Let’s add Air

Judging by the post-keynote debate on some mailing lists I monitor and someweb else, Air not only has been the Macworld expo keyword and a key component in the name of the newborn member of the MacBook family. Air also seems to be the main constituent of the chatter surrounding the MacBook Air. Those who might feel offended by such remark should take a look at the title for this article. Heh. Alas, let’s go on.


Don’t put your whisky tumbler on it — it’s a computer, not a tray.

Many people seem to have missed something quite obvious: the MacBook Air is not, and is not exactly meant to be, a substitute of your main Mac. It is an addition, a quite astoundingly-designed one I must add. Other people keep insisting that it’s a bad – no, a wrong product because it hasn’t got what they need or cannot directly support what they would love to attach to it. Many criticise its lack of expansibility, say the MacBook Air is too much crippled to be considered a valuable choice. “Only a 80 GB, slow hard drive?”, “What, the 2 GB RAM cannot be upgraded?”, “Dear oh dear, the battery isn’t user-replaceable!”, “It has no ports! No optical drive!” – and so on and so forth. In other words, they talk about the MacBook Air as if it were a desktop Mac (or a desktop replacement in general). I know, Apple has been treating us quite well so far when it comes to portability plus expasibility plus power. Indeed, my PowerBook G4 is my main “desktop” Mac, attached to a 20-inch widescreen monitor; yet it is a good, still-reasonably-powerful laptop when I’m on the go.

However the MacBook Air has been screaming I’m a portable! since it came out of that manila envelope. It undoubtedly lacks many things. Er, I think that is the whole point. But I also look at what it does have, and I consider the tradeoffs more than acceptable. The processor is not that slow, the amount of RAM is fine for general purposes (I’ve been using my PowerBook G4 with ‘just’ 768 MB RAM for a long time after finally upgrading to 1.25 GB), it has video out, a USB port, it has a negligible weight, an illuminated full keyboard , an enormous trackpad with multi-touch support, a beautiful bright LED screen. All inside that thin aluminium slice. Even a hard disk. Alright, 80 GB is not much considering today’s standards, but I think that the ‘limited’ storage issue has to be mapped with the MacBook main purpose: not being your only, main Mac.

To me, the MacBook Air is the perfect Mac in transit. It is conceived around the idea of travelling light. Light meaning less weight but also fewer cables and gadgetry. It hasn’t got a Firewire port, it hasn’t got an Ethernet port. Right. My old PowerBook does, even my old clamshell G3 iBook does. Do I take advantage of said connections while in transit? Rarely. The MacBook Air is also conceived around the idea of doing things wirelessly. You can install software and boot from a system DVD using the shared optical drive of another Mac. You can do backups wirelessly connecting to a Time Capsule unit. The MacBook Air has ghost limbs, but those limbs may work well, or at least well enough for such a laptop.

To those who still don’t get it: think about the PowerBook Duo line. Those subnotebooks, when not docked, were almost port-less (only a modem/printer port on the PowerBook Duo 280c, for example) because the keyword was portability, not expansibility. As John Gruber said, briefly and to the point as usual, So it doesn’t seem like a tough decision to choose between a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro — if you value the tech specs, get a Pro.

And if you want both the lightness and the expansibility, perhaps you should wait a bit. Wouldn’t it be great if Apple shipped a MiniDock, just like the one the old PowerBook Duo line had?

It’s all for now, esteemed readers, but more post-keynote musings are bound to follow.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!