2008-01-30

The MacBook Air, 3G and the Internet

I've been reading a lot about how Apple "screwed up" the MacBook Air because it didn't include a "3G mobile phone modem".

The idea that Apple should have included a 3G chipset is, of course, stupid.

Just about every modern 3G handset out there can operate as a 3G modem for wireless internet. A handset can be connected to the MacBook Air via either USB or Bluetooth, automatically giving any Mac full wireless internet capabilities - over the cell phone network, without WiFi.

So what are the pundits talking about? They're talking about the purpose built modem plans and cards that are sold by the mobile service providers. Of course, these cards exist just because many older laptops didn't have bluetooth. These purpose-built 3G cards are effectively obsolete. These power-hungry, service-dependent cards are still being sold because they work adequately well with old computers. But given modern handsets and bluetooth, the old cards won't be around much longer.

So, why are the pundits still talking about baking a 3G interface into the MacBook Air? Because they either own one of these cards, or they think these cards are "cool". But what they don't realize is that they're obsolete technology.

2008-01-21

MacBook Air features in the MacBook Pro?

Now that the MacBook Air has been revealed, many are curious about what's next.

The MacBook and the Mac Mini continue to be lower-cost winners for Apple and their customers. It isn't costing Apple much to keep these designs around, and they continue to sell well. I don't suspect that Apple will substantially change these machines until Intel releases a compelling alternative to the Core 2 Duo platform.

The MacBook Pro is also a winner, but its basic design has been around since about 2003. I suspect that the MacBook Pro will have a substantial redesign in mid-to-late 2008.

Does the MacBook Air reveal the roadmap for the Pro?

It's time for an update, and Apple's recent products should give us a hint of where its going: Thin and Gorgeous.

Apple's most recent new products, the Nano, Touch, and Air, all follow that attractive theme. Products that don't fit that mold are clearly yesterday's designs. Apple's flagship notebook line no longer fits the future.

The MacBook Pro is a pretty device, but now it's boxy and dated. But it remains quite capable: a recent report concluded that the MacBook Pro runs Vista faster than any other notebook.

How Apple could update the MacBook Pro line is fairly clear: The new Core 2 chipset used in the Air requires less space, less power, and less cooling. Using this class of chipset in the Pro series will permit it to be substantially smaller. I expect a 15" and a 17" Pro that is substantially thinner and lighter than the current series. Being a "Pro", I expect Apple to retain all of the ports and features of the Pro series. Except one....

Internal optical drives: Deprecated, or obsolete?

The big question is: will Apple keep the optical drive in the Pro? An optical drive adds a lot of volume and weight. It reduces battery life. An optical drive reduces the overall reliability of the machine. And with BluRay, optical drive technology is in flux. Given all that, Apple may conclude that the lack of the internal optical drive will make the Pro an even better platform.

Other Air features for the entire Notebook line

The Air also points us to other new features. A new Magsafe connector and micro DVI connector are well suited to thin platforms. I suspect that Apple will commonize these interfaces on their product lines to simplify the customer experience, and to reduce the number of dongles and adapters they need to stock. And for the same space saving reasons, Apple may switch to the small 4-pin FireWire interface, as seen on numerous laptops, as it is both common and small.

Conclusion

The Nano and Air shows us that Apple is being aggressive in terms of design. The MBA is a compete rethink of notebook design. Many of these lessons learned should find their way into the MacBook Pro as Apple redefines the high-end notebook computer market.

2008-01-17

Why the MacBook Air sucks

In the spirit of PC Magazine, here are thirteen reasons why the MacBook Air sucks.

1. $999 SSD option.

Crazy-but-true, the 64 GB solid state "disk drive" option costs $999. I'm sure I could buy a 64+ GB solid state drive for much less. Although I haven't shopped for one, they should cost about $200, right? So Apple, why $999?

2. No Vista

That's right, you buy this thing for $1799 (or more), and it doesn't come with the ultimate Vista - a $600 afterthought? If I want to spend money on a laptop, PLEASE include the Ultimate!

3. No MS-Office

Again, you buy this thing, you can't even edit MS-Word documents - its an extra piece of software that wasn't included!!! This is getting painful!

4. No replaceable battery.

My Olympus digicam used readily-available AA batteries. This thing uses a built-in weirdo battery.... that can't be replaced by normal users! What's the deal??? I want to use AA batteries, so if my battery runs dead on the airplane, I can just pop in new ones from my camera!

5. Almost zero ports

Sure, it has USB2 port, but it only has one. And I hate hubs! Also, there is no Ethernet - what if I want to plug it into a Hotel network? And no FireWire! Totally lame!

6. Too thin.

It looks too thin. I want a little workout with a laptop. This thing will get lost or broken. Give me my IBM T21 any day.

7. Too expensive and attractive.

A Dell laptop can easily be found for under $1200. This one, the lowest end version, is $1799! Can you say "high profit"? And knowing Apple, they'll likely drop the price like a rock soon, just like they did with the iPhone. And it will be stolen or scratched. That'll really blow.

8. No OS9 support.

Everyone remembers how awesome OS9 was... but it won't run on this Mac! The only reason for a Mac is to run OS9 applications like Hypercard and IE5. Now it is an impossibility.

9. No audio in

This blows. There is no way to get audio into this thing. How am I going to rip LPs with this??? And Bluetooth? That'll never take off.

10. No 3G support

Yep, this one isn't compatible with Verizon. It doesn't even have analogue backup.

11. Not enough RAM

Everyone knows that 2 GB isn't enough these days. This is a huge limitation that will prevent work from being done. That's why business would never go with the Mac - 2 GB just isn't enough - a serious business always goes with at least 4 GB of RAM on desktops.

12. Not upgradeable

My desktop PC has 5 - count them - 5 PCI slots, plus a parallel port, floppy drive, and three DVD burners. This one has just one USB2 port. HA! It has zero memory slots, and no IDE ports. There isn't even a port for a Centronics printer! At least they finally unloaded Firewire.

13. Too big.

A 13-inch "small" notebook? PLEASE! I want a small laptop like the 10 inch Sony Vaio, not a huge ship anchor! Apple, PLEASE make a small laptop, under 2 pounds.

Conclusion
Clearly, as I and other industry experts have shown, the MacBook Air is fatally flawed. I'm sure other trade magazines will agree that the PC industry is going in the exact opposite direction, and for good reason - Vista deserves a Power Platform.

I'll let you know when my MacBook Air comes in.

MacBook Air Disassembled

Now what we've all been waiting for is a full disassembly of the MacBook Air. How take-apart -able is the MacBook Air? Is there a good opportunity for Apple to upgrade the RAM to a full 4 GB? Is it possible to swap-out the HDD with a larger capacity model, or with a non-standard SSD? And how easy is it for a user to replace the battery?

Fixing my Bent and Warped PowerBook

My 12" PowerBook G4 developed a little warp or bend so that it didn't sit flat any more. It would wobble on a desk as I typed - annoying! It all happened when I dropped it on the front corner, distorting the case.

A straight edge on the front palm rest clearly showed the bend.

To fix it, I removed the battery and put some slight pressure on the corner, reforming it into its original shape. Then I used a couple small vice grips, covered in cloth, to reform the case, trying to work out the dent "in reverse order in which it was created".

This process is much like how a body shop repairs a dented fender.

The repair looks great - it isn't 100% perfect, but close to it. Now it looks great AND it sits nice and flat on my desktop. And I didn't need to buy a whole new case.

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