I took a group of students to Cambridge yesterday for a field trip. I turned them loose in Harvard Square for a while, we wandered around MIT, and took in the Museum of Science. The most interesting part of the trip for me, however, was a stop at the Cambridge Mac Store (it was on the way from the MIT T station to the Museum of Science...no, really...). The Mac store is a nice place to be no matter what and all of the students have added Macs and iPhones to their own graduation wishlist.
However, this was the first time I'd had a chance to play with the MacBook Air. Media reports, I'm afraid, don't do it much justice. Its price is a serious barrier to adoption, basically ruling out the K-12 segment and quite a few college students on a budget. This was not the target market, though, and, having given it a go, I could still see some applications for Ed Tech.
First off, the keyboard, multitouch trackpad, and the LED screen absolutely rock. For those not used to the low-profile Mac keyboards, it will take a bit of acclimation. For those of us who have come to love our MacBook keyboards, though, this provides a step up in feel and speed. Multitouch has made its way to the MacBook Pro and iPhone and adds further functionality to the already-cool Mac touchpad. The LED screen as well needs to be seen to be believed; the color saturation is really impressive.
And yes, performance is an issue. One of my students started firing up applications just as he can on my MacBook (4GB of RAM and a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo take multitasking to a new level) and he immediately commented that it felt sluggish. He was right. This has been well blogged about, though. The real point of the Air, and the whole reason to add it to my wishlist, is that, like the Eee I requested yesterday, this little laptop could easily be slipped into my messenger bag right beside a spiral notebook, a pencil, and my graphing calculator and add virtually no weight or space (even on a day when the heat index is pushing 100 degrees, 3 pounds is pretty doable; the Eee is 2 pounds).
I missed my computer yesterday. 5 pounds isn't exactly heavy, but I decided not to bring it since it's my main computer, since it was so bloody hot, and since it fits quite well in a small laptop bag, but not so well in the small messenger bag I brought for a water bottle, pencil and paper, a student's asthma inhaler, etc. The Air (or the Eee, for that matter) would have fit quite handily (I think the Mac Store folks were a little worried as I slid the Air into my bag, just testing for size, of course). What the Air has that the Eee lacks is that beautiful keyboard, 13" screen, and the Mac OS.
Is it worth it? For the college student whose wallet is hefty (or who doesn't mind eating through an extra couple grand on a student loan), it just might be. This isn't the machine for engineering majors, but for someone who writes a lot, researches a lot, and spends more time in the library and the Quad than in his/her dorm, the Air is a very cool machine.
How about teachers? Most of us can't afford one. Professors, however, who move from office hours to a lecture hall, to a meeting with doctoral students at the local coffee shop, to the airport for a lecture across the country, and so on, could probably justify the cost quite well. When the next generation Air comes around sporting Intel's latest mobile processors and a bigger dose of RAM (I'm not starting any rumors here, but these seem like likely tweaks), I just might need to find some way to justify the cost myself.