Daniel Eran Dilger in San Francisco
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Is the MacBook Air Another Cube?

Power Mac G4 Cube
Daniel Eran Dilger
Despite its reputation as a vendor of fashion-conscious products–and a resulting exposure to the risk of looking foolish to a specification centric market with fickle taste and an insatiable demand for perpetual improvement–the New Apple hasn’t made many poorly conceived concept product mistakes. In the past decade, the closest Apple has come to releasing a form over function flop was the 2000 Power Mac G4 Cube, an elegantly designed PC in a Kleenex-shaped lucite box.


Fashion Squared.
The premium priced, iconic model found its fans, but didn’t appeal to a broad audience. Then, just months after its release the dotcom bubble burst and dried up the market for luxurious concept computing models and other less than practical gadgets and toys.

The dramatic economic downturn in the tech world not only killed off any hopes for the Cube but also marked the end of the road for everything from the Palm Pilot to Dean Kamen’s mysterious Ginger, which turned out to be the Segway Personal Transporter, an expensive alternative to walking that made as much sense after the end of President Clinton’s longest peacetime expansion in American history as Herman Miller’s $700 Aeron dotcom chairs.

In July of 2001, Apple discontinued the $1799 Cube in a terse press release headlined “Apple Puts Power Mac G4 Cube on Ice,” which announced that the company would “suspend production of the Power Mac G4 Cube indefinitely.” It quoted Phil Schiller as saying, “Cube owners love their Cubes, but most customers decided to buy our powerful Power Mac G4 minitowers instead.”

While the Cube wasn’t an outstanding success, it was really not a failure on par with such product concepts as Tablet PC or the “Origami” Ultra Mobile PC. Three and a half years later, the Cube was resurrected in a smaller form factor and at a much cheaper price point as 2005′s $499 Mac mini. While the mini hasn’t blown down any doors, it has sold well enough to maintain its position in the Mac lineup over the last three years.

Why Cube?
The G4 Cube was among Apple’s first big attempts to scale up demand and attention for the Mac since the company’s recovery from near ruin in 1996. After acquiring NeXT and inheriting the leadership of Steve Jobs, the New Apple had scraped away its operational problems, turned around its moribund software development efforts, and introduced a new flare of excitement under its utilitarian beige and black plastic products.

The 1998 iMac used curvey translucent plastics to usher in a new design language that transformed Apple’s stale and poorly differentiated product lineup into an easily recognizable iconic brand. The next year, Apple’s pro line of Power Mac towers got a matching makeover, and were joined by the colorful new “toilet seat” iBook consumer laptops.

In 2000, Apple released the Cube at the peak of a Mac resurgence fueled by the company’s newfound strength and a surging US economy. It was clearly a nod to the 1988-1993 NeXT Cube (below), which Jobs left Apple to develop in 1986. Like the original Cube at NeXT, the new G4 Cube was elegant and attractive but priced out of the range of most consumers, particularly when compared to the less elegant but faster and more expandable standard Power Mac towers. When the economy tanked, the entire concept of a premium priced elegant box fizzled.

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Was the Cube a Failure?
Other computer makers have shipped fancy PC boxes designed to serve more as glitzy advertisements than as high volume sellers, but Apple’s Cube has frequently been targeted for contempt by pundits as an epic blunder, despite its prominent appearance everywhere from the Drew Carey Show to Absolutely Fabulous to 24 and at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. This condemnatory posturing seems excessive.

Apple didn’t lose billions of dollars on the Cube as Microsoft has with its series of consumer hardware failures that similarly began in 2000 but which have continued downhill in flames ever since: the Handheld PC, Pocket PC, Tablet PC, UMPC, MSN TV, Ultimate TV, Mira, SPOT, Media2Go, PlaysForSure, Zune, and even the Xbox have collectively syphoned off tens of billions of dollars in investment and revenues into the ground, and most have served more as laughingstock embarrassments than showy corporate advertisements.

In contrast, while the Cube failed to meet sales expectations, it didn’t burn up billions of R&D or rack up huge losses. Instead, it helped to established Apple’s increasingly upscale brand and luxury image and solidified its position as a risk taking innovator. Much of the engineering work invested in producing the unique Cube was recycled for use in subsequent Mac desktops and laptops.

The Spectacular Failure of WinCE and Windows Mobile
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CES: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Cube Critics Blow Hot Air.
When today’s pundits aren’t calling the MacBook Air a toy for silly women, they’re comparing it to the G4 Cube. Like the Cube, the MacBook Air is designed to look good. But the Air’s form is its function; the Cube offered little functional advantage over the cheaper and more powerful Power Mac G4 tower.

The Air is also premium priced. However, it is also competitive with other ultra mobile laptops. It’s not designed to lower the average selling price of Apple’s MacBook line and catch shoppers looking for a low end bargain. The Air is nothing like the Asus EEE PC, which sheds features, usability, and performance to sell for around $400. The Air doesn’t need to be, because Apple already has a mobile device designed to fit that price target, and it fits in your pocket a lot better, too.

The Air also appears to share one last similarity with the Cube: it showed up just prior to an economic decline. However, the difference is that Cube existed at a time when Apple relied exclusively on channel partners to sell its products. Apple has its own retail stores now, and they appear to have a huge impact on insulating Apple’s sales from the slipping sales of competitors. The company had a blowout quarter in Macs, in iPhones, and despite the worries of analysts, significantly boosted its iPod revenues (even without counting iPhone sales) in a quarter where competitors fought over a shrinking market for music players and disappointing PC sales.
The Air doesn’t need to be the thinnest laptop, nor include a full sized backlit keyboard or a video conferencing camera of a higher caliber than most other competing laptops. That’s because like the Cube, the Air is designed not only to sell, but to impress and cast a halo of inspired design across the MacBook line around it. Even if it only ever served to draw in customers who then bought a MacBook Pro, it would be a success.

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Small is the New Big.
But the MacBook Air isn’t just attractive, it’s also functionally lighter and more mobile than the rest of Apple’s laptop line. It’s also priced very competitive with other light thin laptops at a time when the mobile form factor is rapidly growing in popularity. The current market for ultra mobile laptops is a small premium priced niche, but as consumers have leaned toward laptops in general it has been growing.

Many have long begged Apple to return to building something like the pioneering PowerBook Duo line canceled in 1997, but those models were axed for good reason. Until recently, ultra mobile laptops have often been less than practical and subsequently sold poorly.

While delivering mediocre performance and small 10“ screens with a limited graphics resolution, the Duos still cost in the range of $3000 to $4000 for color models. Dramatic improvements in component prices and the availability of high resolution LCDs and high performance but low power mobile CPUs have changed the market for smaller lighter devices.

Apple’s entry price of $1799 on the Air is significantly lower than most rivals, particularly when considering that it includes a fast CPU for its class, plenty of RAM standard built in, Bluetooth and WiFi N, and a full sized keyboard and display. Other models are priced as high as $2200 and up for comparable specifications, or simply don’t match the Air’s features at any price.

How the MacBook Air stacks up against other ultra-light notebooks

How the MacBook Air stacks up against other ultra-light notebooks

The Air in Something New.
Apple is also in a very different market position at the release of the Air. Unlike the Cube, which was released as Apple was struggling to gain volume sales of its Mac and finalize its Mac OS X strategy, the Air is sailing into a retail channel propelled by brisk sales of Macs and buoyed by strong interest in Mac OS X Leopard.

Rivals’ ultra mobile laptops have been hamstrung by the Titanic sinking of Windows Vista, which anchors down their performance and requires the use of Windows XP as a lifeboat.

Apple’s Macs are now outgrowing PC sales in general and leading the growth curve in the laptop market in particular. The company is also leading in wireless and in software technologies that mitigate the engineering compromises needed to deliver light and thin devices:

  • the Remote Disc alternative to building in a physical optical drive
  • Wireless Migration Assistant for importing files from an existing system
  • NetBoot firmware features for booting from a remote network volume

And while the outlook for the US market may currently be disappointing, Apple now has an extremely strong retail presence of its own, filled with consumers who are less price sensitive than mail order bargain buyers and who have little interest in alternatives to Apple-branded products. The Air also targets international markets such as Japan, where there is more room for expansion.

So while the Air might have some similarities with the Cube, they’re mostly flattering. It remains to be seen how well the Air will sell, but it’s pretty ridiculous to worry about Apple putting it on ice next year.

 Wp-Content Uploads 2008 01 Mbair-Firstlook-1

Apple’s Adventures in Retail
First Look: Apple’s new MacBook Air
How the MacBook Air stacks up against other ultra-light notebooks

What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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51 comments

1 bartfat { 01.30.08 at 3:10 am }

finally… a person that actually sees the Air as it is, rather than bashing on it, and bashing, and bashing… IT’S NOT supposed to be a desktop replacement or a super cheap super small laptop… which btw, i bet no one would want, but it makes for good articles and papers to sell… headlines read Macbook Air.. failure on a grand scale?

anyway, great article Dan, i don’t see a similar writer anywhere on the net with your perspectives :) which is why i’ll keep contributing :) and yes, i’ll probably end up buying a Macbook Air sometime after I start to outgrow my Macbook Pro (2 years and counting), so there ARE normal people (i’m a college student, working to pay tuition) that WILL and CAN buy this product… no argument there :) every other publication seems to think otherwise, tho, except the publications with either apple or mac in them ;]

2 John E { 01.30.08 at 3:18 am }

very well said, the “cube” notion is just silly. more usual pompous noise from phony “experts.”

the “Air” is a sportscar. like the BMW roadster. you don’t buy it as the workhorse laptop/station wagon you take to a business conference or training for a week, or college for a quarter. it’s gonna be someone’s second laptop, the fun one, the one you take to kauai or paris … or to the coffee shop in your neighborhood. it won’t ever sell huge numbers. but people will love it. if i win the lotto it will be one of the first things i buy …

3 roz { 01.30.08 at 3:26 am }

The cube was purely about aesthetics. the Air has an advantage of absolute portability and usability. Granted its limited in some terms and it may not be the replacement for a 12 powerbook as some expected but it is a compelling machine. The footprint is similar to the Macbook but in terms of weight and presence when closed, its barely there.

For someone doing email. web, office, music and photos on the go – its great. Playing with it at macworld, the screen is very bright, the keyboard extremely nice. The unit is cool to the touch, even under heavy use the underside was not hot at all. Its a powerful computer, yet also a consumer device. Fault the inaccessible battery if you like, but there is also something nice that the device is seamless and not so technical. It may take time for people to adjust to not having optical, the hdd is also smaller than a pro user would like, but there are a lot of people out there for whom this is not a problem. For some people, a laptop that takes as much space as a spiral notepad is ideal. These users are not power users, maybe they are yuppies but they are mostly I’d imagine professionals who want less burden from a device they need to carry everyday to work and while traveling. With the Air they have it in a very compact yet comfortable to use package.

Over time storage capacity in a 1.8″ drive will increase and so will cpu speed. When that happens, a unit on this scale, or similar thickness with a larger screen, could be a very compelling device. Why not have a computer this thin if you could? As price comes down and storage increases, I can’t see why any student or mobile worker would not want laptop on this scale.

I really don’t think its a cube.

4 Brau { 01.30.08 at 5:33 am }

I couldn’t disagree more.

Firstly, few Windows users are ever going to consider a Mac or vice-versa so comparisons on pricing or technical features versus PCs are, for the majority of buyers, completely pointless. The Air will only be considered by those who are already familiar with OSX, meaning it competes only with Apple’s current line-up.

Secondly, the Air is not a good choice for a first-time buyer unless they wish to add an Airport, USB hub, optical drive, etc, meaning they will likely choose a MacBook or iMac over an Air.

Thirdly, for many who want a second computer, the loss of a few pounds and a bit of thickness won’t be enough to overlook the missing features. They will still need the rest of the Apple infrastructure to make it a worthy purchase. Most in my experience don’t have it. They still are using ethernet connections and have not opted for Airport cards.

Fourth, what killed the Cube was its relatively high price compared to the Mac G4. You said it yourself: “the Cube offered little functional advantage over the cheaper and more powerful Power Mac G4 tower.” It became successful after it dropped its price to the low end and became the Mac Mini. That price differential helped people justify the non-upgradability, along with giving switchers a low cost way to try the Mac. The Air is priced wrong. It needs to learn from The Cube, should be Apple’s entry level notebook and priced less than the MacBook. If they did this nobody on earth would be questioning its obvious value.

5 BigDan { 01.30.08 at 8:15 am }

Dan,

Excellent article again. I was listening to Radio Five Live yesterday and their financial ‘expert’ was on talking about the ‘million unsold iPhones’ myth you smashed the other day. She then brought on another ‘expert’ from some online Microsoft loving rag to confirm that, yes, there are indeed hundreds of thousands of iPhones gathering dust in warehouses.
Thankfully someone has the skill, time and insight to see through the smoke and mirrors.
Keep it up!

6 mmbossman { 01.30.08 at 8:17 am }

Brau: “Firstly, few Windows users are ever going to consider a Mac”. What? Why has Apple’s Marketshare increased from 2-3% a few years ago to it’s current 6-7%? There can’t be that many first time computer buyers in the the teen demographic, so that means many, many Windows users have considered, and subsequently purchased a Mac of some kind.

Yes, you have a point that first time buyers will not be choosing it, and you also seem to entirely miss the point that the air is not meant to be a desktop replacement! How many Windows users do you know that only own an EEE PC? Seriously.

For your third point, if losing a few pounds and some thickness means that the air won’t sell, then why does an ultralight section of PCs (that hamstring features even more than the air) even exist? Face it, just because you may not buy one does not mean there is not a market.

As for your fourth point, scroll up to see the nice graph provided by AppleInsider. The air is competitively priced for it’s market. Once again, if people weren’t buying these, why would they continue to be developed? I’ll ignore arguments about Windows Tablet PCs, since for some reason those do continue to be developed even with no one buying them.

If pundits really wanted to bring up a skeleton from Apple’s past, the iPod HiFi seems like a better choice. At least some people actually bought the cube.

7 roz { 01.30.08 at 8:29 am }

I actually think Brau raises a good point – the price differential is an issue – if the price were not so high you might not see so many people complaining about the Air. I think, frankly, Apple is trying to milk this exec/wealthy market. Hopefully the price will come down in time. Would be interesting to know the cost of goods on it – I mean how much can it be, its nearly nothing? :) Also would be interesting to know how much Apple spent developing it…

Contrary to your argument I think many people have adopted wifi and that buying the external superdrive is not a big deal, in fact I’d suggest that to anyone considering this machine.

8 Dmitri { 01.30.08 at 8:43 am }

Another great article, Dan!

“the Air’s form is its function; the Cube offered little functional advantage over the cheaper and more powerful Power Mac G4 tower.”

This is exactly correct, and really getting lost in the Pundit’s conversation. I personally remember 2 people who were strongly considering the Cube, but ultimately decided to go with the Tower because, visually attractive as the cube was, their tower was just going to sit under their desk anyway. Size just wasn’t a relevant factor.

Meanwhile, I know plenty of people, even MacBook Pro owners, who are saying, “Wow, 3 pounds would really make a difference for carrying my laptop around.”

“The Air’s FORM is its FUNCTION.” Brilliantly put and spot-on accurate.

9 John Muir { 01.30.08 at 8:55 am }

@ mmbossman

I agree with most of what you’ve said re: Brau’s post. Though it should be noted that my brother bought an iPod Hi-Fi while I don’t know anyone with a Cube. Ah: the limited statistics of friends and family!

@ Brau

I can’t agree with your take on the Air at all, and have to wonder which people you must know who use their Macs on ethernet instead of Wi-Fi. Besides for the occasional desktop, I seriously see the exact opposite trend. My Mac using peers have been wireless for years while the Windows users are only halfway there, mumbling about the complexity of it all. Indeed, I had one say to me recently on buying his first Mac (a four year old iBook) that “wireless is still in its infancy”, when explaining why he couldn’t see the point in it. Since he took the laptop home, it’s been on 802.11g precisely 100% of the time!

By the way: I myself switched to the Mac because of a compelling laptop. This very 12″ PowerBook from Macworld 2003. The machine really caught my eye unlike anything had done in years, and only then did I read up on what had been happening with the Mac OS since I’d last touched it years earlier, and decided I wanted in. The Air should switch a lot more people too, you can count on it.

10 rogerr { 01.30.08 at 9:38 am }

The Air is priced wrong. It needs to learn from The Cube, should be Apple’s entry level notebook and priced less than the MacBook. If they did this nobody on earth would be questioning its obvious value.

Absolutely. If they included a 3G card, sold it like the iPhone with a data plan, got ATT to subsidize the cost to get the price < $1000, every teenager in the United States would have one.

11 potterhead4 { 01.30.08 at 10:37 am }

I disagree with those who say there isn’t a market for the Air at this price. Obviously there’s going to be a huge market for corporate users, especially once the iPhone gets exchange, Cisco VPN and bluetooth modem support. That’s one light, sexy mobile office that would work perfectly together unlike the disaster most tech support departments face with the standard Thinkpad/Blackberry setup (I worked in one of those departments, ick).

But I think people forget about college students. I am a college student, and going into school I bought a MBP knowing that I would need its pro features for video and photo editing, which I do quite a bit of. However, it is a huge, huge hassle to lug to class every day, and the battery life, even with everything fancy turned off, is about two lectures max. If I didn’t need to edit video, I would jump at the Air. I cannot understate the significance of weight and space savings in the already overcrowded backpacks hanging from lazy college-aged shoulders. College kids haul things everywhere, and being able to take a laptop that you could barely feel would be a huge day-to-day advantage.

Most of my friends do not need anything beyond e-mail, web browser and iTunes, but they routinely spend $2,000+ for laptops going into school anyways. The Air plus a USB hub and external superdrive is the absolute perfect setup for a college kid and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it take over from the Macbook as the model of choice in the next few back to school quarters.

12 nextcube { 01.30.08 at 10:39 am }

Interestingly, I never see the Macbook Air compared to the Thinkpad x60, latest in a long-running series of ultraportable laptops. The fact that IBM and lenovo have kept this line running for a decade (from x20-x30-x40-x60) indicates that there is a market out there for these machines.

13 stefn { 01.30.08 at 11:43 am }

The Air is literally the thin edge of the wedge. In a year or two, all Apple’s laptops will be moving in the same directions as the Air: thinner, lighter, solid state, multitouch pad. Unlike the Cube, Air has a trajectory.

Me? I will let the “me firsters” pay Apple’s development costs and wait for the cheaper, better R3.

14 stefn { 01.30.08 at 11:46 am }

Air is almost literally the thin edge of the wedge. All Apple’s laptops will move in the same design directions: lighter, thinner, solid state, multitouch pad. Unlike the Cube, Air has a trajectory.

Me! I will let the me-firsters pay Apple’s development costs and get the cheaper, better R3.

15 Realtosh { 01.30.08 at 11:51 am }

Daniel got this one right

In fact, Apple will make a killing on the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air is infused with so much cool. It will be instantly recognizable in any cafe, airport lounge, business meeting, class or any campus gathering.

Prepare your salivary glands. There will be much drool shed over this laptop. There will be many envious, jealous people who will wish this sucker cost under $1000. It will be the successful and fashionable trend setters that will purchase this sexy laptop.

The MacBook Air will just as iconic as the iPod and iPhone, and will drive much traffic into the Apple Stores. Jobs & Co. are brilliant. They will sell quite of few of these laptops. Plus they will increase sales of their other gear. Some of the folks who come to see the AirBook will opt for one of the other MacBooks, or iMacs, or iPhone, etc., etc.

Don’t forget to pick up some Apple stock.

16 shadash { 01.30.08 at 12:14 pm }

I agree that the Air is “nothing like” the EEE PC. But the EEE is also nothing like the iPhone. The iPhone is not a computer. You can’t edit Word docs on the iPhone!

The problem with the Air is that its too big to be a truly “mobile” PC. The 13″ screen is just too big. I would kill for an Apple portable with a 10″ screen.

Shad

17 shadash { 01.30.08 at 12:18 pm }

Sorry to post again…

If the SDK next month adds the functionality to edit Word and other docs, I will GLADLY eat my words. This would not surprise me at all, and would greatly add to the iPhone’s functionality.

Shad

18 John Muir { 01.30.08 at 12:25 pm }

@ Shad

Even better than that, the SDK will bring pretty much *every* function you could want from the iPhone besides for (we expect) a few “red lines” courtesy of Apple and AT&T such as iChat and Skype.

Unlike the firmware updates where Apple throw in extras of their own, the SDK opens the iPhone up as a full blown software platform for developers to code and market for; likely via iTunes. The chances of an iPhone Office (whether its by Microsoft of not) are as close to 100% as anything in this world. Since it is asked for (and no one has any objections), it is going to happen.

I meanwhile anticipate some sweet, sweet games. Indeed, I’m reckoning the iPhone/iPod platform will be the worldwide leader in portable gaming in a few years.

19 addicted44 { 01.30.08 at 12:52 pm }

I was one of those who first thought that the Air would tank. I still feel that it will not be a blockbuster, but there was 1 incident that really made me feel that the Air is a great idea.

My roommate, who is a huge PC fan, has been absolutely gushing about the Air ever since he saw that sexy ad about it. He has gone to the apple store to use it a couple of times, and while I doubt he will purchase the cube, I will not be surprised if he picks up a macbook (the lowest priced version) once the semester is over. That is one PC convert thanks to the Air although he did not even buy it.

20 johnnyapple { 01.30.08 at 1:27 pm }

Daniel, you make pretty valid points. There are similarities between Cube and Air but times are different, the marketplace is different and Apple is very different. 7 Years ago the Mac was still viewed by most to be a goner. Today it’s a very healthy and quickly growing business.

I’m looking to replace my 12″ PowerBook. I’m torn between MacBook Air and a 15″ Pro. So there I go, I’m going to contribute to cannibalizing sales from one line to the other. Doesn’t matter which one I buy, I win, I loose, up is down.

Buyers stayed away from the Cube because the FUD of the day was that it did not have PCI expansion slots. A similarly configured G4 tower at the time, was actually $200 more (as I recall). Virtually all of the G4 towers that everyone bought instead of the Cube are still sitting around with empty PCI slots. There was also a lot of bad press about cracks, which weren’t really cracks.

There were some mistakes with the Cube. No headphone jack – huh? Many also shipped with a very noisy hard drive (mine) which made the lack of fan noise kind of pointless. The power brick is about the size of the current Mac mini. At the time, Apple was using a proprietary display connector – grrr.

I recently got my Cube back from my Mom, who got an iMac for Christmas. It still functions perfectly except for an ethernet board struck down by a zap from the clouds. I got a replacement on ebay for $30. It still looks great. I’m doing a tear down and rebuild. Faster CPU, more RAM and a much bigger (and quieter) HDD. It will be my home server. Cube owners are a little crazy, I’ll admit.

So, while doing my tear down I have to reflect, and marvel at how state of the art and compact my Cube was 7 years ago and then look at pictures of the Air’s logic board wishing I could cram one in my Cube so I’d have extra space for a 3 disc RAID (fantasy, I know).

21 John Muir { 01.30.08 at 2:03 pm }

Apple’s lineup the day the Cube came out:
http://www.designedinca.com/2000/07/19/

Gotta love Designed in California!

Lose 50MHz and you could have gone for the $200 cheaper base Power Mac. Pay $700 more than the $1799 Cube and get dual processors. It was pretty much fairly priced, for what it was. The real issue being as Daniel said: shedding bulk and weight from a desktop is an exercise in design, doing the same with a laptop is an exercise in usability.

22 mrunderhill { 01.30.08 at 2:04 pm }

I agree with Brau on the price issue. I just get the feeling Apple are chancing their arm a little here and nibbling away on the back of a highly profitable & successful year.

And i say this not as a person looking for a bargain, but as someone who has shelled out tens of thousands on G3, G4, G5, Macbook/Pro, iMac mk 1, 2, 3 & 4 you name it i’ve had it.

Technology prices are fragile to say the least and i’ve been bitten on the bum more than once when product lines get updated/price realigned days after i’ve shelled out top dollar for what quickly becomes old news. That’s life in the tech world i guess.

It’s funny but i even sold my 2 month old Macbook Pro 17″ 2.4 in anticipation of this “new thing”. I’m not disappointed with what i’ve seen, but for the first time ever, i’m without a Mac at home and yet instinct is telling me to wait. At least for now.

23 PerGrenerfors { 01.30.08 at 2:12 pm }

I can’t believe nobody has pointed to the original clamshell iBook.

The Air is pretty much like that iBook (single USB and headphone jack) only it went on a diet (rather fat vs. super trim thin) and started lifting some weight (G3 vs. dual core and 13″ screen).

I still use my toilet seat iBook as a back-up computer (the thing actually runs 10.4.11) and for basic typewriter work. I also boot into the old OS 9.2.1 (hey! no laughing!) to use Office 2001 which has all the functionality I need for basic word processing.

If the thing was so damn heavy and with a brighter screen I would use it everyday. In fact, it has the best keyboard I’ve ever laid hands on. The rounded palmrests are much more comfortable than those on my spanking new MacBook. See what I mean?

24 Robb { 01.30.08 at 2:21 pm }

@rogerr
Do you want a pony with that and a trip to DisneyWorld?

25 FloydThreepwood { 01.30.08 at 2:25 pm }

I think it’s more about a post notebook device. Desktop sales (I know iMac sells well) are ultimately going to decrease. Something like Origami or the Air is a test if consumers are ready for a new light notebbok Computer. If you think about Notebooks in the last decade they were always less powerfull and less equiped than there desktop counterparts. In times of Core Duo or integrated graphics cappable of Quartz Extreme it seems to be a poor idea buying a desktop. So if you think about the Air it’s a approach to sell the second, the true notebook to someone with the 15” merely ultramobile device.

So thinking about the Cube it’s ultimate uselessness was that the evolution in microprocessor design finally made ist irelevant to buy. Would there be a Cube today (or lets say a displayless iMac) why should we buy it? There simply is no market for a tiny desktop if you can buy a notebook for the exact same amount of money and with the same features.

Air on the other hand takes the Notebook idea twists it with the trend of ultrathin mobile phones and creates a portable between notebook and iphone. Success? Who knowes but I like the design ;-)

26 elppa { 01.30.08 at 2:38 pm }

Aside from the looks and the stunning range of monitors which accompanied it, I liked the Cube for three things:

[1] The way the CD popped up like a toaster was so cool! This was when all of Apple’s line was using trays.

[2] The way the whole guts could be pulled out from the glass case was marvellous – like a nuclear reactor or something wonderfully sci-fi! Push the handle in slightly and it would pop down.

[3] You could still upgrade the RAM, graphics card and HDD. Even the processor could be upgraded, yet it takes up a fraction of the space of a tower.

Sadly I never owned one.

27 Robb { 01.30.08 at 3:02 pm }

I still have my Cube in the family and it’s now my daughter’s Mac. Upgraded the hard drive (40GB), video card (64MB), CPU (G4 1.2 Ghz) and installed a fan to keep it cooler.

It was pricey (especially at the time vs. the features), but it looks cool sitting on a desk next to a flat screen. When my daughter goes off to school she might inherit my MacBook Pro, but the Cube stays!

28 ericdano { 01.30.08 at 3:57 pm }

As a cube owner, and still a user of it (not for everyday use though), what really doomed the cube was the lack of Firewire devices. The Cube itself was a great computer. It works, it was nearly silent. It looked great. But, it was released before there was a huge Firewire device market. If it was released like a year later, it might have lived longer and seen revisions. But it did not. It died, and was reborn as the Mac Mini.

It wasn’t until 2002 that there started being a flood of Firewire devices for consumers. Firewire audio interfaces, cameras with firewire.

Oh well. I’d hardly consider the cube a failure. It is a great design that was released a little too early.

29 skellener { 01.30.08 at 4:31 pm }

The fact of the matter is, all anyone wanted from Apple is a 12″-13″ MacBook Pro. That’s what everyone I know was waiting for. That’s NOT what Apple delivered. Not a single person I know that had the dough ready to go and order after the keynote is buying an Air. I see that as a sign that Apple is out of touch with the market. Apple would have sold a crap load of 12″-13″ MacBook Pros. We’ll see how many Air’s get sold.
Yes, I believe the MacBook Air is this year’s Cube. Looks nice, but much waaaay too expensive.

[The 12" PB was portable, but so close to the 13" MB that it no longer made any sense. The MB and MBP are so close together they overlap in price. A 13" Pro could only be a MB with some chrome, or alternatively force the MBs to be cheaper/lower end. I like the MB being very well equipped with digital optical audio ports and good performance. I can't see a 13" MBP, and it looks like an 11-12" MBP would be as much of a niche product as the Air.

It will be interesting to see how well it does, because it takes a very different set of priorities than other ultra mobile laptops. -Dan ]

30 gus2000 { 01.30.08 at 4:52 pm }

Pundits like to point to the “Cube Failure” since Apple has no major blunders over the last 5-10 years to laugh at.

I had to lookup the Aeron chair (sounds perfect for sitting in front of Windows Vista) but tell me, Dan: what’s a “Mira”? (besides the obvious astronomical reference)

31 treestman { 01.30.08 at 5:43 pm }

The only real issue I have with the Air is that they should have made it a smaller footprint than the MacBook.

The biggest issue with the Cube wasn’t so much its initial price (though it was too much), but rather that it couldn’t be reduced. I suspect it was too expensive to make, what with using all those custom boards.

The only “Cube-like” issue with the Air is that it, too, uses a lot of custom components. Unlike the Cube, I do not think it’s priced too high, but I wonder if Apple will be able to lower the price or update it to stay competitive. If not, then it’s going to look pretty stale in six months.

To me, one key is that I just don’t think Apple is relying on Intel to “shrink” more C2D’s for this thing (at least, I hope that’s not their strategy). I think it was really designed for the smaller Penryn chips. If so, they can continue to increase performance at the same price point, just as they do their other product lines.

Gus2000,

Mira was a pen-enabled LCD panel. Yet another brilliant idea from the mind of Gates, back when he thought that tablet-like devices would proliferate and apparently save us from everything.

32 elppa { 01.30.08 at 6:41 pm }

I’m sure the Romans used to wonder around with tablets.

33 ffarkle { 01.30.08 at 6:47 pm }

I certainly agree with Daniel, as far as he goes:

- the Cube was not a complete failure; Apple both profited some, and learned some, from it.

- the MBAir has a built-in base of people who will want it and can afford to buy it – the high-end road warrior. It looks like a great tool for travel, and if I spent 2 or more days a week in airports, I’d have my order in already.

But the thing that wasn’t mentioned is this: the MBAir is a precursor product. Or to be more precise, it’s a way to make a nice profit off your current R&D project.

Steve Jobs didn’t trouble Intel to work up that tiny new chip just so they could sell a few thousand MBAirs; no, Apple has big plans for that tiny chip, and those plans involve something 1/2 to 1/3 the price of the MBAir, and sales volumes in the millions.

Me, I think it’s going to be a tablet with roughly the same form factor as the iPhone. I call it Son of Newton.

Expect it late this year maybe.

Look at the $400 Asus Eee – hot seller, and pretty well thought out, too. But like all the other UMPCs I’ve seen so far, it still doesn’t quite hit the ‘sweet spot’. I’m betting that Apple can, and will.

Just like they did with the iPhone, they’re going to deliver the UMPC that raises the bar, and shows the world what it’s been missing. And it’ll be running OS X.

After all, now that they’ve dropped the price of the iPhone so far, they’ve got to have a product to fill that $699 slot, don’t they?

34 John Muir { 01.30.08 at 6:50 pm }

Oh, but they had papyrus by then. It was the good old Sumerians who used to get up to this sort of thing in the tablet form factor:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Cuneiform_tablet_-_Kirkor_Minassian_collection_-_Library_of_Congress.jpg

I’m minded that the iPhone/iPod touch is the *only* tablet which has got it right since then; the Newton notwithstanding. But even so, it’s still a little while to go until we’re all brought over to them. Some things laptops just do so well … especially their larger screens and keyboards.

Oh yes: exactly what the Air does. Strange coincidence that!

35 skellener { 01.30.08 at 7:04 pm }

> I’m minded that the iPhone/iPod touch is
> the *only* tablet which has got it right since then…

I disagree, There’s a lot wrong with the iPhone. I don’t think it’s all that great myself. The Air is no better.

36 johnnyapple { 01.30.08 at 7:22 pm }

One bit of interesting data is that sequentially, desktops were way up while portables were flat. That isn’t bad news but I have to wonder if all of the press Apple’s unannounced new portable was receiving caused a big chunk of buyers to hold off for MacWorld. If true, that would provide significant momentum going into Q2.

37 John Muir { 01.30.08 at 7:27 pm }

@ johnnyapple

Nah, I expect it was just the Aluminium iMac kicking ass, rather than any failure in laptop sales. Outside of the rumour-chasing bubble, people really weren’t aware that Apple might be cooking up a new notebook line. MacBooks are Apple’s bread and butter.

@ skellener

What particular details of the iPhone’s functionality dismay you, and which other devices do them better? Be specific, or otherwise there’s nothing to be said at all.

38 johnnyapple { 01.30.08 at 7:37 pm }

John, I don’t see Q1 portable sales as a failure at all. Sequentially flat is normal. They did not experience the growth seen in desktops, as I would expect. I don’t think the number who waited is huge, maybe 100,000?

39 charkley { 01.30.08 at 7:38 pm }

I just have to say that as a collage student with a macbook, the macbook air looks very attractive for me, the three main “issues” with it are the price, lack of ports and that it’s apparenly underpowered. The main thing i want to say is i think that they have the right amount of ports on the machine. I have never used the ethernet port on my macbook, i have wireless internet, printers and network shares at both home and school and all my mate’s houses. Never used the microphone port and only used the firewire port on external hard disks and ipods that support usb anyways. and when i am away from a usb hub, i only use usb sticks with a single usb port. On the other hand i am constantly using the headphone jack, and monitor output for class presentations and with an external screen at home.

I carry the macbook to and from school every day and between classes (six per day!) and the 2.5KG macbook does get heavy. I would kill for a lighter notebook of similar specs.

The Macbook air would be perfect for me, and most people at school, i think this could sell really well at schools because of it’s tiny form factor, wireless everyting (we have all apps on a shared disk at school) and strong aluminum casing. Price isn’t really an issue, everyone regually spends $3500AUD on their laptops anyways (private school).

Yeah i know, minority, but that doesn’t change the fact it is perfect for me.

40 josh { 01.30.08 at 11:22 pm }

well i don’t see the air as a homerun like the iphone but it isn’t a failure either. what i think jobs & co. are doing here is trying to get out in front of an upcoming trend: the solid state portable. forget the hard drive. the air was really designed with the 64gb flash drive in mind. it’s too pricey for most folks now but wait until the flash memory prices drop some more. by then, the air will be on it’s second generation. i think the comparison with the asus eee is apt. basically, both companies are exploring the same market: lightweight flash drive based portable with wireless connectivity. asus is doing it on the lowend and apple is doing it on the high end.

41 eyecon { 01.31.08 at 12:09 am }

Great article!

I’m so sick of hearing people slam the MacBook Air for what it doesn’t have. I have traveled all over the world and NEVER used my cd/dvd drive. Ok, I used it once on a long flight to watch a dvd movie and the battery was dead in 2 hours… which is why I NEVER used it again! I’ve sat in hundreds of WiFi hotpots with my laptop and NEVER had 2 usb devices hooked up at the same time. A table at Starbucks or an airport lounge IS NOT my desk at home so why would I ever need 2 usb ports?

I can wait to replace my heavy clunky Dell Inspiron, that has a cd/dvd drive and too many usb ports, with a MacBook Air. :)

42 L { 01.31.08 at 12:40 pm }

Complainers of the MacBookAir don’t appreciate the obselecense of optical drives and external peripherals. Nor do they appreciate the new era of longer battery life, or optionally higher performance.

43 lnikj { 02.01.08 at 6:07 am }

As a travel writer and photographer, I so wanted Apple to get this one right, and they almost did, except for the absence of firewire. I would have bought it in a flash, but no firewire is simply a showstopper for me.
From the moment the rumours started, I had dreams of leaving my MBP at home, and traveling a bit lighter, but I’m afraid that maintaining large libraries of raw files on external disks on a long trip over a USB connection is not a compromise I am prepared to make.
I hope Apple listen, and roll out a version 2, that manages to cram at least a firewire 800 connection on board, or, even better, the forthcoming USB3 or FireWire S3200 connection.

44 Ephilei { 02.01.08 at 2:29 pm }

You’ll see on Air on the street as often as you see a BMW roadster. If you consider that successful or not successful, so be it. To me, that seems good, but not Apple good.

But the Air helps Apple indirectly:
1 Advertising. The Air will be more visible than its other computer because it’s so mobile and that entire Windows users to switch to something Mac, even if not the Air itself.
2 Techie clout. As with the iMac and the floppy, Apple has declared that optical discs are optional. REAL geeks get their media and software downloaded from the Cloud. And even users that don’t like the Air can’t deny it’s unbelievably thin.
3 R&D. The smaller motherboard and OLED display will later go into the other MacBook lines and the Air sales will help pay for that.

45 David Dennis { 02.01.08 at 4:30 pm }

I considered a Cube at the time but realized I could get the PowerMac G4 with the much more powerful dual processor option for not too much more. I made the right decision; the dual G4/450 lasted me straight up until the first PowerMac G5 was introduced, which is a pretty long run for a computer. I sold it to someone who needed a cheap but reliable ProTools machine, and he’s been using it ever since.

I have noticed something about how much people talk since iPhone was introduced. People were saying it was too expensive, they were saying it was too limited in features, and they really hated that it was tied to AT&T’s network.

And yet six months later they were lined up in front of the Apple, Inc store!

I think the Air’s going to have a similar trajectory. It might take six months but I’ll bet a lot of the people I see putting down the Air here and elsewhere will be walking out of Apple Retail Stores with one.

I feel that I need the higher power of the MacBook Pro since I plan to travel a lot in the next few years. If I was planning to stay in one place I’d be very tempted to buy a new Mac Pro and an Air.

D

46 ncbill { 02.04.08 at 5:36 pm }

Not the Cube so much as a sealed “appliance” ala the first iMac.

Apart from the possibility of a 3rd-party battery, there are NO upgrades for the MBA.

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