A Sweet Breeze

At Macworld this week, Steve Jobs announced a number of new products for Apple.  While most built on existing product lines, one stand out from the crowd as both unique and, quite possibly, daring.  Betting on the ubiquitous presence of wireless access, Jobs announced a new member of the MacBook family, the MacBook Air.

The MacBook Air is Apple’s entry into the so-called Ultra-Light notebook category.  Sporting a 1.6 or 1.8 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB SDRAM, and 802.11n wireless access, this tiny notebook is nothing to scoff at.  Internal storage comes in two flavors, a 4800 RPM 80 GB hard drive, or a 64 GB Solid-State drive.

Conspicuously missing from the Air is an optical drive and an Ethernet jack, though external versions of these are available.  A notebook designed for a wireless world, the Air comes with special software to allow your desktop computer to become a file server, of sorts, so you can install cd and DVD based software over the air.  With the enhanced speed of 802.11n, even large installs should take a relatively short amount of time.

The Air has a few other innovations as well.  The keyboard is backlit, containing an ambient light sensor that automatically lights the keyboard in low-light conditions.  The touchpad now has multi-touch technology, allowing touchpad gestures to rotate, resize, etc.  A micro-DVI port, hidden behind a small hatch on the side, allows the user to connect to a number of different types of external displays ranging from DVI to VGA and even S-Video.  The 13.3″ widescreen display is backlit, reducing power consumption while providing brilliant graphics.  And finally, for the eco-conscious, the entire MacBook Air is built to be environmentally friendly.

But can Apple pull this off?  Will the MacBook Air become as popular as they believe it will?  Has the time come for such a wireless device?  Remember, Palm tried to get into this game with the Foleo.  The problem with the Foleo, of course, was that it was nothing more than a glorified phone accessory, depending heavily on the mobile phone for network access.  And while typing email on a full keyboard with a larger display was nice, there was no real “killer app” for the Foleo.

Critics of the MacBook air point to problems such as the sealed enclosure, or the lack of an Ethernet port.  Being completely sealed, users cannot replace the battery, or switch out to a larger hard drive.  In fact, though not announced, it appears that the Air will suffer the same battery replacement problems that the iPod does.  Is this necessarily a killer, though?  I don’t believe so.  In fact, I think it might be time for a fully wireless device such as this, and I’m eager to see where it leads.

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