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2008: Decision Year for RIAs - October 20-22, 2008 San Jose


Why Geeks Just Don't "Get" the Macbook Air
Macbook Air might arrive just in time for the iPhone SDK, giving me the perfect iPhone development machine

I have seen just about every kind of complaint possible about the Macbook air...but the circles in which I "travel" (by travel, I mean navigate the flood of RSS-based news in the airtight bubble that is a newsreader) are decidedly slanted toward the high end of the geek spectrum. The complains I have seen are varied, but they basically boil down to the following single statement:

This device does not have enough of the 'stuff' that I need to make me and my laptop feel powerful
That's pretty much the crux of it right there. What it seems like most people are missing is the essential difference in design philosophy between traditional PC manufacturers (though MS designs this way too) and Apple. With traditional PC manufacturers, it is blatantly obvious that they have designed some kind of device that packs as much power into the approved form factor as you can manage without blowing it up (and sometimes it blows up anyway). They build to price points and technical specifications. Geeks who want "laptop X" can go online and amp up all of the configurable options to get the "super laptop X" and regular shmoes can get "regular laptop X" by leaving the default configuration alone. It's a single device that is designed to make everyone happy and usually only makes a handful of people happy and everyone else just gets a "meh." type reaction at best.

Apple doesn't design that way. While not as many people buy Apple products as they buy Dellss or Lenovos, those who do own Apple laptops and Apple products are absolutely overjoyed (with exceptions, of course) with their device. Why? Because Apple didn't build "box A" to suit "customer types A-L". Apple does extensive research when designing their products, and they figure out exactly what people want to do with a device, and then they make their device not only do what people want it to do, but they make their device do it better (or at least with more style) than their competitors.

I am as guilty as any other geek of taking one look at the specs for the Macbook Air and getting disappointed. I remember quite clearly saying , "WTF?!? A slow 80GB hard drive? Only 2GB Ram?? And WTF is up with that lame video card!? Why isn't there a 2x read-write Blu-Ray burner in there!?"

Here's the thing: If you want all of those power features, Apple already makes products for you: The Macbook and the Macbook Pro. If, on the other hand, you are craving a really lightweight, ultra-thin device you can slip into your messenger bag or backpack so that you can have OS X with you on the go, then the Macbook Air is the device for you. If you are doing video transcoding on your laptop, this isn't your device. If you are pissed off that you won't be able to play Battlefield 2142 on the Macbook Air - don't get the Air.

For me, I don't own a desktop computer. I have a 17" Macbook Pro that I tote with me to and from work everyday. I whip it out on the train and code and watch movies, listen to music, do some writing, etc. While I am on the go, I do not use my optical drive, I do not use anywhere near the max of my 3GB RAM, and I definitely don't use all 17" of my screen. That said, I use every last freaking inch of screenspace and every last byte of RAM when I'm at home doing "serious" stuff, when I've got my Bluetooth mighty mouse out and a spare coffee nearby.

The MBP is nearly 7 pounds. Add to that it's power adapter and the other stuff in my backpack, and I'm lugging around a lot of crap. It's also a pain to bring into conference rooms to present stuff. What I want is essentially a really thin portable Mac laptop that I can code on, watch movies on, listen to music on, write with, and have the ability to plug it into a monitor or TV so I can leave the 17" MBP at home. The Macbook Air fits all of those requirements for me.

It's just really hard not to resist the incredible geek-need to "power up" any device I own with the biggest, fastest hard drive, the most memory, the most kick-ass video card. If I want the most powered-up laptop available, I'd buy the 17" alienware with twin-SLI 512MB video cards and a 2-drive RAID array. Now that is an alpha-geek laptop.

Think about this: If I wait a couple weeks until I can lay hands on one in a store before ordering, a shiny new Macbook Air might arrive just in time for the iPhone SDK, giving me the perfect iPhone development machine since the iPhone GUI doesn't require the same amount of screen real estate that Interface Builder 3 requires.

My usual rule of thumb is to wait 2 weeks after a Steve Jobs keynote before purchasing anything. That way I can be sure that any residual RDF effects have worn off. We'll see how well I'm holding up two weeks from now :)

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About Kevin Hoffman
Kevin Hoffman, editor-in-chief of SYS-CON's iPhone Developer's Journal, has been programming since he was 10 and has written everything from DOS shareware to n-tier, enterprise web applications in VB, C++, Delphi, and C. Hoffman is coauthor of Professional .NET Framework (Wrox Press) and co-author with Robert Foster of Microsoft SharePoint 2007 Development Unleashed. He authors The .NET Addict's Blog at .NET Developer's Journal.

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ok .. so now i have to get a computer for work, computer for home, and a macbook air for the train .. and sync up all my files and databases from computer to computer everyday .. no thanks .. i'll hang on to my macbook pro (or laptop pc or whatever)

The author gets it. Remember when Apple was the 1st one to get rid of floppy drives? Everyone laughed. MacBook Air looks to be the right balance of the future. Super lightweight and powerful, trying to pinpoint the fulcrum of what most people want and need. If I didn't buy my MB Pro 60 days ago, this is the one I'd buy today. I'd choose it for my wife (the lawyer), my children, or my mother-in-law any time. They'll all love it.

An aerospace engineer.....

Finally, the first set of SENSIBLE comments I have read about the Macbook Air! At last, someone GETS IT!! I was starting to feel like Will Smith in I AM LEGEND the past few days, only without the dog. It's nice to know I am not the only one who gets what Apple has achieved with Air.


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