Like Jesus Christ, the MacBook Air’s coming was foretold and its arrival was eagerly anticipated... and now that it’s on sale we’re dealing with a crying and bawling newborn that demands to be fed and adored with gold. $1,799 worth, and I know that’s in American money but it still stings.
I had a private briefing on the day that Steve Jobs appeared unto the shepherds in the field and announced his tidings of great joy. “Wow... it’s really sealed up tight,” I said, flipping the Air over and looking for seams and access hatches. “How does one upgrade the RAM on this?” I asked.
“You take it to the Apple Store and say, ‘More memory, please.’”
“And that would be the answer to the ‘How do I swap batteries’ question, as well.”
One USB port. One. But that’s considerably more than its combined total of Ethernet and FireWire ports, which is Zero. This was the sort of revelation that provokes a confused arching of the eyebrows instead of an articulated question.
“We think we have a clear picture of the sort of person who will buy an Air instead of a traditional MacBook,” Apple said. “And this person would rather go wireless.”
Noted. I’m sure that on hot days, this typical user would probably rather go shirtless and trouserless as well. But should he? Consider America’s obesity epidemic.
As I write this, the first Airs have been released into the wild, and the thing’s been benchmarked to within an inch of its life. And friends, the news ain’t great. This is the lowest-performing Mac in the whole line. Slower than even the Mac mini, which under many operating conditions makes you wonder if there isn’t some sort of hidden button on this little box that causes the lid to pop open and reveal an assortment of chocolate novelties inside.
But surely all of this is forgivable, right? It’s an ultralight. There’s no movie or coffee service on a hang glider and for much the same reasons (space, weight, who the hell wants to see a John Travolta movie, anyway?) anything that can be deleted from an ultralight computer, must be deleted.
Besides, it’s hard for me to get all sniffy about the stuff Apple has taken away. My desktop computers exploit the huge speed benefit of a wired connection to my home network, but the only time in the past year that I’ve plugged a notebook into the network was when my WiFi router had declared a sick day.
Even the lack of an optical drive is okay. Really. You’d think that this feature would be non-negotiable. But the drive on my three-year-old PowerBook joined the choir invisible about a year ago and to my surprise, I got by just fine without it. I don’t actually watch movies on DVD on my portables any more. I either buy them from the iTunes store or rip them into QuickTime files.
Just a handful of my software is installed via disc these days; I’ve no trouble relying on a nearby Mac or PC or an external drive for those few times a year when I need one.
Hmm. This is a repeat of what we went through with the first iMac. Releasing a desktop computer without a floppy drive seemed like blasphemy at the time... until it made everybody realize that the era of the 3.5in disk was over.
I won’t fault the Air for its size, either. The Air has provoked plenty of nostalgia for the old 10.9in wide PowerBook G4. If this machine remains one of your great love affairs, who am I to judge? But I always found it way too small for my beefy, manly, swoon-inducing hands.
A narrower notebook doesn’t help me at all. But I can definitely find room in my heart and my notebook bag for a thinner one. Give me a keyboard with room to stretch out my fingers, and a screen that’s wide enough that I can keep a tool palette within sight and the edge of a window within icon-dropping range, and make it slim enough that I still have room for that volume of Proust that I want to be seen reading.
The Air is an interesting mix of expectations. All of its cuts are reasonable. Even its price is reasonable, though I do have to invoke the phrase: “Well, some people aren’t freelance journalists – some people can afford stuff like this.”
In fact, I expect that the $3,098 version with its 64GB RAM-based hard drive will sell well – if all of Angelina Jolie’s sex scenes in Gia could be compressed into the shape of a computer, it’d be a paper-thin three-pound Mac with no moving parts.
I think most of the negative reactions that the Air has swirled up are the result of the awkward situation Apple has put us in. We’re used to dealing with complaints about Apple products and we’re typically never stumped for a response. Yes, Macs are more expensive than Windows machines, but not premium PCs built by companies that do so much R&D. No, iPods and iPhones aren’t flashy ‘style’ products – they look great, sure, but their lines and simplicity are actually practical features that make the device more useful.
We’re not used to conceding valid complaints, are we? Because Apple has traditionally been the company that breaks through limitations that were once thought insurmountable.And of course, this is where any Jesus analogies fall apart completely. If God took to the stage with the Air in tow, it’d have all of the MacBook’s features for just $1,299. Sadly, we’re stuck with conventional, mortal engineering.
Plus, you can’t expect God to give us the perfect ultralight Mac and the iPhone back-to-back like that. That’s like standing up after your crippled legs have been healed and immediately praying for a brow lift and cheek implants.