Some Thoughts on the MacBook Air

Not exactly what I was hoping for.

After sweating out the morning, waiting to hear detailed news about Apple’s new products, I finally got my hands on the specs for the product I’ve been waiting for: MacBook Air. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the product I’ve been waiting for after all.

Wait. Let’s start again. The above is what I wrote on Tuesday, before I laid hands on the MacBook Air. Now that I’ve fondled its sleek aluminum body and hefted its airy lightness, this article may have a different ending.

It’s Friday morning and I’ve been to Macworld Expo and back. And, at the show, I got a chance to look at Apple’s new entry into the sub-notebook field: the MacBook Air.

First, let’s talk specs.

Yes, it’s [currently] the world’s thinnest notebook, at about 3/4 inch tall. That’s thin. It’s about half the thickness of my obese 12″ PowerBook. (How did I carry that fat thing around for so many years?)

MacBook Air

Other dimensions — for those of you who like all the numbers:
Width: 12.8 inches
Depth: 8.94 inches

Since my old 12″ PowerBook is sitting on my desk, let’s measure it up for comparison:
Width: 10.8 inches (estimated; I don’t have high tech measuring tools here)
Depth: 8.5 inches

The screen is a generous 13.3 inches measured diagonally. The PowerBook’s (for comparison) is about 12.25 inches.

It certainly is light, weighing in at only 3 pounds. That fat little 12″ PowerBook weighs a whopping 4 pounds and 11 ounces.

These are the numbers. And they are what disappointed me when I first went through them. Although thinner and lighter, the MacBook Air’s dimensions are also considerably larger than the computer I was hoping to replace with it. Because although “thin is in” and all that jazz, it’s overall size that can determine how truly portable a computer is.

Look at it this way: would the Moleskin people be selling so many of those little black books if they were the same size as the composition book you used in elementary school?

But I got to see the Air in person and touch it and hold it in my hands. And you know something? In real life it looks smaller than I expected it to. And the lightness feels lighter.

My overall impression was very positive. I felt myself wanting one of them, for reasons I couldn’t quite understand.

How does Apple do that? With smoke and mirrors? Hypnosis? Or it it simply the lighting in their Macworld Expo booth?

Now let’s look at what’s crammed in there.

There’s a lot packed into that slim case:

  • 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 80 GB ATA hard disk
  • AirPort Extreme (IEEE 802.11a/b/g compatible)
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • iSight Camera
  • one speaker
  • Audio Out port
  • USB 2.0 port
  • Micro-DVI port
  • 13.3″ (diagonally measured) monitor
  • full-sized keyboard

There are some options — processor and hard disk come to mind — but that’s basically it.

Isn’t something missing?

Yes. It’s the optical drive. Just as Apple led the pack in the phasing out of the “floppy” drive when it released the original iMac all those years ago, it’s removed the optical drive from the MacBook Air.

This is a tough nut to swallow. Apple has built a $99 external SuperDrive that will only work with the MacBook Air, that I believe most people will buy. But Apple has also created “new technology” that enables you to access the CD/DVD mounted on another computer to install software, etc. (This is something I already do in a limited way, since the optical drives on both my 12″ PowerMac and 15″ MacBook Pro are dead; the MacBook is covered under warranty and is making its way back to Apple as I type this.) But what do you do if your Air is the only computer around and you didn’t bring along an external disc drive? Like when you’re on a plane for four hours and the movie is something you can’t bear to watch?

You’re SOOL.

Personally, I think the exclusion of this vital piece of hardware is a big mistake. And it’s what may prevent me from investing in a MacBook Air to replace my 12″ PowerBook.

What was I expecting?

Well, since I don’t read much on rumor sites, I wasn’t expecting anything in particular. I was expecting a “sub-notebook.” To me, that means something smaller than the usual notebook. It doesn’t necessarily mean thinner.

What I wanted, however, was a real replacement for my 12″ PowerBook: a modern version of the same machine that had modern processing power, a decent sized hard disk, wireless, and the all-important optical drive. And I know I’m not alone in that wish.

You see, I believe that the 12″ PowerBook is the best notebook computer Apple has ever made. Perfectly sized for travel, able to display at 1024×768 resolution, all necessary ports, wireless access, optical drive. What else could you ask for? I wish Apple would have brought that up to date by thinning it up a little — hell, it’s only an inch and a half tall! — and lightening it up a bit.

This is what I wanted. This is what a lot of people wanted. But this isn’t what Apple delivered in the MacBook Air.

But Don’t Listen to Me

If you’re in the market for a laptop computer, do check out the MacBook Air. For you, it might be a dream come true.

One thing’s for certain: It certainly will generate a lot of computer envy among your friends.

6 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the MacBook Air

  1. The proposition that the MacBook Air suggests Apple is getting rid of optical drives en masse is entirely wrong. These actions of Apple cannot be compared to their getting rid of the floppy drive on the original iMac. It is not analogous. For one thing, when Apple got rid of the iMac, they did not provide an external replacement. Secondly, they did not provide technology like Remote Disk so that you could use a floppy drive remotely to install software and so forth.

    I think a more appropriate reading is that because adding an occasionally used drive adds weight and increases the dimensions of the subnotebook, Apple decided to take it out and then provide technology to use a remote drive, and provided an optional external optical drive. After all, if Apple did decide optical drives are an old technology and time is ripe to get rid of them, they won’t provide options to access those drives and rather would leave it up to third-party providers to find solutions for that.

    I think it’s really important to see that what looks like a similar action executed in the past does not necessarily have the same meaning or same set of assumptions.

  2. I think the significance of the product is their movement toward flash drives, even though it is an expensive check-box on the option sheet. Otherwise, despite that my 15″ MBP is as heavy as a cinder block by comparison, I feel no compulsion to “upgrade”.

  3. My 12″ iBook crashed, so I have to replace it soon. I carried it around in a purse, and for me, the weight was uncomfortable. My husband carried my purse for me half the time. The convenience of weight alone outweighs the negatives for me, but I have access to his PC hard drive. Add to that we are getting a smaller RV, and wish to cut weight anyway we can, the MacBook Air will work for us.

    Marcia’s last blog post..Cook? Me?

  4. Hi Maria. I read your comments about your MacBook Air shortly after your original post. You haven’t said anything since. Do you still have it, and what are your thoughts now? I’ve owned a MBA since April, and am very pleased with it. It is my travel Mac—not my primary Mac, which is a MacBook Pro. We spent the month of May in Europe, and as I walked around the towns and villages I carried my MBA in my backpack. When I would find internet access I would get online and upload trip comments to our blog. There are shortcomings to the MBA, to be sure. But, on balance, it serves my needs and I really enjoy using it. I hope you do, too. Regards, Jim Hamm, Prescott, AZ

  5. Jim, I never bought a MacBook Air. It’s NOT the product I was waiting for. I was waiting for a replacement for my 12-in PowerBook. Apple has yet to release something like that. Light is nice, but small is nicer — and what I want.

What do you think?