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MacBook Air: Too Sexy for Your Party?

January 17th, 2008

One thing that concerns me about the MacBook Air (MBA): it might have sexed itself right out of the market. I mean, that is one sexy-looking computer. The question is, who will want it enough to buy it and put up with all of its foibles?

There’s no optical drive, so you’d have to either buy and carry around the external, or carry an install DVD around so you can install software on various machines to “borrow” their optical drive (and I wouldn’t bet on it being a fast connection, nor bug-free).

There’s one USB port, a mini-DVI port, and a headphone jack, and that’s pretty much it. Of course, that’s supposed to be a feature–it’s called “Air” both for it’s slim design and for the fact that you’re supposed to use wireless with it. There’s not even an Ethernet jack–you’d have to use a USB adapter.

You can’t replace the battery by yourself, and it’s possible that you’d have to leave your computer with the store for a while to get it done–though one would hope not. This would not be an issue in the first year or two (unless you like to carry a spare battery around for extended outside use), but when it comes time to replace a battery, a lot of people like to swap the second battery in and out with the first, instead of just tossing the old one. Not a huge deal, but a nit, and the nits build up on this model.

What it really comes down to is that you’re paying a hefty price for sexy. Now, we’re used to paying more and getting less with laptops for their portability, but that’s a contrast with desktop models. With the MBA, you’d be paying that price relative to other laptops.

And you’re paying a lot, too–the price is much closer to the MacBook Pro line, but you’re getting less than is supplied with the MacBook. Compare:

MacBook $1100 2.0 GHz 13“
MacBook Air $1800 1.6 GHz 13”
MacBook Pro $2000 2.2 GHz 15“

Add the cost of a portable Superdrive and the special adaptors, and you’re looking at almost the same price as the MacBook Pro. So, you’re paying for a MacBook Pro, but getting less than a MacBook, while dealing with more hassle. Sure, there’s the multi-touch trackpad, but you can expect that to come with future MacBook and MacBook Pro refreshes.

What it comes down to is a thin and sexy computer. To pay twice as much and get less just for that, I believe, is not the best bet in the business. Sure, some people will pay for it, just like many people shelled out a few hundred dollars more for the color black on a MacBook. But while portability is worth that much when choosing between a desktop and a laptop, I don’t think that sexy is worth another sacrifice of equal proportions when choosing between a laptop and an MBA.

It’s as if the Apple people got to thinking that sexy was more important than functional, when all along, sexy has been an important feature but second to functionality. Not the other way around.

I hope I’m wrong; I hope that the MBA’s will sell as fast as the hotcakes they actually look like. I just don’t see it being a big hit.

Maybe that’s what the market was responding to. Apple’s stock, already down to $179 yesterday from a high of $200, dropped to $169 the day of the keynote and has fallen an additional $6 to $163 in after-hours trading. The MacBook Air was the star of the show, and I think that people could see that this was a lofty luxury item, not a mainstream seller. iTunes movie rentals are interesting, but expensive and limited. AppleTV 2.0 is better, but doesn’t look attractive enough to bring it out of its rut. And Time Capsule looks pretty much like a specialty item that not many people will go for.

That, plus there were virtually no surprises in the Expo–everything except Time Capsule was leaked beforehand, save for a few small details. Add that to the usual list of expected announcements that didn’t make the cut, and the keynote this year looks more like a flop.

One could almost forget that the iPhone is selling like gangbusters and is transforming the market, or that Apple’s sales of computers are again hitting new highs. In short, the old news is fantastic, and the new news is that there is no big new news, really.

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  1. January 17th, 2008 at 09:39 | #1

    Personally, I hope it goes down like the Titanic so that Apple will have the incentive to finally release the Mac many folks have been clamoring for – a mid-range tower with expansion slots for those of us who find Minis and iMacs too little and Mac Pros too much.

    I’m hoping this is going to convince Apple to stop telling us (at least for awhile) what they think we should want (small, very expensive and limited) rather than gives us what we really want (big, bulky, reasonably priced, but expandable). But, I doubt it. :-p

  2. ykw
    January 19th, 2008 at 04:10 | #2

    If one wants a 3LBs small laptop, and lots of goodies, then they need a dock w/ the goodies; or usb hub that routes to things like cd/dvd drive. I have a laptop that sits on a shelf 2 meters from where I work (on an external montor/keyboard/mouse). There are 2 modes of use. At home, w/ all the trimmings, and on the go w/ just the simple laptop.

    I would rather see something like 1900 x 1200 resolution on this MBA so that you can have it drive a very nice external montor. That’s a wonderful experience when at home/work. Perhaps that is next !

  3. January 21st, 2008 at 17:36 | #3

    Well, I just sold my 2.14Mhz 17″ MacBook Pro (with 1920X1200 res) to my friend so I could order the MBA. It’s not for everyone, but it’s exactly what I was looking for. I already have 2 very powerful machines at home (PC with 2 24″ screens and an iMac) so I didn’t really need another powerful laptop. I hardly ever used my MacBook Pro. I needed something more portable for mobility and bringing around the house. I can live without all the stuff missing on the MBA. Non removable battery, no optical drive, no ethernet port. They are non-issues. The only thing that could have made it perfect would be a faster hard drive and perhaps a smaller footprint.

  4. catbeller
    January 22nd, 2008 at 12:23 | #4

    The “battery can’t be changed by the user” is a myth: you can change it easily with a #0 screwdriver. Strike that one off the list. Seems no one bothered to look before they spread the rumor.

  5. Luis
    January 22nd, 2008 at 13:34 | #5


    Good for you! Buy that sucker! If I had the money, I’d be tempted. As it is, I have to go more for utility than style, so I stick with the other MacBooks.


    That was the “fact” when I wrote this post. The source: Apple Computer. It was only later that the news came out about using a #0 Philips to do it yourself.

    And by the way, it was no “rumor.” Apple’s official policy is that the user cannot replace the battery. I just called the Apple Store to confirm: if you replace your own battery, you void the warranty. In that sense, you cannot replace it yourself–unless you don’t mind voiding the warranty.

    And as of this moment, it is factually true that you can’t replace the battery–yet. No one currently sells 3rd-party batteries, which would be necessary, because Apple won’t sell you a battery directly, only if they take it in and replace it themselves. And not knowing how well the MacBook Air will sell, there’s no guarantee that there will be a 3rd party solution. There probably will be, but no guarantee of that.

    And Apple is saying that it will take 5 days to get your computer back to you for a battery replacement.

    So you in fact are wrong at the moment: you cannot change it “easily,” not yet. Not unless you buy two MBA’s and swap their batteries.

  6. Lucy D.
    April 16th, 2008 at 20:12 | #6

    In comparison to other ultraportables, the Air is really sexier and much more nice. But what about the specs?
    Macbook Air Competitors

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