MacBook Air. Lacking in a few key “areas.”

jobsrdf.jpgI was really hoping for big iPod Touch… a Mac Touch?
But Air is better for Axiotron’s ModBook, as expensive as it is. It’s a true pressure sensitive touch screen, but it lacks multi-touch.

As for the Air? It’s a bit rarefied.
My distance from San Francisco may have kept me out of Jobs’ “reality distortion field” so that I could hear his “amazing” and “unbelievable” but I wasn’t taken in.

There are several few key points where the MacBook Air misses…


First, Apple made a big point about comparing the Apple MacBook Air (hereafter just called Air) to the Sony TZ series. The price is nice, but Apple certainly took away a lot of the I/O leaving just one USB jack.

Lets see how they compare:



It looks to me like there’s plenty of differences, not just how thin the Air is, but how much more you get with the Son TZ right out of the box.

There’s also some discrepancy with Steve Jobs’ promotion of the Air.
Specifically, when he was showing the comparison of the outline of the Sony TZ to the Air, the air fit within the TZ. given that the Air is actually about 3″ wider, 2″ deeper, this would dramatically change the “overlay” that Jobs used.

aircompare1.gifAs Presented.

airdepth.gifFor real.

Sure, the Air is about 0.5″ lower, but it also lacks numerous features, most obviously, an internal optical drive… but also an ExpressCard slot… separate flash media reader… audio input… internal wired ethernet… internal wired modem… internal standard VGA port… and more.
The Sony TZ has all this
and it is STILL more than 6 ounces lighter than the Air.

“It’s unbelievable.” No, it’s not.

Apple does offer a slightly higher speed processor, with a higher front-side bus as well as higher standard RAM. It’s important that they do this because this is one of the first Apple laptops in over a decade that deliberately offers no easy user access to anything. No expansion bays, no memory slot, no hard drive access, no airport card door, nothing. It is what it is.

On this point, the internal battery is a bit of a departure for Apple. They tried it before with the clamshell iBooks (the colored ones). But even those (aside from having two contacts on the outside of the iBook for drop-in charging) did actually have the ability to change out the battery, even though it was now an internal component, behind a door. There’s a large market for replacement batteries. There’s a pretty good market for those who carry two batteries and switch between batteries when using the machine.

lyra.pngI didn’t own an iPod until it hit a run time where I felt comfortable with the battery life. I owned several RCA MP3 players that used an easily swappable AA or AAA battery. The run time I desired wasn’t a few hours. It wasn’t 5, or 10, or 12 or 15. My first iPod has a run time of 25 straight hours. While I don’t expect laptops to get there yet, I do expect anything that doesn’t let me swap out the batteries to keep working, to have a run time _significantly longer_ than similar units with easily swappable batteries.

Interestingly, Sony’s screen is in a standard WXGA resolution. When I searched for standard resolutions, I could not find the Air’s 1280×800 screen resolution, meaning that it is yet another machine-specific “speciality.” The Air’s screen is larger, but it is also surrounded by a much larger bezel than other MacBooks, PowerBooks and competitors.

For mobile moguls who seem to be the target market for the Air, the lack of a standard video output is rather inane. The absolute requirement for one of several, separate, wired dongles to convert the built-in port to connect to something that’s actually usable is completely antithetical to the Air’s essence. apple_duodock_1.jpgThere are several wireless VGA and wireless HDTV standards out in the market already. These standards could fling the data for the external display wirelessly through the air, but apparently not with this Air.

There’s also wireless USB already on the market. But, again, the Air is grounded in this respect too. Apple once made a truly “reduced” laptop that integrated into several different “docks” that went from replicating some ports, all ports, to housing a seond big hard drive and making the PowerBook Duo into a full-fledged Desktop machine.

A great percentage of “Pro” PC laptops are designed to dock. The Sony TZ that Jobs used for his comparison also connects to a dock. For those who don’t move their machines much, the dock makes it convenient to put all the cables behind the laptop, out of the way. For true mobile jet-setters, the dock is an essential tool to easily jump between “desktop” mode with full keyboard, mouse, peripherals, two monitors and more… to “click” fold up and go.

Apple hasn’t offered that convenience in about a decade.
The other laptop manufacturers have taken advantage of Apple’s lack of innovation.

If you want to continue the Sony comparison, lets go back to around 2001, when sony unleashed some really innovative micro laptops on is that put the Air to shame, like the VAIO PCG-TR1A for instance.

  • tr1a.gifUltra Low Voltage Intel Processor
  • PC2100 DDR Memory
  • 30 Gigabyte Hard Drive
  • Internal Optical Burner Drive
  • 10.6″ WXGA (1280×768) TFT Display
  • Intel Extreme 2 Graphics
  • Integrated AC’97 Audio (in and out)
  • Integrated, reversable VGA webcam
  • V.90 56Kbps Modem
  • 2-button trackpad
  • Stereo speakers
  • 10/100 Ethernet
  • 802.11 Wireless
  • Two USB 2.0
  • One iLink (FireWire)
  • Memory Stick Ports
  • 10.6″ x 7.4″ x 1.4″ @ 3.11 lbs.
  • Windows XP Operating System
  • 2.5 – 7 hours on the user-swappable battery

There’s also the even tinier VAIO PCG-C1VN PictureBook from 1998. cv1n.gifIt removes the optical drive to get down to an absolutely diminutive 9.8″W x 6″D x 1.1″H. But it is still able to squeeze in a 2.5″ hard drive, reversible webcam, flash media slot, USB, PC Card slot and a 1280 x 600 screen. All this on technology from 10 years ago. We can certainly do better than the Air today.

Also, with regard for the mobile professional, it is hard to only rely on wireless data transfer in an office setting. Two of the most common ways people give me data today is on an optical disk or a USB stick. The Air has no internal optical drive (adding it makes the Air significantly bigger, heavier and clumsier than any ultralight laptop that has it built in) and only one USB port. The Mac user is forced to either carry along a second dongle (the VGA adaptor being the first) in the USB hub. Otherwise it will be like they are back using the single-floppy drive Mac SE.

Back in the early Mac days, programs and the system had grown big enough that they didn’t easily co-exist on one floppy. se.gifYou had one floppy for the system and a second for your application(s). You might be able to save a few documents on that second disk. But, if you wanted to save a document on a second floppy- for someone else- there was a lot of floppy swapping, back and forth, back and forth. “swapping floppies was a way of life for the Mac pioneer

As I’ve used computers more and more, I’ve always needed more USB ports than were included. Limiting the USB ports to just one makes for a pretty less useful machine.

While they both offer sensors to park the hard drive heads if the computer is dropped when falling, and both Windows and the MacOS offer log-in security, only PCs offer biometrics that make quick unlocking of the computer by only the owner easy to set up and execute. tzfinger.jpgA fingerprint ID presented by the single swipe of a finger can’t be figured out my looking over the shoulder of the user when they log in. A machine that locks itself down quickly is harder to compromise. A machine that can be so easily unlocked by the proper user makes them more likely to to keep the heavy security in place. Swipe, done.

This also marks the first Mac laptop made since the G3 Series Macs that I’ve discussed before) that has no Firewire port. prismog3rearports.gifApple introduced this on the “Pismo” G3 Series laptop and introduced it with two Firewire ports. Admittedly, the first iBooks also lacked Firewire, but this was quickly rectified by adding it to subsequent models. Now, some eight years later, is apple ditching the Firewire technology that they invented and pioneered?

Key point to this is that the lack of firewire means that the Air is completely cut off from the vast majority of professional and consumer AV devices that have used Firewire as a standard since Sony’s VX-1000 introduced MiniDV and Firewire to the world in 1995. Professionals have demanded the robustness of Firewire over USB. Apple has responded by adding Firewire 800 to their Pro laptops. Apple hasn’t yet offered an external SATA port on their computers yet, but other manufacturers do and it’s a wise move for them.

Just like real life, we need more Air ports. Air hasairports.gifThat’s it.

So, in terms of a portable package that lacks “pro” features, the Air’s design is nice, but it’s clearly several inches wider and deeper than the competition. If Apple really wanted to offer something thin that would have been taken as a lightweight device- they should have made a tablet.

You know, the docking tablet patent stuff that spun around the web a week before Macworld?


Now that would have ROCKED!!!

TRUE mobility for when you were mobile and TRUE functionality when you were back in the office! Want to save power? How about a Core Duo where you can shut half of it down when mobile. Now that’s thinking different.


To make a small, light laptop, Apple only really needed to revisit their own 12″ PowerBook. For mail and mobile computing, web browsing, Excel, etc, widescreen is not necessarily the de-facto best choice. The 12″ PowerBook also has a “full size” keyboard but it has just 1/8″ more computer on either side of the keys. It still has stereo speakers. It still has an optical drive, Firewire, 2 USB ports, Firewire, user accessible RAM, user swappable battery, audio input and more… and it’s not as wide or as deep as the MacBook Air.

To be specific:
PowerBook: 10.9″W x 8.6″D x 1.18″H
MacBook Air: 12.8″W x 8.9″D x 0.76″H

The Air, “Apple’s smallest laptop” is wider and deeper than the PowerBook.
Does that make any sense?

Henry Knorr, respected tech writer, agrees (but he uses a different example):

portege.gifToshiba’s Portege R500 subnotebook weighs even less – 2.4 pounds – yet it has slots for both PC Cards and Secure Digital cards,
a Gigabit Ethernet jack,
an i.Link (FireWire) port,
an audio-in jack,
three USB 2.0 ports,
and a built-in SuperDrive equivalent.

Granted, the R500 has a slightly smaller screen – 12.1 inches – and costs somewhat more, starting at $1,999, than the MacBook Air.


The Air certainly seems to waste space around the keyboard, and around the screen. Compare it to the current Apple MacBook Pros. The MacBook Pro bezel is dramatically thinner than the Air’s. My Titanium PowerBook G4 is even thinner than the MacBook Pro.
Hey Steve… What’s the deal with the wasted space?

There seems to have been an error on the side of “sleek looking” as opposed to making something truly diminutive. The only reason to make the Air’s case come to such a small taper at the top of the screen is to advertise that ultra-thin 0.16″ height that really bears no relevance to anything because it only exists for 0.16 of the depth of the laptop.

The height also fails to take into account the size of the feet, the gap between the table and the bottom of the Air, etc. So all the “thinness” promotion based on numbers alone is a bit deceiving.

The price point seems comparable at first glance when you contrast it to the Sony TZ as Jobs did in the keynote. But when you add on the accessories to make it as usable, the price difference vanishes. And you’re still left with a wider, deeper, heavier computer that still lacks connectivity and interoperability when compared to the TZ.

I think Apple tried to pick a close competitor and tried to present the Air’s advantages in the best light, with the most fervor. But since I wasn’t affected by the reality distortion field, the Air looks like an expensive near miss that needs a few significant adjustments before it truly becomes the ultra-portable Apple intends it to be.

aircircuit.jpgTrim the fat- As Apple showed with the internal photographs, the components are small, The width and depth is just tapered design for the “look and feel.” Make it smaller and people will like it even better.

More ports- Make it play nice with the world without making us also carry around numerous additional wired dongles. Either put a DVI or VGA port in it. Put Firewire back in. Put a media slot in there. Put a second USB port in there.

That’s basically it, Trim the fat, give it more ports. Either it’s a full-featured, stand-alone machine (which the Air is clearly not) or it’s a lightweight machine that needs to tie into and rely on connections to things around it, which the Air has serious problems doing.

There’s something in the Air alright, but it’s yet another set of heavy compromises for lightweight computing.

6 thoughts on “MacBook Air. Lacking in a few key “areas.”

Add yours

  1. Are you kidding me? Can you be more biased and hateful? What happened to objective journalism? This article misses so many marks, and is so slanted, I can’t believe Event DV let it get published! Very disappointing reporting, very. There are a dozen issues this article totally ignores just so it can bash Apple. What a shame…

  2. Slight error – the 4 MB cache for the Air is correct, and the 2 GB cache for the Sony is incorrect. Cache nowadays is measured in MB because it’s super-expensive.

    I agree somewhat with you. The tapering makes no sense but you have to remember that this is a device purely aimed at consumers. How many modern consumer products use Firewire without a USB alternative? Not many. And as you won’t be using high-I/O applications such a FCP on it, a USB hard drive should be fine.

    It is not designed to be someone’s sole computer (unless they only check email and browse the web). It is designed to supplement an existing machine on the move. Unfortunately the price is somewhat misleading in that respect, as it costs just as much as a more powerful machine.

  3. you hit it on the button. You’d better hire some muscle – them apple fanboys are going to be out for your blood!

  4. Ben, I’m as “objective” as Steve Jobs is.
    The name of the blog is TechThoughts as in… my personal thoughts on tech.

    Jon, Thanks for the clarification.

    I double checked Sony’s web site and sure enough, 2MB.
    I corrected the comparison for this, and the fact that the MacBook Air only has one, not two USB ports; and the fact that Sony’s own web site sells the TZ starting for $120 less than I originally quoted.

    OTOH, consumer electronics with Firewire?
    How about every single HDV and
    every single DV camcorder ever made.
    These are not “high I/O” as HDV/DV is only 3.6 MBps.
    FCP? Well, the new iMovie is a joke. So at least use FCE.

    Steve Jobs makes a point that this is not a “crippled” processor. Which means it should be able to do video editing just fine- as long as it’s video from a hard drive or flash media camcorder that has USB that the Mac supports.
    But how many camcorders is that, really.?

    fuddam, Actually, I am an Apple Fanboy, and longtime member of the Philadelphia PowerBook User Group. My first laptop was the PowerBook 160 and I’ve always had at least one PowerBook since.

    The reason this article is so “down” on the Air is because it’s not the most portable machine Apple could have made, there’s too much wasted space. It’s also not the most advanced laptop Apple could have made, or else they’d have kept the optical drive in it and/or brought something new, exciting or innovative to the laptop table.

    Making a laptop thin by removing almost everything from it is not innovative.
    Even with all that removal, it’s not as light as small laptops with far more capability and interconnectivity.
    So it’s two strikes. Now, for this thinner MacBook that you have to buy all the accessories to use it, you have to pay a $900 price premium over the basic MacBook. That’s strike three.
    Anthony Burokas

  5. another update:

    Engadget notes:
    “Battery life could be the biggest trouble point, with a couple guys rating it around 3.5 hours with heavy use, and even less when watching a movie on iTunes”

    So much for the 5 hours Jobs touted.


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