Apparently, Some Love the MacBook Air

Back in January, I was fairly effusive in my disappointment in the MacBook Air. I still think it’s a product that has a long way to go before it fulfills its promise as a thin, light, road warrior’s machine (the fact that it isn’t standard with an SSD is a pretty poor statement about its long-term reliability), but I’m now willing to admit that it hits the mark with at least some people, including people I really respect, like BusinessWeek’s Reena Jana, their innovation editor.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with Reena in the past, and she’s a constantly on-the-go kind of person, meeting with design and innovation leaders around the country. She probably travels for business more than I do. And she loves her MacBook Air:

OK, so I personally don’t have the need for many USB ports, nor for a huge, huge hard drive. And I don’t even feel that bad that there’s no Ethernet port, although I could get an attachment for it, which to me isn’t such a big deal (I rarely use the Ethernet jack). I’m reminded of when MacBook’s stopped having a floppy drive, or a dial-up jack. People were upset. But other laptops followed, because these features became obsolete. I see a parallel here, and my laptop lifestyle was starting to reflect the phasing out of DVDs and Ethernet jacks before the Air was released.

Fair points all, though I think I’d be more comfortable with the Air’s lack of a DVD drive if Apple distributed its own software, such as iWork, on USB key instead of DVD… Still, this is another reminder that a lot of people don’t need anywhere near the file storage capacity that I do. Just this weekend, I learned that my sister-in-law is desperate for an Air, as well. I’ll be very interested to hear how the Air performs in the market. I still think it will meet a fate similar to the G4 Cube, but there are some people who are incredibly excited by it.

For me, I think I’m stuck in Steven Levy’s camp: If I even had one, I think I’d probably throw it out with the newspapers by accident.

  • C.B.

    I really don’t think it will be like the G4 Cube. This computer is exceptionally beautiful and, I believe, is just the first step in a line of similar computers. Just like the first iPod was the harbinger of more advanced versions.

  • Martijn

    Well, I think you are incredible wrong. No harm meant, but you think like a geek: more options, faster and bigger = better. For most business use, where Microsoft Word and Mail are the two most used applications, the Air is just spot on.

    I want one, desperatly, but I’m hanging in there to see what the problems are before I buy one; I’ve had my share of early adaptors and the growing pains that come with it.

    Yes, you can have more power for less dollar if you buy a MacBook, and more horse power if you buy a MacBook Pro, but that are exactly the non-arguments for Air buyers: portability and comfort in terms of keyboard and screen size are key and I think that Apple really nailed it.

    I’m a big fan of the 12″ Panasonic Thoughbook, but the keyboard is just too cramped to be comfortable to work on. I still use my 14″ G3 iBook, because it is comfortable to work on, but is just too heavy to carry it around.

  • Doug S.

    To follow on Martijn’s point, I think a key aspect of the early criticism of the Air is the assumption that it was meant to replace one or more existing parts of the laptop lineup, not supplement it in order to reach a new market. As time passes, it is becoming more clear that the Air is meant to reach out to new customers rather than appeal to existing ones (or at least to appeal to existing ones in a new way).

  • Bill Olson

    I think where you went wrong was with the “road warrior” idea. This isn’t for warriors but travelers that know how to pack light and become very creative because of it. It isn’t for those that pack using steamer trunks.

  • C Rolls

    Shwew I can’t believe we are still discussing this. Okay folks, if you want a DVD drive, USB ports, FireWire, etc. — buy an effing MacBook. It’s that easy!

    I don’t know if you know this — but Apple wasn’t the first to test this kind of product out. There are been several PC subnotebooks. I gotta say, I was skeptical of my friend’s PC subnotebook, but after picking it up and seeing how light it really was, I was sold. This is the only kind of laptop for me.

    “I still think it’s a product that has a long way to go before it fulfills its promise as a thin, light, road warrior’s machine”

    So under .75″ thin in its thickest place and under 3 lbs is just not good enough for you? How thin and light do you need it to be?

  • Jared

    Apple is just filling out its product line with the MacBook Air. Now customers have OPTIONS!!! That is what this product is all about. This is not the first computer I’ve owned without an optical drive either, the Thinkpad 550 was just 4 lbs and 1″ thick and 12″ screen years ago… I loved that machine for its portability, exactly why I decided to get the MacBook Air. I travel internationally as a pilot 2 weeks a month, this computer meets all of my requirements while I’m on the road. Love it.

  • Andrew DK

    “I still think it will meet a fate similar to the G4 Cube”

    Ok, Apple products when the Cube was introduced: geek toys
    Apple products when the Air was introduced: sexy, fashionable, must-have devices

    And seriously, how can a box be sexy in the first place?

  • csbmonkey

    I gotta agree with the folks here that say this isn’t going to meet the Cube’s fate. My own idea of this is brought about by who I see as the primary users of iPhones when I am out and about in San Francisco: women over 50.

    This computer fills a similar notch. Small, light, easy to put away in a small apartment or in a home that’s decorated a certain way. Still, powerful enough for most normal users’ tasks such as email, web and online video.

    With many, many functions that used to be considered workstation centric moving online (email and the archives, word processing, spreadsheets, etc.) anyway, the more important aspect is indeed connectivity to these services. Digital cameras all use USB now, so getting photos into the computer will be one of the primary data inputs to the device.

    The device is small, lightweight, elegant, and connected the way people want to be connected, which is wireless. I think that’s why the iPhone is popular with older users. It’s small, lightweight, browses well, and easy to put away. The Air is a logical extension of the iPhone for this market share. They will also have more disposable income to pay for what they want over cheaper but less elegant and more clunky devices.

    It’s funny, but this isn’t about the under 30 or even under 40 market at all, but about the over 50 market. The under 30 market may like the Mac, but the majority are not going to have have the money for this level of laptop. I’ve seen more Asus $350 tiny devices in coffee shops with under 30 crowd.

  • Jeff

    iWork on a USB drive?

    Why? This is one of the few Apple programs that’s available as a download from Apple.com.

    How could it be made any more convenient than that?

  • airwin

    I use the air as my main machine. And I do after effects, PS and all that sh*t. no problem what so ever. Computers are not about speed. It’s what you can make them do. And that it sometimes takes a longer for your computer to follow. Is that then the problem? No, the problem is you! Who thinks a machine with more features will help you make better stuff. Just switch to windows and see how that works out. On an Dell.

  • imajoebob

    I gotta go with Church on this. I’ve said that this is really a proof-of-concept model. Once they can get Pro power into the form factor, they’ll incorporate market feedback. The changes I see needed are the optical drive, better connectivity, and bigger storage (yes, I’m a frickin’ genius).

    Until Flash prices drop – enough to compete with DVDs, not hard drives, this will only be a niche product. Probably the equivalent of the shared “Office Laptop” when they were first introduced. It sure isn’t a desktop – or notebook -replacement.

  • the truth

    remember when people said they would never want to carry their entire CD collection in their pocket? i remember it very clearly and i was one of those people.

    i see the air as a very similar thing. i think apple has a clear vision of where we are headed with technology and they are getting early adopters to use it with the device. it will get better and be more widely accepted when prices drop and the reality of web-based, wi-fi apps are more common. sure, it doesnt make sense for me, an adobe suite power user, but it certainly makes sense for writers in coffee shops, general mom-types and nerditron3000s.

  • Mike

    I’m not trying to be a troll, but please: if you own a blog, listen to all of the Grammar Girl podcast’s.

  • Pete

    This comment would be much easier to take if you didn’t use an apostrophe to indicate a plural.

About the author

Pete Mortensen

Pete Mortensen is a design strategist for consulting firm Jump Associates and the co-author of Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, a book and blog that are significantly more interesting than you might initially think. Pete's particular Apple avocations are both around design--interface and industrial. Follow him on Twitter!

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