Daniel Eran Dilger
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First Look: Apple’s new MacBook Air

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Daniel Eran Dilger
After hoisting teaser Macworld Expo banners of “something in the air,” it seemed likely that the slogan would be an allusion to wireless networking. Instead, Steve Jobs exhaled the MacBook Air, a new ultra light laptop widely rumored in advance to be the star of the show.

Echoing the drama of the iPhone presented last year in a glass capsule, Apple suspended a series of MacBook Air units on a cable stretching from the floor to the ceiling at the show.

Apple security first reprimanded anyone touching the models, but by the end of the day people were casually grabbing and commonly spinning the units. If handling the merchandise is any prediction of sales, the MacBook Air should blow off the shelves in gale force winds. The constant, enraptured pawing made it nearly impossible to capture any shots of the new laptops.

Continues: AppleInsider | First Look: Apple’s new MacBook Air (with photos and video)

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  • jimsf

    You knock CES for not having anything exciting, well the big news from MacWorld is a thin laptop. Big deal! There are several other brands that have lighter laptops. Yes, Macworld really was exciting! lol

  • gprovida

    The discussion places a historical perspective on the MacBook Air that is interesting and exposes some interesting context. I would submit that rather than looking at the MacBook Air as an extension of the MacBooks or even Laptops, I think it is more an extension of the iPod, iPhone, etc., family of mobile appliances. I think this points to a new direction for mobile computing appliances and may be the bridge or eventually seen as the missing link between the future and our laptop legacy. I see the Laptops heading along the path that the desktop headed [relevant but niche] while the iPhone and MacBook Air point towards an entirely different future. I look forward to any thoughts you might have on this.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/johnnyapple johnnyapple

    I personally hope to see something someday with a much smaller footprint but that’s just me. That form factor hasn’t proved successful for other makers.

    As for MacBook Air, the design is really quite nice. I’ve no doubt that we’ll see some of the design ideas make it into a future updates to MacBook Pro. The very thin display, beveled edges and a swing out port door. The Pro will surely retain an optical drive and won’t be a lot thinner or lighter than the current version – perhaps 10%.

    The logic board at it’s largest is 3″ x 8″ with the main portion about 3″ x 6″. Applying some of that miniaturization to the Pro models will leave more room for the battery. It’s also likely that the large, multi-touch track pad will make it’s way into the rest of Apple’s portables.

    If the Air isn’t for you because it doesn’t have an optical drive or enough expansion ports, don’t worry, you’ll see some of these improvements in the not too distant future on the rest of the lineup.

    I’ll have to wait until I see and touch one to make a final judgement but this could be my next MacBook. My 12″ PowerBook is getting old :-(

  • harrywolf

    At first I wasnt sure, but I am beginning to think that this would be a very good machine to drag around in my car.
    I thought I wanted something smaller, but I realised that was pointless. I hate small screens, and I have the iPhone if I want small.
    My impression is that Apple have something here, but I am unable to quantify that statement.
    It is the most beautiful computer I have ever seen, and that alone may persuade me to buy it.
    Light , beautiful, elegantly minimalist – these arent words I would normally use to decide on a computer, but this MacBook Air is different.
    I want one; its too beautiful to ignore.

  • Brau

    “The Duo was loved by a small segment of users who liked its portability and versatility, but the product line did not meet sales expectations.”

    Sadly I feel Apple will be reliving history with the MBA. I do believe that this form is the way of the future but that time has not yet come. Apple’s assertion that iTunes is an acceptable replacement for watching DVDs is laughable because to watch these videos in my living room I would have to buy yet another device – an AppleTV, meaning the physical DVD/CD still offers more. As far as wireless disk sharing goes … you better have another Mac because most PC users I know can’t seem to get their wireless to work let alone share. There are simply too many feature omissions on the MBA for it to entice more than the loyalist Mac fans. For the rest of us, we would need to carry a separate bag full of add-on dongles and buy additional devices just to get the features we normally rely on.

  • russtic

    Not sure about the MBA, more than happy to ditch an optical drive and ports. Love the form factor.

    The killer problem for me is the capacity of the HDD. It seems an odd decision to not offer higher capacity when the lack of optical drive suggests that you may rip dvds etc to your MBA.

    I think I will wait to see what Apple does with the MBP before making a decision.

  • harrywolf

    @ russtic

    I wonder why they didnt put the ‘iPod’ 160gb drive in it?
    I assume they are using the 80gb 1.8″ mini drive that they use in the iPod?

  • mikeg

    You know, I had radically mixed emotions about the MBA when I first saw the introduction. Initially I was extremely disappointed because of the smallish hard drive, the size & cost of the SSD drive, the slower processor (as compared to the MacBook). Funny, I woke up the next morning and was extremely excited because of the engineering and styling that went into the design of the MBA. Yeah, I have been accused of being “slow” but the MBA may just be one of the products that “grows” on you. I agree with harrywolf that I am somewhat surprised they did not have a 160 GB hard drive in as the standard option. Right now, I am seriously considering a purchase of the MBA with the 80 GB drive, although I am still interested in the SSD option.

    Question, does anyone have an opinion about the benefits of purchasing APP? The cost of APP is around 25 percent of the SSD option. Just curious.

  • darkdog

    I’m amazed,

    Actually it’S not really surprising how may people—especially the ars/slashdot tech types—are completely missing the point.

    Nearly everyone is complaining that the Air doesn’t fit that criteria or misses this feature or doesn’t include such–and–so. Or how the Air isn’t smallest, nor the lightest and is slow etc. (no one knows yet.) But this all missed the point.

    Apple has not created a new 12″ powerbook or 10″ MacBook ultra-portable. Apple has created the new generation of MacBook, A notebook computer.

    A full size (13.3″) machine that will do exceptionally well as a carry nearly everywhere—while not causing you strain injury, notebook computer.

    Apple has this time actually created the “notebook” that acts like a notebook and is actually useful as a ‘notebook’ computer. One that fits under your arm just as easily as that valise that fits under your arm.

    This is the new target standard for future laptops. There will be two laptop classes going forward. The neo desktop–the replacement workhorse like the current MacBook Pro; And the true notebook that you take to class, meetings, rotary, the kitchen etc.

    Apple has created a smaller, more portable, easier notebook with out making it smaller. A screen size that seems to work well for a great many people and the new recently design keyboard that is a joy to type on. In other words a highly usable computer that you will want to use where you previously used a legal pad before.

    And as it is refined the ports configuration will change and maybe the lid will flip over (to lie flat) and eventually the screen will be a touch screen and flash ram will be the norm.

    A few years ago Apple got rid of 5.25 floppies and used the 3.5″ diskette. Everyone thought “they are mad.” Then it was CD replacing diskettes.

    Regardless the success of this new model, this is not the point. This is the new target for future laptops. And even though I love my 15″ PowerBook/MacBook screen real estate, I can see, real fast, that an Air will become extremely productive for me.

    -Alan

    Adjunct: Two weeks ago, a friend was asking for laptop recommendations and had on their primary list a CD/DVD drive. I retorted “how old school” because unless you need to do DVDs (they didn’t) flash drives are better for file transfer and short term backup.

  • Brau

    Sorry Darkdog but I just can’t agree. Apple has not created anything new here unless you choose to completely ignore previous offerings from Sony, HP, and Toshiba, which were full featured machines. Instead I feel the new form factor for ultraportables was set with the iPhone. There’s almost no size or weight advantage to carrying a very feature-limited MBA over carrying a full-featured MB or MBP. When most buy a laptop, it is meant to be a replacement of their existing desktop. The slower speed is a willing tradeoff, whereas the features such as ports and drives are deemed necessary.

  • darkdog

    Brau,

    I understand what you are saying. But HP, Toshiba, etc don’t set these standards. I was not discounting them at all.

    For Apple products, Apple has now moved the bar higher. And this is what you will see moving forward.

    I don’t see what you are implying by saying that there is no size/weight advantage to losing features. I lost features when I went to a laptop in the first place. Most specifically screen real estate. But at some point I deemed it mostly ok to do so. And when it is not ok, I go back to my desktop.

    But further, I don’t see any feature I have lost in the Air for its intended purpose, as I previous stated. There is nothing crippling about the Air. I don’t expect the Air to have quad Duo’s. etc.

    I also think I disagree with the statement that most people by a laptop as a desktop replacement. Most people already have a desktop and rarely do I personally hear of anyone intending to dump their desktop. What does usually happen, is that they find they rarely touch their desktop after the laptop purchase.

    I think you’ll find that true with the Air also. Someone makes a Air purchase and fully intends to keep their existing laptop, then finds that they rarely need to use the old laptop. — Time will tell.

    One final point that I did not previously point out. The issue of speed. Every time time a device comes out, the issue of “but its so slow” gets thrown around it seems. True of the iPhone. But one has to remember, almost all purchasers of the Air will be coming from older equipment—not current generation hardware. The Air will be faster for these people by a whole lot than what ever they currently have. And for those that have the latest equipment, the Air will just be another item in their tool kit.

    -Alan

  • Silencio

    An Apple rep at the expo today told me that the 160GB 1.8″ drives have twice the number of platters as the 80GB drives and were therefore too thick to fit in the case.

    “Thin” and “light” are features, as someone else pointed out a while ago. Whether the market segment that places a precedence on those two features at the expense of other features is very significant, we shall see.

    Anyone complaining about the clock speed on the MacBook Air should check out the other ultra-lights out there. Most of them run Intel’s older chips at slower clock speeds (1.2GHz Core 2 Duos with 400MHz system buses are not uncommon). MacBook Air should run rings about any other 3 pound ultra-light at the moment.

  • Brau

    Darkdog,

    I agree with most of what you say, but when I refer to speed, I really mean responsiveness, not clock speed. The dark olden days of a laptop meaning a severe drop in responsiveness went the way of the Dodo with the G4 PowerBook and OSX. As far as day-to-day usage goes (emailing, browsing, etc) there’s virtually no appreciable difference between my wife’s 15″ 1GHZ laptop and my G5 Quad. Three of my friends have all bought replacement desktops lately and brought home MBPs after seeing how well they operate without beachballing or slowing to a crawl. The portability and included desktop level features were what sold them, as it allows them to move about the house doing whatever they please while still being able to do the harder CPU related tasks if needed. The time it takes to render a project (clock speed) was never a consideration for them.

    I only take issue with the idea that Apple has created something new with the MB Air that is a revolution in portability. I just don’t see it that way. It’s not smaller or appreciably thinner than Toshiba’s or HP’s, nor does it offer features they didn’t. It’s no easier to put a 13″ MB Air in my backpack than a 13″ MB. At least with the MB I won’t have to carry about another bag full of dongles, just to be able to view a CD-R or connect to a wired network. The MB Air does have the one ingredient that will guarantee its success where Sony and HP failed, OSX (it makes all the difference), so I do believe it will succeed, but only within a niche market that is limited to grow at the same pace as the wireless infrastructure it relies heavily on.

    Keep in mind that the iPhone is as portable as you can get. It has been described by many as a Mac for your pocket. Most of my daily activities *could* theoretically be done on an iPhone if the software to do those tasks were yet available, and I would innately expect an iPhone to operate exactly like the MC Air. Millions have already been sold, and because of this it will continue to get better exponentially as well as enjoy a wealth of 3rd party support. Conversely, the MCA is in an odd position by not being nearly as portable, while also lacking some very needed features in today’s largely wired world.

    As you say, time will tell. It will be interesting over the next year to see how many people will be willing to put their own money down for one. It *is* drop-dead beautiful.

  • russtic

    @Silencio
    Thank you that seems a reasonable explanation.

    I wonder how well it will run things like parallels.

    I guess my problem is I would love one but am not convinced it will do the job. What I would really like is 13 or 12 inch MBP with no optical drive and say about 4 pounds.

  • LyndellR

    I want one, don’t need one. I already fit this usage profile. I take just my laptop to church leaving the power adapter at home. …and never bought a second battery, which I aways do for my cell phones. I occassionally use the CD-ROM to rip CDs, however, I can have those MP3s emailed instead. That CD drive is rarely used.

    I still remember those old Dell laptops that could remove the CD drive and replace with a second battery. I can squeeze 4 some hours out of my 15″ PB, but that’s using only vi (TextEdit should do the same too.) MacBook Air is boosting 5 hours with WiFi usage! The other laptops could have much longer battery life if the CD/DVD drives were replaced with more battery.

    I think they should have squeezed in a 4-pin FireWire port for connecting DV-camcorders. That’s be more meaningful when larger drives are available. I don’t use the ports often, and WiFi is much more convenient than Ethernet.

    I first, I thought this thing was sealed; no vents. Assuming that, I was thinking this design is ready for ruggedizing and waterproofing.

    What’s in those tappered edges. Seems the MacBook Air could be a little smaller if those tappered edges were trimmed. Remember the plastic bloat on the old iBooks?

  • observer

    I agree with Brau that Apple did not invented anything really new. But there are two important points:

    1. MBA filled an important gap in their product line.
    2. It has an Apple twist – no optical etc.

    Time will tell whether it will be a marketing success.

  • t.macman

    when you first look at the air its hard to see the point. Bit that is when realize its not meant to be a MacBook upgrade. Its a great secondary computer because its so lite and thin. For someone that has an imac at home this would serve as a way to basic to moderate level computer for when ever there on the move. I do agree that they should have a 160 gb as an upgrade.

  • pa

    I may be wrong, but MacBook Air looks like it was primarily designed for the Japanese market. For years Apple has been trying to grow in Japan but has not been too successful. This new sub-notebook uniquely embodies the Japanese taste and preference for compact electronics. It seems Apple has realized that it does appeal to the fashion conscious and design consious types with means to easily afford one. If it does well in Japan, it will have served the company well.

  • harrywolf

    Looks like we are going to have to see how the market responds, as there appears to be no clear route for this computer, as yet.
    It is beautiful, but there are a number of other items I could buy for the sheer beauty – an English titanium frame Moulton bicycle, for example. Or a serious espresso machine from Italy!

    The optical drive ‘issue’ is solved at once by buying the $99 external.

    As for watching movies; on a trip, use Handbrake and compress a full dvd to 500mb MP4 – still looks pretty good in Quicktime, and the 80 gb drive wont be too compromised if you carry 10 movies using 5 gb. Add another 8 movies on a 4 gb usb ram drive (only $50) and you have a lot of entertainment for a week long trip, and no disks to carry.
    I think a USB ram drive and the optical drive are necessary items with this machine.
    I dont think ethernet is a big loss, unless wireless is a security issue for you. If so, get the dongle.

    Its minimal alright, and that is growing on me. Apple seem to want to tell us that dvd’s are dead and thats part of their marketing strategy with movie rentals too.

    Are they right? Well, they can be right in a niche way – we’ll see how that goes.

    They have thrown down a gauntlet – its a more provocative Macworld than I first thought.

  • Brau

    t.macman,

    You make a really good point. The only thing that’s out of line in that scenario is the price. Unfortunately it costs a lot more than a full featured MacBook and only offers a couple LBS less weight while being a tad thinner as enticement. If it were sold for $999, nobody would be questioning the less-is-more form and its abilities as an ultralight portable second computer. It makes me wonder if Apple will eventually drop the price.

    I do feel the Air should not be placed as it is (between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro) because those two machines are far more fully featured. And we all know Apple will be adding the new LED backlit screens, multi-touch trackpad, and SSD options to the MB and MBP as soon as they can.

  • LyndellR

    Even the MacBook isn’t $999. However, drop the optical drive from the Macbook and extend the battery and it can be an affordable long battery life notebook alternative to the Air. Minituration is not cheap. Notice the sub-$200 laptops aren’t so small, nor high performance.

    Now I wonder when Apple will drop the optical drive from the other laptops.

  • Triakus

    I worry about the MagSafe implementation.

    The cable and connector integrate beautifully, but, unlike in the other MBs, the cable is at right angle from the detaching direction.

    If you pull the cable, the MagSafe function may just not work in time to avoid the light MBA from falling.

  • hrissan

    Well, the best ultra-portable of all Macs is obviously Mac Mini! I have one and use it as a computer-on-the-go. I use it at home, i take it to office, I take it to friends, to customers, so on. I cannot use it at airport or at car, but that’s ok for me, I use more limited iPhone in these situations.

    All of people who talk about sony, dell and asus ultraportable, have you noticed that machines are really ugly? Artists, journalists, writers, photographers recognize this immediately and I assure you they will buy Macbook Air instead. Because now they have a choice! Do they really need those additional holes and dvd to type or read an article, show photos to customer, so on? No, they do not and they are clever enough to understand this.

    Russian proverb: an aircraft which is not beautifull is unable to fly. The Macbook Air has apparently nice aerodynamics, so it will fly high. :)