Recently, at the Macworld Expo, Apple introduced the MacBook Air, a lighter version of its popular notebook the MacBook. It’s not exactly a “version”, it’s somewhere in between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, at least in price. With the same size screen as the cheaper MacBook (13.3″), the MacBook Air is designed to be lighter (3 pounds, compared to 5 pounds for the MacBook) and much thinner. Apple is touting this notebook as fitting in a manila envelope. It’s an attractive computer, with smooth, round lines, beveled edges, and a sleek, almost 1950s aerodynamic look.
But it’s substantially more expensive than the MacBook, at $1799 compared to only $1099 for the MacBook (which is one of the great computer bargains of our time). People who know me know that I’m not the type to splurge for pricey computers; I currently have a Mac Pro, which is the first top-of-the-line Mac I’ve ever owned (at least it was when four cores were cutting edge), and I only use a laptop as a second computer. In my work, I’m sedentary, so I don’t need a laptop, but I do need a second Mac for writing, testing, etc. And it’s nice to have a laptop to work in areas other than my desk. My current laptop is an iBook G4 933 MHz, a tad slow for using Leopard, and limited in RAM (it only holds 640 MB). However, it does run Mac OS 9–not that I’ve booted in OS 9 in years–so I might be able to sell it to someone who still uses older programs.But I’ve decided to buy a MacBook Air, in part because I think this Mac is going to mark history as a landmark computer. My first Mac was a PowerBook 100, because I didn’t want a large computer taking up a lot of space. It was sleek and light (for its time), and didn’t have a built-in floppy disk drive; you connected a relatively large external floppy drive to the machine when needed. At the time, this was unique, but Apple waited several years before releasing the first Mac without a floppy drive: the iMac. Since then, Apple has innovated by removing features, and in this case, the MacBook Air is “missing” an optical drive and Ethernet connectivity. (You can buy an external optical drive, similar to the PowerBook 100’s floppy drive, and a USB/Ethernet adapter.) It is designed to perform all its work over WiFi: not only file transfers, but even software installation. This works with a new Apple feature called Remote Disc, whereby you install some software on another Mac or PC, which has an optical drive, and the MacBook Air can mount this disk over the network–even boot from it–to install software or copy files.
The MacBook Air will be seen as the first truly wireless computer. Granted, it requires that you have another computer to use optical disks (or buy the external superdrive), but it can then work on its own untethered. I think this is a very important concept, and one that will spread in the future. Imagine having a single computer with an optical drive–maybe just a Mac mini, which also serves as a storage device–and all your other Macs are satellites for that stationary device. While many people will still want desktop Macs, notebook sales are growing, showing that most people want mobility, or want to save space even if they only use their notebook at home. The MacBook Air is, in my opinion, tomorrow’s computer today.
This is not without some compromises. The MacBook Air does not have a removable battery, so you can’t take a second battery with you on the road. And when the battery dies, you have to send it to Apple for service: Apple has said this costs $129 and takes 5 days. It’s safe to assume that the battery will last about three years in normal usage, so this is fair. As I said, there is no optical drive, nor Ethernet, but 802.11n wireless is fast enough for most file transfers. I might spend $29 on the USB/Ethernet adapter, just in case I have lots of files to transfer, but I don’t need the external superdrive, at least not if Remote Disc works. One other missing item is speakers; it has a mono speaker, usable only for hearing system beeps or voice chats over iChat. That doesn’t bother me, since I’ve never listened to music or watched movies on my laptop, but if I want to, I can just plug in a pair of earbuds.
Once again, it’s not cheap, but I feel like I want to be part of a new generation of computers. The MacBook Air is revolutionary, but in a way that won’t be understood for a couple of years. Welcome to the future.