How the MacBook Air Changed the Course of Our Mobile Life

3 minute read
| Editorial

The MacBook Air, introduced by Steve Jobs at Macworld San Francisco in January, 2008, was limited in capability and outrageously expensive. We loved it.

On this 10th anniversary, I have some reminiscences.

2017 MacBook Air

A Writer’s Dream

If ever there were an aspirational product from Apple, the first MacBook Air (MBA) was it. It was so slender, only 0.16-inch in the front, that its sheer thinness made it mouthwatering. Sure it was limited in its capability even by the standards of its time. It only had 2 GB RAM. It only had one USB-A port and no Ethernet port. Gasp. There was, scandalously, no optical drive.

It shipped with Mac OS X 10.5.1, “Leopard.” OMG.

What’s more, it was outrageously expensive, launched at US$1799. And if you wanted that awesome, fast 64 GB SSD, add another $999. ::Cough::

This revolutionary notebook computer received blistering criticism. All sex appeal. Too limited. Too few ports. Too expensive. A hopeless blunder.

And yet. And yet. From the moment Steve Jobs, on stage, pulled the MBA out from a yellow mail-stop envelope, we drooled. I was in the audience, and I drooled. I tried mightily to figure out how I might afford one, but, in the end, I could not. A local writer friend bought one, and I turned green with envy. I told myself the price would come down, and it did.

Years later, 2011, to be precise, I was able to afford one. By then, it had 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD at a price mere mortals could afford (around $1300). And an odd thing started to happen. These newer MacBook Airs slowly warmed their way into our hearts and pocketbooks with lower prices, a Core i5 or i7, and an additional USB-A port.

What was basically unobtainium in 2008 became a travel workhorse in 2011. You’d be in coach class, with a full-blown UNIX-based OS in your lap, and next to you would be some businessperson with a thick, black, plastic IBM ThinkPad. You remember those, right? An inch thick. A gazillon ports. Butt ugly. A forlorn little red button in the middle of the keyboard for cursor control. Yes, the reviled little red button. Who could use that ? Like an animal.

You’d pull out your sleek, aluminum MacBook Air and open MS Word. Your seatmate would glare for a bit, and then glumly go back to his spreadsheet. The MBA made you feel like a super advanced extraterrestrial from another planet.

E.T. with computer.

That “other planet” feeling.

Today’s MacBook Air

In the last few years, the MacBook Air has gotten a little faster, a little cheaper, and the resolution has risen to a non-Retina 1440 x 900. It has lingered, frozen in time, as Apple poured resources into the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar on the high end and the exotic 12-inch MacBook on the low end. Just how the MacBook Air could or would evolve became hard to fathom.

One of the mysteries surrounding the MacBook Air was Apple’s resistance to a Retina display upgrade. The only reasonable conclusion was that Apple was keeping the costs in check so that it could eventually position it for education. And yet, even as economies of scale kicked in, Apple never reduced the price to become within reach of ordinary high school and college students.

So there it sits, in never-never land. Never getting serious display upgrades. Never getting a compelling price reduction. Never able to compete against Chromebooks. Left behind by the rapture of newer MacBooks.

But it was an amazing run. I think, at one time, all the core staff of The Mac Observer had one. Everyone I knew in the Apple community (it seemed) had one. With a beautifully thin aluminum frame and full-size, backlit keyboard, it was simply the most glorious notebook of its day. Even the awesome (2015) 12-inch MacBook has never quite managed to capture the minds and souls of the Apple community in the same fashion. Not even in rose gold.

A Moment in Time

The moment Steve Jobs pulled the original MacBook Air out of the mail-stop envelope on that hallowed day in January of 2008, our mobile world changed for the better. At three pounds, our shoulders never ached. We learned how to work wirelessly. Just carrying one around produced a feeling of pride and elation to be a member of the Apple community.

I wonder whether Apple will ever be able to achieve that kind of feeling again. The new (2017) iMac Pro verges on it. And Apple has another opportunity coming with the re-imagined 2018 Mac Pro.

We lived through glory days. ::sigh:: Now we live in hope.

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JustCause
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JustCause

I hope Apple moves to a minimum of 3x Thunderbolt 3 ports per system, min 6x on Pro (1x is for power).

geoduck
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geoduck

All sex appeal. Too limited. Too few ports. Too expensive. A hopeless blunder.

Amazingly enough exactly the same criticism the MacBook they released a couple of years ago received.

Old UNIX Guy
Member
Old UNIX Guy

Hey Geoduck – the difference between the MacBook Air and the MacBook is that the former has a keyboard that doesn’t break when a single piece of dust gets underneath it! 😉

Apple – if you’re listening … I will NOT buy another laptop from you if my only choice is one with a hard to type on keyboard that breaks after a week of use.

Old UNIX Guy