I can’t be the first to think that Jobs’ keynote this year at Macworld was sorely underwhelming. It’s almost as though someone took a bunch of cool products and removed the must-have capabilities of each, and sold them off like some sort of cheap Chinese tech-gadget knock-off. The MacBook Air, Apple’s flagship of the show, has already received lukewarm praise, which ought be expected from what I can only describe as a fairly lame sub-notebook.
Perhaps this follows from a misunderstanding of the term “sub-notebook”, which Apple may define very differently than myself. Apple does have a few things right, such as the Air’s exceptionally thin profile, but thin-ness does not tiny make. For me to desire a compact portable notebook, it needs to be substantially smaller than a typical notebook computer, and this decrease in size needs to be on the 2D aspect just as well as on the 3D aspect. Just why is the Air larger than the infamous, discontinued 12″ Powerbook? Screen size is great when larger on typical notebooks, not sub-notebooks.
I consider myself a reasonably good example of the target consumer for a solid, purposeful sub-notebook. Half the reason I haven’t invested in an iMac or Mac Pro is because I want some form of portability, primarily as it relates to writing, web-browsing, and other miscellaneous tasks that don’t require large amounts of processing power. My compromise has been a 17″ MacBook Pro, as it allows me to do both desktop things and notebook things. The availability of a proper sub-notebook would allow me to do everything I want to do better. That said, what would I do differently? How would I design the MacBook Air?
- As Daring Fireball pointed out, the MacBook Air isn’t a primary computer. Without an optical drive, firewire port, ethernet port, et al, it’s a mobile, temporary machine that one uses until they’re back at home or back at the office. Let’s not fool ourselves, then, by pricing the MacBook Air well over the cost of the basic MacBook. The price of this thing should be under $1,000, and at least $250 cheaper than the cheapest MacBook available; I’m think we should be looking at a price somewhere around $750.
- As mentioned earlier, the size of the MacBook Air needs to be cut down. Move down to a screen size around 10″.
- Why do we need a trackpad when we have multi-touch akin to what’s on the iPhone? Make the whole screen touch-sensitive.
- The MacBook Air has an excellent niche market: mobile bloggers. Give the Air EDGE and 3G capabilities, and don’t lock it down like the iPhone. This way, world travelers have a laptop that can not only sustain itself where 802.11 wireless is available, but also wherever they can get a cellular telephone signal. Let’s face it: the iPhone is not a blogger’s dream, though it’s a good first try. A diminutive sub-notebook, however, would fit the bill nicely.
- I don’t mean to jump on the bandwagon that says all tech devices should have swappable batteries, but yes, a sub-notebook certainly should. In line with the concept that the Air is a mobile blogger’s wet-dream, the device should allow users to be on the road sans electricity for large stints at a time, and though five hours of battery life may be impressive, it’s not the same as claiming 10 hours with an extra battery in one’s pack. This is hardly unreasonable; I’m not proposing the cover of this thing have solar panels for in-the-wild charging, after all. (Okay, I lie.)
- The fact that there’s the option for a solid state hard drive is great, but really, it shouldn’t be an option, but rather, a standard. The enormous price increase of going solid state is just proof that we’re not at a point that the Air concept is feasible yet.
At present, the MacBook Air is a precursor to what’s to come for MacBooks all around: better portability, battery life, and a handful of nice features we’ll see in the next generation of MacBooks. However, if the Air concept is to stick around, I expect the Air 2G to offer a bit more motivation to buyers in the form of even better portability, more options for on-the-road travel, and a price point where a good portion of computer-users can justify owning a machine dedicated for mobile use. Until then, the MacBook Air is just a shiny idea in poor packaging.