situation will become less and less likely to occur. At least Apple has provided a few solutions like an external disc drive and networked drive sharing software to help out in the meantime.

It doesn't have a removable battery

In 2002 at the age of 13, I bought my first computer: the HP Pavilion XT155.


I remember sitting with my dad thinking about how this computer could store almost an entire CD-ROM's worth of data on its 512mb of ram.

This computer has had the same battery since I bought it. I never replaced the battery for several reasons:

  1. The replacement battery cost $70 which equates to about two Game Cube games (much more important to me at the time)
  2. The laptop had no wi-fi connection so most of the time I was near a wall socket anyways
  3. I couldn't buy the battery locally because nobody carried them. Best Buy, Radio Shack, Circuit City, and Batteries Plus all offered to order the battery, but I would have to wait over a week to get it.

The MacBook Air has an internal battery that cannot be easily replaced by an end user. To replace his or her battery, a user must take their laptop to an Apple store and pay someone there $129 to replace the battery.

While $129 may be a little steep for a laptop battery (most cost around $70-$100), at least they're easily available. Lets say that for some reason I suddenly realize one day that my MacBook Air battery only lasts about half an hour. I also have a plane that leaves at 6:00AM the next morning and I will be needing my laptop (with working battery) on my trip. Any battery I order online will not get to me in time. Luckily, there is an Apple store only 45 minutes away so I decide to drive there and have my battery replaced.

Most users will only need their batteries replaced about once every two years. By the time its battery is replaced twice, the MacBook Air will start looking like my HP up there. Apple has always been about removing access doors to improve aesthetic and decrease size. Rather than have separate doors for the hard drive, RAM, and battery in the MacBook Pro, they combined all three. Sure, it might be a little difficult to get to the RAM, but how often does the average user do that? With the MacBook Air, Apple took the next step and removed the battery door altogether. I don't think I can complain though. They took the battery door out of my MP3 player years ago and it has served me fine.

To be fair, I think a lot of the complaints come from the people who would like the option of carrying a spare battery with them on a long trip. Those who actually buy extra batteries (which I'm guessing is a small percentage) should buy a MacBook Pro. The rest of us can enjoy a pretty slick design and a very thin notebook.

It's too expensive

Ah, so you might try to argue that the MacBook Air is too expensive, but I did a little research here and I found out that, surprisingly, there are plenty of things that are more expensive than the MacBook Air:


The Ferrari Enzo
Worth about 370 MacBook Airs! That's 14 feet of MacBook Airs stacked up!


The Hope Diamond
This baby costs more than 92,592 MacBook Airs put together! That's a stack of Airs over half a mile high!

Ok, yes that was obnoxious and unnecessary, but I thought it was funny and it helps me make my point. If you think the MacBook Air is too expensive, do not buy it! The MacBook Air is a pretty slick machine. If I had $2,700 lying around, I might just buy one. Hopefully, I'll get a job one day where my business will buy me a MacBook Air.

There are cheaper alternatives out there, but people who like Macs might just buy an Air. Before this notebook, Apple had nothing to give to the ultra-thin notebook-carrying Mac fans. Now at least they have an option for those who would have previously gone out and bought a Sony or Toshiba.

Conclusion

No, I will not purchase the MacBook Air. Few people will and Apple will probably pay dearly for it. It doesn't matter really because the Air is just a little ahead of its time. With the Air, Apple is trying to move away from technologies like USB and optical media that are not quite antiquated yet. People are still happy with how much easier DVD is than VHS, they haven't even thought about the next step. They will moan and groan about the limitations of the Air but they have to realize that they can't cling to their DVDs and USB ports forever. Someone has to stick their neck out eventually. We can't have every company bending to the popular will and making machines more compatible with older technologies just because they know they will turn a profit. To get to the kick-ass wireless and miniaturized future, we have to start by lopping off the DVD drives and USB ports of the present.