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Macbook Air: The Wrong Envelope

Just a Thought - Macbook Air: The Wrong Envelope

January 17th, 2008

Well, I hate to say it, but this time I believe Apple missed the mark with the MacBook Air.

Sure, it's thin, the thinnest computer I've ever seen (virtually anyway). Yes, ignoring optical drives and relying on wireless is bleeding edge technology reminiscent of the first iMacs that shunned diskette drives and proprietary cables for USB. Of course, it's the prettiest little thang on the market, and Apple will likely sell a zillion of them. It's Apple pushing the envelope (pun intended) and that's what they do best.

Yet I keep thinking that, in this case, Apple is pushing the wrong envelope.

Watch a Steve Jobs interview or keynote and one thing you'll likely hear him say is that Apple listens to its customers. Jobs said as much when he introduced Apple TV 2, which eschews Macs and PCs and lets you grab music and movies directly from iTunes. On that count, I believe him: Apple TV was just not getting enough attention and part of the reason was that using it required some technological hurdles that many people just could not get over. By eliminating the need for a Mac or PC Apple has made Apple TV far more accessible.

When it comes to computers, however, Apple seems more interested in dictating what consumers should want instead of giving them what we want.

Take the ill-fated Cube for example: When the Cube was introduced people were clamoring for a mid-sized Mac Pro. The logic was that many people wanted the versatility and open architecture the Mac Pros offered, but at a less expensive price point. Such a device would not compete with iMacs, which was thought of as the consumer computer.

Instead of a mid-sized Mac Pro that would have made working stiffs happy Apple came out with a box designed for an executive's office. The Cube was one pretty machine, and it was even capable of accepting internal upgrades beyond memory and hard drives.

The Cube was bleeding edge technology at the time -- outside-the-box thinking -- but Apple thought outside the wrong box. It did not address the wants and needs of a segment of Apple's customers and offered up something no one (except maybe Steve Jobs) wanted or needed, so the pretty, pricey Cube languished on store shelves.

I have a feeling that the MacBook Air is this year's "Cube." Nearly everyone I've talked to, both Mac and PC fans, want a small laptop. If you've read the blogs and forums leading up to Macworld you couldn't help but come away with a sense that people were looking forward to a small, lightweight device. The MacBook Air is small, but compared to devices like the ASUS EEEPC, the MacBook Air suddenly becomes not so small.

I know I don't want or need a full blown OS while I'm on the go, the iPhone proves that people can get along without the whole of OS X while out and about. What I want is the iPhone or iPod touch on steroids, a small package with some innovation built in.

In fact, if you compare the EEEPC with the MacBook Air you might find that while the EEEPC is not as thin and does not offer that nice multi-touch pad, it does offer enough horsepower to do 80 to 90 percent of what you might want to do. For me, that's plenty.

I also believe that many were waiting to see what Steve Jobs announced at Macworld, holding off buying the ultra-portable they've had an eye on in case Apple offered something better. I wouldn't be surprised if ASUS sees a big jump in EEEPC sales this month.

As for me, I also don't have US$1800 to buy a MacBook Air, and I doubt I'd buy one if I did have the cash to spend. Instead I'm going to pay $400 for an ASUS EEEPC. It's not a MacBook Air, but I'll be a happy camper all the same, and so will my wallet.

Vern Seward is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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