Believe it, Apple's new ultralight notebook is perfect technology. It's an elite product, something that seems to drive populist Mac fans crazy. But this notebook will be Apple's next step in a strategy to infiltrate the enterprise.
Smart people at parties and on the show floor here at the Macworld Expo keep complaining about the MacBook Air. They are outraged.
"It's just not right," they say. The battery is all wrong. Or it's incomprehensible that any Mac notebook would lack Gigabit Ethernet (or any Ethernet for that matter) or FireWire. Or that there's no RAM upgrade slot.
This machine is so beautiful, but it's unusable! How can this be happening to us?
Sadly, all of these complaints are dumb. There's nothing at all wrong with the MacBook Air and everything is right about it. It's an amazing piece of design and engineering. This machine will be a museum piece, no doubt.
It's also sturdy. Pick up a comparable Windows-market machine by one hand at the corner and you may worry a bit from the squeaks and creaks. On the other hand, the MacBook Air is light and solid. And beautiful.
Somehow, longtime Mac users were deluded that this new machine would be some kind of a replacement for a MacBook Pro. Sorry, it isn't the replacement for anything. The MacBook Air is something different.
(A brief sidetrack: I add that the whole notion that notebooks can be a "desktop replacement" is marketing nonsense, one that most computer users have bought into. Notebooks are designed for mobility and they make many serious trade-offs when compared with desktop machine, whether professional or consumer grade.
For example, my MacBook Pro is a fantastic machine, however, it can't touch an 8-core Mac Pro's amazing processor performance, networking and storage expansion, video performance and reliability. At the same time, it's not so convenient to carry around a Mac Pro.
Now, if I had the money, I would have two machines, one for power and another for mobility; but I make do with one and by necessity, it's a mobile machine. Still, in no way is it a "desktop replacement" other than by necessity that it's used for all my primary computing — until I win the lottery.)
Instead, the MacBook Air is aimed at a narrow upscale segment of the market. These customers care about style and what that style says about them. It's all a part of their personal brand.
These customers want excellent design and will value the drama created by the MacBook Air. When they open this machine at a meeting, it may say more about them than a $300 haircut, or a bespoke suit.
Will these users worry about connecting FireWire for digital video or external storage? They may worry more that a heavy briefcase filled with a heavy notebook could wrinkle their suit before a meeting. Listen, if one of these persons needs an power outlet because the battery is heading towards critical, someone will find them an outlet. And besides, there's plenty of juice for notebooks and mimosas in the first class cabin.
What's great about the MacBook Air is that this machine appears to be a new twist in Apple's stealth campaign into the enterprise. The MacBook Air is all about switchers.
Who will be customers of this classy machine? Captains of enterprise and commerce. Traditionally, these customers have been Windows users. But now they will buy Apple's new ultralight and join the ranks of switchers.
These executives are helping to drive the adoption of the Mac in the enterprise and mid-market companies. I pointed this out a year ago, with the observation that project-centric software companies such as Mindjet were offering Mac versions. The company this week announced a Leopard-compatible update to Mindjet MindManager 7 at the Macworld Expo.
Mindjet does "mind-mapping," or brainstorming for top-level execs. Brook Stein, senior product manager, told me last year that some of the demand for Mac compatibility came from switchers in the executive ranks.
"The biggest market we're seeing growth in are people who use Windows at work [because they have to], but who buy Macs for home," he said.
Now, with the MacBook Air in the briefcase (or manila interoffice mailer), these executives aren't going to want to keep the Mac at home. It's going to go straight into the board room.