Nothing But Air?

I think Apple made a few too many assumptions when creating the MacBook Air (MBA), but will that translate to a failed product? I highly doubt it.

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The Developer Assumption

I think Apple made three assumptions when developing the MBA for the subnotebook demographic:

  • Subnotebook users regularly use WiFi hotspots
  • Subnotebook users will not use their notebooks at home
  • Subnotebook users have another computer at home

I’ve found free WiFi hotspots in my area and I seem fortunate enough to be surrounded by a few, but I imagine the average traveler would rely more on an Edge/3g card than a hotspot. So while you’re MBA may be completely wireless, I would argue not as many folks will use it now as in the future.
As a subnotebook, I imagine the MBA will suffice for day to day chores: internet surfing, document editing, etc. Does that mean I can’t use this at home more heavily? Will I not be able to edit photos? Edit films with iMovie? Maybe I’m an extreme case, but from Panther to Tiger, I ran my life around nothing more than an iBook G3 with 900 MHz. Slow yes, but it worked. So I have a bit of faith for the MacBook Air. Will it work as well as a MacBook Pro? That’s a resounding “NO.” So why differentiate into this new market? Frankly, because of the third assumption.

What People Expect Isn’t What They Need

Apple has to assume you have another computer at home to make use of the MBA. I think that’s another reason people are puzzled over it. People seem to equate SUBNOTEBOOK for a CHEAP entry into the Mac lineup. You want cheap and entry you get a Mac Mini. You want thin and portable, you get the MacBook Air. That said people may think Apple has stepped too far too quickly. In doing so they short-sided functionality with form. So I question, if you’re unhappy with the MacBook Air, why? What would you add to it that wouldn’t have you opt for a MacBook or a MacBook Pro instead?
People said the same thing with the Smart Phone market when the iPhone was released. It faced strong criticism that the market was too small for any new, dominant player to take over. So why can’t the same be said for the subnotebook market? Perhaps with Apple’s entrance into it, a revitalization will occur, and people will begin to find niche uses for it. Think of the student. I could see the MacBook Air becoming the dominant dorm staple. It’ll get you to class, it’ll write your papers, it’ll hook up to an external monitor, and it’ll edit a movie or song for you. It won’t do it as well as the MacBook Pro, but it will do it in an extremely small, justifiable space. I think cost then, would be the only deterrent for this product. If cost is an issue, why aren’t you settling for a MacBook?

NetBoot and the Air

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Since I heard that the MacBook Air didn’t come with an onboard optical drive, but did come, instead, with this magic virtual disk feature, I’ve been having a very interesting wonder – does this also mean that NetBoot now works – at least for the Air – over wireless?
And, fresh off the show floor today hot from MacFixIt, is confirmation that this is in fact true. On these machines, at least, NetBoot will work over a wireless network.
Before I start talking about the implications of this, some quick background on NetBoot, especially for those who’ve never used this. NetBoot is a nifty little tool that lets you create an image of your boot disc, and then mount it remotely on client machines to install it. This requires four things to work: a Mac running some flavor of OS X Server and three processes – NetBoot, afp, and DHCP, a separate network-compatibly Mac, a network cable, and a bit of patience. (The cable is now evidently superfluous.)
Drop the install DVD into the Server machine, fire up Image Utility, and create your NetBoot image. (This is cake; like many Apple utilities, it fairly well walks you through using it.) Set up your server to host the image, and you’re done with it. Now go to the client machine. Hold down N during boot to cause the client to look for network images, and you’re good to go.
Because of the need for Server, and because creating an image and installing it takes longer than simply installing it on the client machine directly, you mostly see multi-machine administrator types doing this. The really nifty thing about NetBoot is, in creating this image, you can customize the settings in your image – and then allow access to this install disk to all the machines you want to use it.
Network capable machines can also run as normal off these disks; and you can also set your client machines to always preferentially boot from the NetBoot server, so that every time they reboot, they use the same clean image. (This is very useful in the context of large public or semi-public groups of computers – think campus computer labs – where you’d rather users not be meddling with settings.) Each individual copy of Server can manage up to 25 different NetBoot images, so you could even theoretically install specific setups on groups of machines. I’ve also seen it used to install Tiger from DVD’s on non-DV-bearing computers.
So that’s NetBoot. Provided your NetBoot image host doesn’t go splort – and believe me, if you have machines booting every day over the network, you live in terror of that – it’s a very, very shiny little trick. But back to the MacBook Air, and doing it wirelessly.
Remote Disc evidently contains a NetBoot server, which is in itself interesting. But even more so is that it can be done wirelessly, which must have involved some major changes to EFI, especially in regards to how EFI handles wireless networks. Scuttlebutt is that this will even work on secured wireless networks. That is really interesting. (Working enterprise Mac support has taught me that if there is one thing you can’t depend on with Intel Macs, it’s their ability to find or connect to a given wireless network, especially an exncrypted one.)
Smoothing those issues out would help all of us – maybe there’s another EFI update in the works for Intel Macs?

Reflections on another Tuesday at Macworld

This is the fifth year I’ve attended Macworld Expo on the day of the keynote, and it definitely wasn’t as exciting as 2007. But after last year’s introduction of the long-rumored iPhone, how could it be?
Of course, another big difference is that I didn’t get into the keynote this year. There’s always a disconnect between those who attend the keynote and those who don’t. Read More about Reflections on another Tuesday at Macworld

MacBook Air: The World’s Thinnest Notebook

MacBook Air

The rumors were true. Today Apple released the MacBook Air, “The World’s Thinnest Notebook”.

The competition specs in the “thin notebook” world are around 3 pounds, 1 inch thick, miniature keyboards, and slow processors.
The new MacBook Air is 0.16″ to 0.76″ at its thickest part and has a 13.3″ widescreen display.
A few features:

  • LED backlit display
  • Built-in iSight
  • Ambient light sensor for keyboard
  • Multi-touch trackpad – Move a window by double-tap and move. Rotate a photo by pivoting your index finger around your thumb
  • 80GB drive as standard, 64GB SSD as an option
  • 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo as standard, 1.8 GHz as an upgrade
  • 45w MagSafe
  • 1 USB 2.0 port
  • Micro-DVI
  • 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1/EDR
  • 5 hour battery life
  • 2GB memory as standard

The processor on this thing is unreal. Intel shrunk the Core 2 Duo by 60%. It’s the thickness of a nickel and the width of a dime.
Something worth noting here is that the MacBook Air does not have an optical drive. Jobs says we’re moving towards an age of not needing one. You can get movies via iTunes purchase or rental, use Time Capsule for backups, and install things from CD/DVD via their new “Remote Disc” feature that lets you “borrow” the drive from a nearby machine.
Base price for the MacBook Air is $1799. They are taking pre-orders today and it will be shipping in two weeks.