I went to the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, CA on Tuesday. Apple announced several interesting things, including movie rentals through iTunes and a new Apple TV product that lets you rent or purchase content from iTunes directly from your living room. But the most impressive feat that the Kingdom of Jobs was able accomplish was squeezing most of the functionality from a full-featured MacBook down into a teeeny-tiny super-slim sub-notebook called the MacBook Air.
My first glimpse in person of the MacBook Air was of a string of them that were hanging suspended in mid-air on one side of the large Apple booth on the show flow. The initial reaction I had was “whoa…optical illusion!” You see, when you look at a MacBook Air from the vantage point of seeing its topside, it looks like it’s a flat 2D plane. Seriously. There’s no perceptible depth at all. You know how you can look down at a piece of paper or an envelope and it doesn’t appear to have any thickness? That’s what the MacBook Air looks like from the top. When you angle down so you can view more of its side, only then do you notice it has a little bit of thickness, but even then it’s unbelievably thin.
After wading through massive crowds, I finally got to the row of MacBook Air’s that Apple was letting people play with. The Apple Guy™ who was assisting me let me unplug the power and hold it in my hands and feel its size and weight. Let me tell you, it’s every bit as impressive in real life as it is in any of the advertising. This thing is so light, so thin, so sleek — yet it feels sturdy and tight, like a single slab of metal. There wasn’t any “play” or creaking or flexing or anything that would indicate flimsiness. I’d feel pretty confident trekking around with this in my backpack. If you’ve ever used an iPhone or iPod Touch, it has that same kind of solid, expensive feel.
The screen on this thing is gorgeous, just like on the regular MacBooks. The keyboard feels pretty much just like the truly excellent standard MacBook keyboard as well, which is astonishing. This is no compromised sub-notebook with the emphasis on “sub” — it’s a real machine. Also intriguing is the large multi-touch trackpad. I’m not sure how much “aha!” this type of technology garners compared to the awesome multi-touch capability of the iPhone/iPod Touch, but it was pretty nice to be able to zoom and rotate images in iPhoto, Preview, and so forth. Now if they could come out with an “iDevice” that has a real touchscreen, then we’re talkin’ babe.
Despite Steve Jobs’ RealityDistortionField concerning the completeness of the MacBook Air package, there are some major drawbacks to consider. First of all, there’s no ethernet port. Yes, that’s right, all you get is wireless (802.11n) network support. Granted, you can purchase an optional USB-to-Ethernet adapter, but considering you only get one, count ‘em, one USB port on this sucker, it’s not an ideal solution. Also there’s no Firewire support whatsoever — a real disappointment for us fans of the superior I/O standard. Finally, the other obvious omission — and for obvious reasons — is the lack of an optical drive. That’s not really a criticism, as all super-thin sub-notebooks lack optical drives, but considering many people like myself play CDs and DVDs all the time on the road, it could relegate this product to a relatively niche status.
For a base price of $1799, you get one hell of a computer. It’s mind-bogglingly portable, fast, elegant, usable, capable, and I guarantee you will not find a single notebook from Apple or any other company around that will impress your friends and co-workers half as much as the MacBook Air. It’s a huge milestone in the evolution of the notebook, and certainly for the Macintosh platform, and I have no doubt that future Apple notebooks will be heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the MacBook Air.