Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

Summary: Will the MacBook Air change the way schools are currently deploying iPads as the 1:1 platform of choice?

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Regular readers will know that I like Macs, but am no Apple fanboi. In general, for educational purposes, I struggle to rationalize the price points of their laptops and desktops and have seen too many iPad deployments go awry without firm pedagogical frameworks and limited understanding of how to manage an app model in the educational enterprise. However, my new MacBook Air is a pretty incredible computer. So incredible that I have to wonder, both personally and in education, where it leaves iPads? And, for that matter, the MacBook Pros that have attracted many users not willing to make the compromises associated with older MacBooks.

For some time now, white MacBooks have been the laptops of choice for schools looking at Mac deployments. While they are still available in Apple's Education Store, it's pretty hard to justify slower, heavier, less durable machines when $50 extra dollars buys a base Air. Sure, some settings will require an optical drive or longer battery life, but the 11" Air is remarkable in both its kid-friendly size, weight, and aluminum-case-flash-storage durability, and full-size keyboard that can accommodate even large-handed gym teachers.

This really isn't about the white MacBooks, though. Those Core 2 Duo-bearing workhorses will go by the wayside. What I wonder more about is whether, in many educational settings, the Air isn't a better choice than an iPad. There's little difference in weight, size, or time to boot, and the Air gives a full operating system with support for a variety of applications (instead of just apps). No matter how good the virtual keyboard on an iPad, it's hard to beat the backlit physical keyboard on the Air (in fact, the keyboard is competitive with anything else on the market, including the best from Lenovo's ThinkPad series. And, of course, they can access Flash web content as easily as they can run PowerPoint, neither of which can be said for the iPad.

At the same time, many people (including teachers and administrators) bought MacBook Pros to leverage faster processors, aluminum cases, and other peripheral options, even if they weren't the content production "pros" at which the line is targeted. Because the Air's new embedded graphics are far more capable than those on the old white MacBooks, many who upgraded to MBPs in the past won't need to the next time they buy a Mac. The Air, especially when combined with a larger external monitor or projector (as they often will be in classroom settings), has more than enough horsepower for even power user teachers.

So as I sit typing this on my Air, my iPad 2 and MacBook Pro are sitting on my desk next to me, looking at me with betrayal in their Facetime cameras. My Xoom tablet is also a bit sullen, although its Android OS at least gets it a bit more play from me (unlike a lot of reviewers, I'm a big fan of Honeycomb). The Air, though, has replaced both of my tablets as my constant computing companions (say that 10 times fast). Of course, I'm a writer and marketer by trade. I make my living by being able to write very quickly, whenever and wherever I need to. Student use cases are obviously different.

Next: And there's the answer to my question »

Which, at least partially, answers my questions. iPad deployments aren't going anywhere in schools for a couple of reasons, regardless of my own changed usage pattern for my tablets:

  1. Mac OS X Lion Server (which I just installed on that grumpy, neglected MacBook Pro, much to its aluminum delight) is a $50 app now for any Lion-running Mac and provides easy management tools for iOS devices
  2. iPads have awesome battery life and facilitate micromobility in ways that even the lightest of laptops can't
  3. An educational ecosystem and set of pedagogical approaches is emerging quickly around the use of tablets, making the use of full desktop operating systems less important in many K12 settings
  4. The touch interface (both for a virtual keyboard and touch applications) is completely natural for most students and most students aren't professional writers. It's the content consumption that's important for them, far more so than the creation, although content creation in terms of videos, podcasts, and the like is increasingly efficient and effective on tablets, especially as apps optimized for the touch interface mature
  5. iPads, though not cheap, are roughly the price of high-end netbooks and low-end laptops and are about half the price of the cheapest Air
  6. E-textbooks and related rich, interactive content like Cengage's MindTap are being optimized for tablets (especially the iPad as the market share leader), which lend themselves to reading and interacting with print and multimedia in ways that laptops simply don't.

For me, that MacBook Pro is now my primary server and my iPad alternates with my Xoom as my primary e-reader and web surfing machine. When I simply need to read, research, watch, or listen, I'll still take a tablet over my MacBook Air. In fact, more often than not, both my Air and Xoom end up in my bag, meaning that, between the two, I can go for a very long time without power, but with access to the web and any documents I'm creating or producing.
There will no doubt be plenty of schools who hop on the Air bandwagon, and for good reason. More than a few diehard PC fans have purchased Airs for their combination of performance and usability (even if they are running Windows on them via Boot Camp).
And continuing investment in both the ultrabook and tablet categories mean that we're going to see even more choice and competition in these markets. While there will be some cross-pollination and a bit of mutual cannibalism, there is literally and figuratively room in most bags for a light, snappy laptop and a robust tablet.

Topics: Tablets, Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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10 comments
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  • RE: Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

    I don't think the Air will hurt the iPad, it cost far more and isn't necessarily a good fit for replacing one (and vice versa).

    However the Air is a fantastic little machine, and does blur the line between a "traditional" Mac and an iPad, however these are not "drop-in replacements" for each other.

    For younger learners the iPad is still king. Where budget allows the Air/iPad in combination are amazingly productive.
    Jeremy-UK
    • RE: Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

      @Jeremy-UK Umm, $699 to $999 is a lot in the consumer space but the schools are rumored to be paying $999 for the iPads. Not sure why but I guess this has to do with support contracts and such (likely over a 3 year period).

      Anyway, the point is that the Air might not be all that much more in a base configuration given the fact that it is probably cheaper to support.
      slickjim
  • RE: Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

    Let's just say the Air is a good entry point to try Apple. After buying 1 iPad and looking at a second one, I can see myself buying my first mac laptop, the AIR. I'm impressed with Apple quality and battery life.
    Hasam1991
  • RE: Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

    I'd agree that the Air is the right Apple device to use when trying a new Apple device. I'm presently using an ipad2. I'm amazed at how productive it is. I just get most of my work done on the iPad and seldom need to use my PC most of the day. I agree that the iPad is really the post PC WORLD DEVICE!
    Afewgoodmen
  • RE: Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

    Just bought a 13 inch air to replace my 2008 unibody MacBook, still can't beat the ipad2 though for casual web surfing and social media. The file management system on the iPad is getting easier and iCloud may be what it takes to seal the deal
    pstmstr
  • RE: Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

    Honestly Chris, My PSU went in my PC and I have spent too much over this month to shell out $100 for another good one...

    My Solution, Buy the $29.99 DVI Cable and use my USB Keyboard and Mouse from Windows until I can get the desktop back up and running.

    Why am I saying all of this, because I don't really need a desktop with the Air but I really wish that Apple would support Bluray so I could make my own ripped movies from my collection (Mine are just as good or better than the iTunes versions and I own the movies anyway).

    Anyway, I still use the tablet because it is always connected but I will likely cancel that, root my phone and carry that with me instead of carrying the Tablet everywhere. The Tablet is nice and can do just about everything that a desktop can do but not everything (even if it can do more than the iPad 2).
    slickjim
    • The ghost of Jack Valenti

      @Peter Perry "I really wish that Apple would support Bluray so I could make my own ripped movies from my collection"

      Peter, I hate to break it to you, but copying videos, even if they belong to you is illegal if you defeat copy protection (which virtually every DVD has)
      jondrew
  • RE: Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

    I like both the iPad and the MacBook Air, but how do I get the functionality of both in one device?? Just make it so that my 11? air can pivot the screen so that it covers the keyboard and when you do that the screen and OS changes to an iPad touch screen and works just like an iPad. Pivot it back up to show the air keyboard and the OS changes back and you have a laptop! Simple! I can only hope.
    bfrank2280
  • RE: Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

    Nice Blog

    http://www.papersinn.com/
    term_papers
    • RE: Where does my MacBook Air leave my tablets? Or my MacBook Pro, for that matter?

      @term_papers No wonder kids are failing these days and dishonesty is running rampant. Learning is accomplished only by doing the work yourself. Having someone else do your work for you is something that should never be encouraged.
      jfreedle2@...