Tag Archives: Apple

MacBook Air is a niche product

I could spend hours trying to read all the news articles and blog posts about Apple’s big announcement today of the new MacBook Air.

People are blindly rewriting Apple’s talking points praising it as “ultra-thin,” which I guess is true though it’s less than 25% thinner than Apple laptops from 3 years ago. They’re also talking about how the removal of just about every physical port from the device “isn’t a big deal” because everything’s wireless now.

I don’t know about that.

It’s a bold idea: there are only four connections remaining on the new laptop: headphone, USB, Micro-DVI (external monitor) and a power connector. Both the power connector and monitor connector are redesigns. The power connector is a new, thinner MagSafe connector, while Micro-DVI is Yet Another Redesigned Video Connector, replacing the Mini-DVI connector on the MacBook, which replaced the Mini-VGA connector on the iBook, which replaced the regular VGA connector on earlier notebooks.

Macbook Air

What’s missing? A lot:

  • Firewire ports
  • Spare USB ports
  • A microphone jack (which was removed from the iBook and brought back with the MacBook)
  • An ethernet port
  • A replaceable battery

But the most stunning omission is the optical drive. Those of you old enough might remember the iMac, when Apple decided to release the first computer without a floppy disk drive. (It was available as an optional external USB device.) That too was considered bold, but they were replacing it with an optical drive, Firewire, USB and networking. People got used to it because the cheap-but-really-low-capacity disks were already on the way out.

This isn’t the case with CDs and DVDs. We’re still arguing on a format for high-definition DVDs, and nothing is seriously on the horizon to replace optical disks as a data medium for music and movies.

The other thing that bothers me is that Apple proclaims that wireless is replacing all the communications methods. I can respect that. It’s just so much more convenient to use wireless Bluetooth and Wi-Fi communications now. But the optional external ethernet port and optical drive don’t have wireless: They communicate by USB. And with just that one USB port, it means you can’t connect to a wired link and read a CD/DVD at the same time. Or connect to the Internet and a digital camera at the same time to upload your pictures to Flickr. Or connect to your digital camera and burn a CD at the same time.

It’s a recipe for annoyance, just to get a quarter inch off the thickness of the machine (and sell it at twice the price).

But MacBook Air will have its niche. Some people don’t have peripherals (or they have a wireless base station they all connect to). Some people have no desire to watch DVDs while they’re sitting on the train to Toronto. Some people don’t need a second battery for their laptops. And some people just buy Apple products because they exist, whether or not they provide the features they look for.

It’s a niche market that sadly excludes me. I prefer to have a laptop whose “features” I don’t have to find creative ways to work around.