Andy's Q&A with Apple for MacBook Air & Time Capsule
January 16th, 2008
This wasn't the greatest Apple briefing I've had. Apple didn't make anyone available to answer iPhone or iTunes Store questions, plus I didn't have the usual 45 minutes or so. Instead, I focused on Time Capsule and the MacBook Air.
As usual, any questions that I didn't cover in the briefing were submitted via e-mail & I expect answers overnight. For now, here are some selected highlights. Any factual errors are doubtless the result of poor transcription on my part.
Time Capsule: it's physically indistinguishable from the run-of-the-mill Airport base station.
How does it appear on the network? Can I use it for more than just Time Machine backups?
"It shows up as just another networked drive. So anything you can do with a network drive can be done with Time Capsule. Windows machines can access it as well."
"We think most people will use it as a backup device only."
What happens if I plug in an external USB drive? Will that volume become available to Time Machine?
"I'll get back to you on that."
MacBook Air: It's much more impressive in person. It's light, yes, but it's extremely solid. In many ways it feels like a solid block of milled aluminum.
The contours of the case are quite sinuous; curved edges everywhere with flattened edges where the top and bottom half of the machine meet. For all that, it truly doesn't feel like a subcompact notebook. Because, well...it isn't. It feels very much like a lightweight, flattened MacBook.
It also would appear to be the least user-servicable portable Apple has ever made.
The battery isn't replaceable? What will it cost to get a new one?
"It'll be replaced at the Apple Store. It'll cost the same as a new MacBook battery ($129) and there'll be no charge for the installation."
How long will the battery live?
"I don't have hard figures handy, but it's consistent with our other portables."
As a former owner of an aluminum PowerBook, should I worry about WiFi reception?
"Test it out at home when you get yours. Clearly we're aware of the challenges of metal."
That would be a great name for a VH1 show: "The Challenges Of Metal."
About the solid-state optional drive. How does that option affect battery life and speed?
"It's sort of a squishy answer. Obviously things like startups and launches will just plain fly. But then you get to the sort of operations where nothing relies on reads and writes, and there's no performance bump at all."
"The biggest advantage is simply 'no moving parts'...making it more durable and consume less power."
How many read-writes can I do on this $1000 drive before it starts to fail?
"Let me get back to you."
"This really was designed for the wireless world. Anybody who has the choice would rather go untethered."
"We'll be selling this $29 USB Ethernet adapter for people who still need copper."
(it's a tiny USB fob)
The Air doesn't ship with an optical drive. It's available as a $99 external, but the machine will ship with magical software that lets the Air pretend that the optical drive of a nearby Mac or PC is its own.
Will this utility work if I need to boot from a disc, install new system software, run Disk Utility, that sort of thing?
"The software has special modes for those special situations. It supports installs, remote boot, all that sort of stuff."
What types of media are supported? Does it work with Blu-Ray, for instance?
"I'm checking into that right now."
Can it write as well as read?
"No, it's strictly a read-only solution."
"It works in very nearly any read-only optical situation. It won't play commercial movies across a network, though, and some games are reliant on inserting a disc locally."
The Air's large trackpad supports iPhone-like gestures.
So it seems like Apple's added some new language to the Mac UI vocabulary. Are these gestures formalized? Where are they documented?
"The best place to learn about the gestures is right in Keyboard and Mouse Preferences. There are movies that explain everything."
"The demo up on Apple.com also explains it all."
What sort of application support is required? Does the OS know how to translate a pinch or a triple-finger drag into the appropriate corresponding action in an app, or do apps have to be written especially to take advantage of gesture input?
"We're not prepared to talk about third party support today. Some things are supported right in the Finder, like Cover Flow...and other things like iPhoto are implemented at the application level."
How much power comes out of that one USB jack? Will I be able to use external USB drives that require me to plug into two jacks, so that it can draw twice as much current for the drive?
"We do drive extra current out the port, to support that external optical drive."
What kind of a frame is holding the Air together? The first thing I'd be concerned about with an ultra-thin notebook like this would be that over time, the frame is going to rack.
"Rest assured that we pay close attention to the robustness of the Air."
"A lot of the aluminum in the case is actually structural."
I have the Air in my hands and am getting a sense of the heft of the metal. It doesn't feel chintzy in the least.
"Yeah, you know, when you take a look at some subnotebooks like (name not recorded) it's so easy to twist the screen. Because it's all just plastic inside."
I shift my hands in a meaningful way.
"Don't twist the screen...!"
Now, now...that would have been mean.
digs the Mac, and has been writing about the Mac for longer than most of us could tell the difference between a bite of Apple Sauce from a byte of Apple code. You can read his monthly column at Macworld magazine, and his blog at the Colossal Waste of Bandwidth.
Andy's latest book is The Mac OS X Tiger Book (US$16.49 - Amazon).
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