Why does the MacBook Air make so many so dumb?

Why does the MacBook Air make so many so dumb?

Summary: Believe it, Apple's new ultralight notebook is perfect technology. It's an elite product, something that seems appears to drive populist Mac fans crazy. But this notebook will be Apple's next step in a strategy to infiltrate the enterprise.

SHARE:
385

Why does the MacBook Air make so many so dumb?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.

Read related story: Do switchers now rule the Mac?

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.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

385 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The market will decide..

    Let face it, Apple has always gone for form over function. The Air is just their latest status piece for the masses. It doesn?t have to actually work well, it just has to look good in your home or office. The problem for Apple is that people are waking up and expecting more than a pretty face in the morning. It isn?t good enough to just look good when you need to get some work done.

    Anyone who owns a laptop knows that battery life is measured in discharge/charge cycles. Most batteries only last a year. What are you going to do when facing a deadline and you don?t have time to take your laptop in for repair for a new battery? That is the real drama with owning this laptop.

    Apple has brought new meaning to the phrase ?A fool and his money shall soon be parted?.
    TheTruthGiver
    • Please stop with the ongoing nonsense

      >>> Let face it, Apple has always gone for form over function. >>>

      Apple has, for years, gone for form AND function. Something "PC" OEMs are just discovering.

      Since the late '80's Apple has paid attention to industrial design, engineering and usability but also performance and features/function. Anyone who claims otherwise either hasn't used a Mac (much or at all) or is simply an uninformed Apple basher.

      ONE of the reasons Apple products have traditionally cost more is the thought and extra effort put towards industrial/engineering design (ie, since the IIcx (circa '89), Macs have generally been easy to open and maintain/upgrade vs typical "PC" boxes that required follow-up trips to the emergency ward for cuts, scrapes and stress-related problems).

      IIcx - case easily slid off and innards opened like a book to reveal the "guts" of the machine; 9600 (mid-90s) - laid on it's side, again opened like a book (some thought clam shell) to reveal it's workings; G3/G4 towers (late '90s/early 2000s) - drawbridge side opened to reveal insides; G5 tower - side panel easily removed; most components pull/slide out with plug connections for easy access and swapping; etc. Only relatively recently have other OEMs paid attention to such "access" detail and especially attention to external design (Dell being perhaps the most noticeable).

      Macs have also been very usable and full featured vs comparable "PC" counterparts. Since Apple has moved away from unusual or "proprietary" technology (ie, NuBus, SCSI, ADB, etc), prices have also fallen in line with comparable "PC"s.

      So I disagree with the ongoing "myth" (or slam) that Apple has just paid attention to form over function.

      In all the years I've used a Mac I have never felt "deprived" or short changed of functionality and capability (other than visiting those web sites designed exclusively for Windows and IExplorer... whose designers should be tarred, feathered and shot :-) )

      In fact, for many multi-media applications (creation and playback), IMO I've enjoyed a long time advantage by using a Mac.

      >>. Apple has brought new meaning to the phrase ?A fool and his money shall soon be parted? >>>

      You're confusing Apple with Microsoft. Which "fools" keeps buying flawed, "just good enough", "much hyped and promised but often devoid and late" products from MS? Is it lock-in, stupidity, masochism, a combination of the preceding... what?

      ...
      MacCanuck
      • The only Mac's entirely too hard to service were....

        The original Quadra 8 series and PowerMac 8 series (800, 840av, 8100-8500).

        It was actually worse than a PC tower. In most cases, you had to completely disassemble them and remove the logic boards just to install a RAM or VRAM upgrade.

        I know. I sold and upgraded thousands of these things prior to shipment to the customer back in the 90's :)
        BitTwiddler
        • Don't forget...

          ...the original Mac and the "fat" Mac, which required special tools just to open the case, and motherboard modification to add RAM.
          itpro_z
        • Umm, not quite

          Clearly you have never tried to do a drive replacement on a Powerbook. It wasn't until the Macbook that Apple considered servicability of the devices, and even the Macbook had some early stumbles.

          I did a drive replacement on a 12" Powerbook a few weeks ago. You basically have to peel the thing completely apart to get the drive out. I didn't count but I believe it was upwards of a hundred tiny screws, both phillips and torx, and I think five tiny and easy to break connectors -- most of which were taped down with aluminum tape. It took more than an hour, and only that short because I had a step-by-step guide. If I were working it out on my own it would have taken several times as long.

          My Quad is brilliantly designed, extremely easy to service ... but not so other Macs. Even the mini is something of a pain and they really didn't have any good reason not to just use screws to hold the case together on that one *except* to make it hard to service.

          As for the Air, I think they probably hit their market on the nose. This is a terrific remote access device. The only real complaint I have with it is that you are going to need an external battery to pull a cross-country flight, but you'd have to carry a spare anyway so it's kind of six-of-one, half-a-dozen of the other. Along those lines the quip about first-class power outlets is the kind of thing you say only if you don't fly in first class often; many planes have not had them retrofitted.

          For myself if I had to replace the Macbook I'd almost certainly get one of these. It's not quite what I want -- I want a 13" Macbook Pro -- but it's close and looks to be a lot more durable than the Macbook I use now. We'll see how it evolves over the next couple of years.
          jimfrost
        • Yes, I'm not saying or claiming

          ALL Macs were easy to service but from the late '80s on (my IIcx was great), many machines (particularly "pro" models) were made more easily "serviceable" (upgradeable).

          My main point was that Apple did try to pay attention to the "form" (in "form over function") by trying to address maintenance and accessibility issues. Up until recently, such attention to detail was unknown or ignored by most (if not all) other "PC" OEMs. The same goes for exterior design.

          Anyone who has seen and/or worked on the inside of a G5 (now Intel) Pro tower can appreciate the engineering, thought and build quality that went into them.

          And certainly not all models are easy to access (consumer-oriented models mainly, many of which are not thought or expected to be highly customized/altered by "ma & pa" user).

          ...
          MacCanuck
        • Why...

          do Mac users insist on calling a motherboard a logic board? Is this part of Apple's brainwashing? Are Macs soooooo sophisticated they can't use simple off-the-shelf parts with commonplace technical names? Believe it or not, I've used ram from a Mac and put it on commodity grade motherboards and vice-versa, way back when I owned Mac IIs of a couple of flavors. The old Motorola 680x0 CPUs just ignored parity bits.

          It's just the sizzle you Mac users are buying. I bought it too for a while. Jobs laughs all the way to the bank--he has a great deal in common with P. T. Barnum. What a showman!
          djchandler
        • Not the 8500

          I have an 8500, and it has the side-door approach.

          Push the button and the side door opens.

          The Blue and White G3 series perfected and simplified the side-door access. But the
          8500 was the first to have it.

          http://www.insanely-great.com/reviews/b&wg3.html

          "As an PM 8500 owner, the side-opening case is just beautiful. Sometime I just feel like
          opening it up to take a look in side. The four DIMM slots are easily accessible as are the
          three PCI slots. Drives can be a little tricky to add or replace since all the drives must be
          removed, but I feel the caddy is a clever idea. "
          Jkirk3279
        • $$$

          Wasn't that done so Apple could charge there ridiculous upgrade charges for memory? Grin!
          The_Curmudgeon
      • so Mac_Canadian we meet again

        if Apple has been so successful with Form and Function - as opposed to Form over Function. How come it is MS not Apple that controls the market.

        Battery life WILL be an issue for these systems and I am not sure how that thin a keyboard would feel - but will travel to take a look.
        Paul Fletcher
        • Actually, that's a interesting bit of history

          The story starts when Microsoft was young and their only project was a basic compiler for a programmable HP calculator. Microsoft took a contract with IBM to build an operating system for the micro computer system it was working on. Which Microsoft did. This gave Microsoft instant penetration into the boardrooms and executive suites because it was pulled in by IBM. IBM in a long line of foolish mistakes allowed both it's PC design and the OS to fall into other hands. This gave rise to cheap clones which were powered by the same OS with the same software available. This pulled Microsoft rather than the technically superior Apple into the fore in the operating system competition.

          You can say what you want but Microsoft didn't achieve it's market dominance due to building a superior product. That dominance was achieved by riding the coat tails of another company and basically hoodwinking, legally of course, that company out a product it had paid for by IBM not requiring the license for the software developed for them.

          In the end, the Apple products have almost always been technically superior but due to forces unrelated to quality, price, fit or finish Apple has been kept out of the business arena except in very specialized areas.

          This has pretty much been the story of the personal computing since it's inception with the original Apple computer.
          maldain
          • funny you should say that

            I had a personal computer before the Apple appeared. I also remember those early days and MS wasn't working on a basic for an HP calculator - try Altair.

            Apple had issues with the G series systems - even though Steve said they were the fastest thing out there 3rd party tests proved they were not. Eventually going to X86 to make up the difference
            Paul Fletcher
          • I would agree with most of that

            But I think Apple is not completely without fault. Their choices, especially in the '90s, did not result in the best reputation (remember the Scully years?), and choosing a closed architecture limited many of the uses for Macs where PCs could have cards plugged in to add new capability.

            But MS really just got lucky, and of course they didn't even develop the OS themselves, they bought it from someone else. Then there's the whole Digital Research thing that dumped IBM into MS's hands...
            brble
          • Clearer History

            A little more history, IBM went to Bill Gates to provide some application for the future PC. Bill referred IBM to Gary Kildall and asked him to provide the operating system (CPM) for its new PC, Gary would not sign a confidentiality agreement, IBM went to Microsoft, which purchased QDOS (Quick & Dirty Operating System) from Seattle Computer Products and turned it into PC-DOS and MS-DOS. The rest is history. The irony is that Microsoft's DOS was modeled after CP/M.
            roog
          • Actually Microsoft did not build DOS

            They licensed it from Digital Research which is why there were always three DOS's available; MS-DOS, IBM-DOS, and DR-DOS. DR-DOS usually lead the way with advances. Microsoft never created anything original in their history.
            jorjitop
          • Check your facts....

            Microsoft had nothing to do with DR-DOS. Please do a minimal fact check before you post. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ms-dos
            InnocentBystander
          • Aren't you Nervous?

            After all, I keep hearing about "Innocent Bystanders" being killed in all kinds of
            hideous accidents.

            If I were you, I'd be very nervous !

            M$ was only involved with DrDos to the extent of successfully stamping it out.
            Jkirk3279
          • Wikipedia....

            I'm sorry but you tell someone to check their facts.. but you put in w Wikipedia
            link...how silly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Hemisphere herein states in the
            fifth paragraph last sentence of that paragraph that the Sun rises in the West and sets
            in the east.... Maybe you should pick a better source to check facts.... I don't care who
            invented DR-Dos I just thought it was funny you choose such a bogus site to have
            someone look up for Facts and that don't even know what direction the sun moves...
            How very funny.
            kennethpotts@...
          • Quite obviously...

            You aren't a developer. Please stop living in the 80's. That's the problem with you people, you can't see to get it through you head that in order to compete in today's market you have to be concerned with today's issues. Microsoft has released visual studio, the .NET framework, WPF, WF, WCF, XAML, and Silverlight just recently to name a few. I defy you to show me anything that they're 'copying.' Don't bother pointing out the SVG spec btw, it's just that, a spec. If you go there, I'll rip you apart with a few simple facts about it.

            Also, Apple ripped off all their designs from the braun products of the 1960s. They copied most of their product's architecture from the leavings and discards of Sun Microsystems, and they flagrantly go about making absurd and completely invalid claims publicly, not really caring if they lose in court because they can afford to pay, especially if their slander pays off. Real classy group you run with.
            Spiritusindomit@...
          • Quite obviously...indeed

            I liken reading these posts to an addiction, a quick mindless diversion. I am not quite sure what the posters do for a living but the drivel that spills out is not based in fact.

            Notice nobody responded to your post? Simple, you stated a fact about MS development tools.

            The nauseating debates over platforms follow any story on a particular product/feature/platform (circle one). Then out come the legion of MS v. Apple v. Open Source advocates that seem to live in a world where that ignores one simple reality, professionals make choices depending on applications and consumers make choices with their money.

            Those two groups, Enterprise/institutional computing and consumer computer represent the two major markets. The products then fall into categories. The MacBook Air is obviously not designed for a techie or a power user.

            Apple knows their customer, I will give one example. The Apple iPhone is the most visible and desirable smart phone. However the truth is their are far more Motorola Q's and Palm Treo's in users hands. Stop the next person you see with a Smartphone and ask them what three drivers made them chose Winmobile/iPhone/PalmOS (circle one).

            Apple builds awareness not on technical excellence or application suitability, demand for Apple products is based on desire Apple creates. Form over function.

            I clearly see the niche the Apple built this machine for, the author of the article hit it on the head. I am sure my wife would love one of these. It would look great in her Tumi portfolio. When the battery goes bad or any problem it can be taken to the cool Apple store and they will repair it and she can check her email on one of our other machines. That is why the Apple store is next to Nordstrom's not Wal Mart.

            I have no doubt that Apple's market research and product managers are capable of doing their homework. The market will tell if the machine is sexy/desirable/relevant (circle one).

            Wow, it's late, I could go on and on. Thanks for a good post.
            scott@...