Got the new 13″ MacBook Air today (which is impressive considering that I ordered it less than 24 hours ago and overnight shipping only cost $16). Loaded out with a 2.13GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM (not upgradable so I’m stuck with 4GB for the next 4-5 years of use), and a 256GB SSD.
Its an engineering marvel. The first MacBook Air was a revolution in that they finally had the idea to minimize the circuit board inside that houses the CPU, memory, etc. and then try and fit it in such a thin design. Though the UFO/Flying Saucer design was novel, it wasn’t until after Apple had more experience assembling things in tiny form factors (see iPad and iPhone 4circuit boards and how small they are compared to the rest of the interval volume being occupied by batteries).
Now that Apple had figured out how to cram everything you needed for a real laptop on a tiny circuit board, it was time to revise the housing and design of the MacBook Air. This was the result. And it was good.
The more (but not completely) square design allows for ports on both sides of the unit. Eliminating the door that was needed by the flying saucer bottom of the laptop. This adds a second USB port, display port out, and SD card reader on the 13″ version. I don’t have a need for the SD card slot, but I’m sure if I was more artsy or hip I’d have a 13MP DSLR and take moody photos and need to unload my SD card somewhat frequently into iPhoto.
When Apple says its the future of laptops they’re right. Intel’s next CPU has a graphics processor on the same piece of silicon. It wont be long before the large areas needed for two separate packages now can be combined into one package. With the advent of the Mac App Store, people will need less CDs and DVDs so optical drives start to disappear. Side note: I wouldn’t be surprised to find large vendors with lots of units (e.g. Microsoft, Adobe) looking to cut special deals with Apple ($99 copies of Microsoft Office Home Edition with Apple taking less than 30%, probably 20%), with the clear goal of going 100% digital, with the side effect of reducing piracy.
People don’t need anything much faster than a 2GHz Core 2 Duo for using the internet, especially if the video they are watching is decoded using the GPU (and less power than a CPU), which it is on the MacBook Air and other Mac laptops with the Nvidia 9400M and 320M chips. Sure if you’re running AutoCAD for the Mac, Photoshop, or Maya you’ll need more horsepower. But then I don’t think this is the laptop you want – you’ll fit better with the 15″ Macbook Pro.
Despite being a niche player in terms of market share, Apple never acts like a niche player. They target their hardware to the broadest possible audience in the segment they’re trying to address. Its why we don’t see Apple quad-core laptops, its why we don’t see more exotic high end video cards (I’m just glad we get decent video cards now – I still have my old Macbook with the GMA950 video, bleck!), its why there aren’t dual SSDs in RAID, etc.
The big push here seems to be the cloud. The problem is that Apple doesn’t have a lot of cloud services to offer – just MobileMe which isn’t that good – I feel like I get better service with my free Google Apps account – email, calendar, docs, etc, and I pay only $20/yr for my domain name for it.
There are only two downsides to this laptop.
First is an artifical restriction by Apple – to get the fastest CPU in the 11″ or 13″ class you have to pick the largest SSD. This isn’t much of a price increase on the 11″ model (64 to 128GB) but on the 13″ model, the jump to a 256GB SSD is a $300 price premium. My original desired model was the 13″ 2.13Ghz with a 128GB SSD. However Apple doesn’t make any in that configuration. So I had to fork over the $300 (ouch) to get that faster CPU. I’m tempted to find someone who has an 11″ model who wants to send me the $300 and their 128GB SSD and I’ll swap them the 256GB.
Higher resolution 13″ display. This might be a pro for most people (and I will list it below under the positive points), with my and my constantly deteriorating eye sight, I have to blow the font size on web pages up pretty high to read the screen on my old Macbook, and with the higher resolution screen I have to hit Command + one extra time.
While there were a number of upsides…
Stereo speakers. And I think Apple applied what they learned with the iPad to make the speakers on this sound decent. I think they’re doing a Bose-like setup (speaker -> small “acoustical chamber” -> output).
Higher resolution screen. As I mentioned above, its a negative for me but a positive for just about everyone else.
Solid state drive. During the keynote Steve said it was 2x as fast, but in reality its much faster than that for the types of disk operations your average application is going to be having compared to a 1.8″ or 2.5″ HDD.
Weight. The laptop is very light. You could carry one around in a backpack all day and not notice it.
For the sufficiently techie looking for an ultraportable (11″) or small (13″) laptop, isn’t averse to paying for a Mac and going without an optical drive (or leeching from a Mac or Windows PC with one), and isn’t looking for a laptop to do heavy lifting, the MacBook Air is the new standard.
I can see the future in the MBA line – in two years when Intel is at 22nm and can put a much faster dual core CPU (in terms of performance, it wont be much faster in terms of GHz) and a built-in sufficiently fast GPU and SATA 6Gb/s with an even faster SSD, we’ll wonder why people hung on to those heavy, chunky laptops for so long. With another 15% of battery life (Li-Ion batteries improve about 8% per year) we’ll see another hour or so of battery life too.