Thursday, 17 January 2008

MacBook Air: Object of lust or awkward compromise?

It's been interesting watching the reactions to Apple's announcements this week. Probably the most predictable was the disappointment many people expressed (link). After the iPhone announcement last year, almost anything was going to be an anticlimax. At this point Steve Jobs is competing with himself at these keynotes. Never mind that he single-handedly got as much attention as the entirety of CES the week before, if this year's keynote is not more Earth-shaking than the one last year it's a letdown.

Live by the spectacle, die by the spectacle.

To me, the two most interesting announcements were the MacBook Air and the new Apple TV and its associated services. Apple TV is strategic and needs a longer blog post than I have time for tonight. But I'd like to make a quick comment on the Air.

The next PowerBook, or the next PowerBook Duo?

I'm trying to reserve judgment on the Air until I can see one in person. On paper, it makes some uncomfortable compromises. No removable battery, no optical gives me nasty flashbacks of the PowerBook Duo. Like Air, the Duo was very thin and lightweight for its time, and like the Air it compromised on a lot of features. The Duo had a pretty elegant docking station that allowed you to use it as a full computer at your desk, then take the portable part with you when you traveled. I was working at Apple at the time, and I thought the whole concept was pretty clever.

It didn't sell well.

Turned out most people wanted to take the whole computer with them, not just part of the computer. They traded up to a heavier device with full features.

I worry that they might make the same decision about Air.

On the other hand, I just last week I wrote a post lavishly praising the new iPod Nano because its thin, elegant design more than compensates for its somewhat limited feature set. A lot of people criticized the Nano when it was first announced, in part because the photos couldn't do justice to its elegant design. When you saw it in person, it all made sense.

Maybe it will be the same for Air. I want to see and touch one. Maybe the lust factor will overcome the feature shortcomings. Or maybe personal computers are judged differently from music players. We'll find out.

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