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Gadget Patrol: Macbook Air

I made a new year's resolution last year to avoid buying spurious computing crap. So these thoughts are not based on actual face-time with a new shiny. However, as you probably guessed, I followed Apple's webcast last night and have some thoughts.

The newly-announced 11.6" Macbook Air is Apple's response to the netbook market.

It's fairly clear that they held this back for some time to allow the iPad to gain market traction. If they'd released "an overpriced netbook" then the iPad, the result would have been blank incomprehension. Instead, the iPad has carved out a market niche much bigger than any overpriced netbook could have achieved, with higher profit margins. And they're free to mop up the folks who really want a Mac that shrunk in the wash but didn't have the deep crazy necessary to build their own Hackintosh. (Apple are increasingly a consumer company. Their products are marketed at folks who, for the most part, want to Get Things Done, not tinker interminably under the hood. Making a Hackintosh work is somewhat similar to making Linux work on a laptop ... back in 1995. If you're into GTD, it's antithetical. Hence "deep crazy".)

The 11.6" Airbook looks like a nice netbook. It costs a bundle more than a typical netbook, but you get a Core 2 Duo rather than an Atom N450 or similar. Double the processor, double the RAM, an SSD rather than a hard disk. Five hours' battery life is nothing special, but with instant on/software suspend, you can get through a working day of college lectures with it. On the other hand, I've worked with a machine of that form factor (both weight, dimensions, and screen resolution) before — a Sony TX3. Middle-aged eyes will not thank you for sticking a 13.6" screen with 1366 x 768 pixels in front of them. Leave this model to the college kids; they'll love it, and between an iPhone 4 and an 11.6" Airbook they won't need an iPad.

The 13" Airbook fixes most of what was wrong with the previous Macbook Air. Like the 11.6" model, it's got two USB ports, so you can hang your iTunes library overboard on an external hard drive and sync to an iPad at the same time. (If you've got a 64Gb iPad you really don't want iTunes to be backing it up onto an internal SSD.) It has a 7 hour battery life, up from the (cough, cough) 5 hours of the older machine (in practice, make that 4 hours). The build-to-order options for 4Gb of RAM and 256Gb of SSD storage are very nice; 2Gb of RAM is not enough if you want to run a mail client, word processor, and Firefox with umpty-bazillion tabs open simultaneously. I am informed that the SSD is so fast that the CPU can't keep up with it — the filesystem is CPU bound, not I/O bound (which makes a nice change from the frankly sluggish SSD on the earlier Macbook Airs); ergo, prudent buyers should max out on RAM and pay for the CPU speed upgrade, before giving consideration to whether they can afford a bigger SSD.

Which brings me to the jewel in the crown: the screen. They've finally put a decent resolution 1440x900 screen in a package that's portable. (Middle-aged shoulders do not like carrying a 15" Macbook Pro for any great distance.)

Apple have been smart (or evil) enough not to upgrade the screen in the 13" Macbook Pro at the same time. If they had, well: the Macbook Pro has a 10-11 hour battery life, faster CPU, built-in DVD drive, firewire, and takes up to 8Gb of RAM. It would cannibalize high-end 13" Airbook sales and the low end of the 15" Macbook Pro market simultaneously. I'm expecting resolution bumps to both the 13" and 15" Macbook Pros in the new year ... but not until they've milked the early adopters.

As I noted earlier, I'm taking a year out from buying new computers. But if I wasn't, what would I do?

When I'm working I mostly do so at a desk, in front of a 24" monitor. But I spend about 25% of my time on the road, so the monitor is plugged into a laptop (which backs up to a Time Capsule when I'm at home, and an external disk when I'm travelling).

The definition of "on the road" breaks down into two parts; in transit, and at my destination. While I'm in transit, driving a car or sitting on a train or plane, I can't really use a laptop. (Personal issue: I get writers' block when other people are able to see over my shoulder.) I can use an iPod or an iPad for media consumption when in transit, but they're not yet stand-alone computing solutions: if something goes wrong, you need a Mac or PC to reload them from. That's okay for a short trip (with both an iPad and an iPhone) but a major issue if I'm going to be away for more than a week and/or have deadline-critical work to do while on the road. So the laptop is for when I get to wherever I'm going. I want it to weigh as little as possible, but I'd prefer a big, sharp screen so that when I finally sit down at a desk I've got something I can work on. (I've tried netbooks: they don't work for my ageing eyes. If they'd make me a 15" Macbook Air with a 1660x1200 screen, I'd love it — but I think I might be a wee bit eccentric in this respect.)

As noted, in addition to being able to work on it, I want my travel machine to act as a sync hub for my iPhone/iPad. The previous generation of Macbook Air was a dead loss in that respect; the SSD was too small to hold a large iTunes library, let alone back up a 32Gb or 64Gb iOS device, and the single USB port prevented me from shovelling the iTunes content onto an external drive and syncing to that — attempts at work-arounds involving powered USB hubs notwithstanding. (The iPad's 20-watt charging requirement seems to be the sticking point: it wants a USB port all to itself.) In fact, lack of space for iTunes forced me to give up using my last-gen Macbook Air, and travel either with just the iPad, or with the elderly 15" Macbook Pro that normally lives under my desk in my hand luggage. I'm willing to bet that the majority of Mac owners also use an iPhone or iPod, and maybe an iPad, and as iOS devices go up to 64Gb of storage I can't be the only person who's been bitten by this. (I could have coupled music/film syncing to my desktop machine and synced only contacts, apps and calendar tasks to the Macbook Air, but trying to sync one iOS device with multiple Macs is a very efficient shortcut to crazy. Apple badly needs to provide a solution for iOS device users with more than one Mac, and MobileMe is not it.)

Anyway, to summarize: the previous Macbook Air wasn't suitable for travellers with iOS devices; the new one is, and it's both powerful enough to replace a 2.5 year old Macbook Pro (with a significant bump to the graphics performance) and light enough to replace an older Macbook Air.

So it's probably a good thing for me that my new year's resolution says "no new computers" ... and I'm going to try not to count the days until January 1st.

73 Comments

1:

> Apple are increasingly a consumer company.

Heh. Back in 1990 I recall explaining to someone that the difference between a peecee and a Mac was that the Mac was a *Business Tool*.

The explanation was required because her (totally computer illiterate) husband wanted a computer, and she, being slightly less computer illiterate, thought that they should get a peecee, mainly because her younger (high school age) brother said they should.

They got a Mac.

2:

I'm increasingly impressed with the choice that Apple is offering.

I remember when they first announced the Macbook Air originally, many people complained that they couldn't see the point. Similarly with the iPad.

Simple fact is though, for some people the Air is pointless but for others - and likely a smaller number than other devices - it fills a gap perfectly.

They are slowly but surely filling all the gaps in the market - what they desperately need, as Charlie says, is a better way of tieing it all together. MobileMe is going to need some serious work if it is going to serve that purpose.

3:

Some of the laptops round here have 1920 x 1200 screens - on a 15.4" diagonal.

No, I don't have one of those. I insisted on a desktop 24" 1920 x 1200 screen.

4:

I should say that the 1920 x 1200 screen on my 15.4" Dell laptop is something everyone wants once they see it. Mind you it doesn't really leave the front room apart from going on holiday due to the weight.

Charlie,

You are aware that VAT increases to 20% on January 1st. It may be worth ordering in December to avoid the £25 price increase.

5:

I've seen my colleagues machines.

And the answer is, no thanks: like Charlie, my eyes aren't up to text that small.

6:

VAT may be deductible for him as it's for business use (not sure how mr. Stross handles his finances) - at is at least for me. YMMV, etc.

Anyway, I wanted to point out that while I love 30" 2560x1600 main monitor I work on in my home office, I wouldn't want that resolution in any smaller display with my eyesight, due to the fairly bad scaling support current operating systems support. _NO_ major operating system supports DPI even remotely well (Windows did best at it last I tried, but that's not very well).

For photo editing I'd love to have some insane resolution display, but dealing with 9pt fonts on one would drive me bonkers rapidly :-)

And DPI stuff was originally going to show up in OS X 10.5, but all sorts of silly cruft has apparently pushed it to 10.8+ (or never-never land..)

7:

Macbook air 11" - heavier than the Sony X series with less battery life. Faster though.

Macbook air 13" - Slightly lighter than the Sony Z series (1.32Kg vis 1.48Kg). Lower resolution screen (1440x900 vs 1920x1080). Less memory (4Go vs 6Go).

They're good machines, but not amazingly better than what other people make.

8:

when mr. Stross writes his books i was wondering do you listen to music while writing, or write in silence or both?

9:

High screen resolution only means small text if you're using an OS written by idiots, or (often the case) configured by morons.

10:

Apple have long been a consumer company. The original Macintosh was presented as "the computer for the rest of us".

11:

Although the Z series starts at $1,799 and the X series starts at $1,299. Sony makes some nice machines, though; I've always liked their laptops.

12:

It's a beautiful device, though personally cheap and low power works for me so I'm more than happy with the netbook I got last year for $190.

My wife's family has been converting to the Cult of Mac and keep pressuring me and my wife to convert too. My wife has an iPhone which makes them somewhat happy, but her brother keeps insisting we should get Macs. Despite telling him that our PCs are primarily gaming devices and Mac doesn't cut it.

But they're definitely the GTD sort, apart from her brother's strange love of iPhone hacks. They don't seem to understand the fun of building a custom PC from parts for 1/5th the price of what they just bought.

13:

We're talking shiny here. If we want practical we'd keep our old machines, or buy a real cheap one.

(Personally my Vaio TX3 is still working so I keep using it. I usually use machines until they die. (Though I did replace the 80Go rotating media with 128Go SSD. 256Go was a teeny bit too expensive)).

14:

The iPad power draw is 10 watts, not 20.

I have the first-gen MacBook Air with SSD (and paid a princely sum for it too). The fact the new MBA does not shoehorn fast SSD chips in a legacy interface like PATA or SATA originally designed for slow spinning rust means much higher potential for performance. Of course, this is only possible because Apple has integrated software/hardware.

The USB Flash OS reload drive is a nice touch.

I'd buy it in an instant, were it not for the fact my 64GB iPad 3G has replaced both my iPhone and my MacBook Air for my mobility needs. I only keep the MBA around for extended vacation trips when I may need XCode or Lightroom. All of my real work I do on desktop computers like my Nehalem Mac Pro at home or my i7 iMac at work.

15:

Thank you so much for the gratuitous insults.

There are, of course, other possibilities.

16:

maybe eying slightly before that would be a good idea.... the VAT hike cometh.. or is that all deductible as tool of work etc.? (rhetorical question as poss privacy infringing answer..)

17:

Of course, in this audience, "deep crazy" isn't so much an insult as a dare. (said the guy who once burned 17 Slackware floppies. Thanks AOL!)

18:

I believe it's still a SATA interface, it just doesn't use a disk-like enclosure. (That is, still goes through a SATA bus, still takes the standard SATA commands, etc.)

19:

If they've gone from SATA 2.0 up to SATA 3.0, that would have doubled the potential throughput, to the point that even SSD currently has difficulty keeping up.

20:

Apple makes nice hardware. Sometimes their software is as good. Unfortunately, I can't accept their licenses...so far I'm not aware that they've abused them, but I can't agree that they have the right to "add, modify, copy, or delete any file on your computer". Possibly they've removed that from the EULA, when I gave up on Apple I stopped looking at the new iterations on the EULA. (And anyway, they added that language during a security upgrade. It may never have appeared in the initial EULA.)

OTOH, Apple copied that language from the MS EULA. So I switched from MS to Apple to Linux.

21:

John, have you ever had the misfortune to have a warranty problem with a Sony laptop?

I. Will. Never. Buy. Sony. Again.

Apple at least understand, to about the same extent as folks like Dell or Lenovo or Toshiba, that they're dealing with people who rely on their machines for work. Sony? It feels like once they've sold it to you, anything that goes wrong is your problem. (Unless it catches fire and they're threatened with a class-action lawsuit. In which case, product recalls happen.)

To those who mention VAT, (a) I'm not VAT-registered (according to my accountant I don't need to be, and it's a whole extra layer of bookkeeping pain), and (b) I know it's going up to 20% on January 3rd; so I'm probably going to break my new year's resolution in order to avoid giving aid and comfort to the enemy (in the person of George Osborne).

22:

Hmm, it appears that the previous MacBook Air shipped with an 80GB 1.8”, 5mm thick, 4200RPM PATA hard drive (AnandTech) by default.

Which means that even going for SATA 2.0 would be a nice speed bump.

23:

I can understand the need for a 15" 1600x1200 IPS display - that's why i am typing this on a T43p in the Old Parsonage Hotel in Oxford with a 1600x1200 IPS...

Ok it's no macbook air but it's an IBM keyboard...

and it can run linux or become a hackintosh if you want and they are cheeeeeep!

24:

Put me in the 'GTD' category. I get paid to do computer work for other people. I long ago stopped enjoying doing it for myself, particularly on the 'build it from parts' end of of things. The last 'DIY' computer project for me was getting ext2-fuse up and running so I could slurp a bunch of old data from some linux drives onto my Mac, wipe the disks, and dispose of them at an electronics recycling depot. Macs aren't perfect, but they're better than anything else I've had the (dis)pleasure of using on the desktop/laptop side.

The most annoying thing I need to do these days for my home computers is run a Windows VM because certain parts of Office aren't as functional on the Mac side, and even that's changing. (Though they haven't, and won't, port Vizio, as far as I know.)

The new Macbook Air is very tempting. If I traveled more, I would unquestionably get one, since my current laptop is an old white 13" Macbook that's due for an upgrade.

25:

The featureset is surprisingly similar to my Samsung Q45, which cost us £800 back in 2007:-) Apple - defeating the economic implications of Moore's Law, one black turtleneck at a time.

Mind you the SSD and the extra battery life would be handy.

26:

I have been through the blood-sacrifice-over-the-SCSI-chain build your own computer phase and am well out the other side and over the horizon. I have a comp. sci. degree dated 1990; if you don't keep it up to date, it's a bit like having an aerospace engineering degree dated 1937.

Put it another way: every hour I spend rebuilding a performance-tweaked linux kernel is one hour less I have to spend writing fiction.

27:

Alex @26: Compared to the 11" with the 128 GB SSD: equivalent DRAM (but slower), miserably slower graphics, slightly smaller pixel count, 1.8 GHz vs 1.6 GHz CPU, no SSD but a touch more storage, roughly similar battery life, double the weight, and no wireless N (but you get Ethernet). You do get an optical drive and a card reader (no SDcard reader on the 11" air).

I'd say that half the weight and the SSD account for most of that, and the SSD speed improvement and better graphics are going to far outweigh any differences in CPU. That Q45 was $1,500 list in 2007, the 11" Air $1,300 (but add another $100 for RAM because it would be stupid to order any new Mac with less than 4GB). If I traveled more, the lightness alone would make it worth it. The thought of having to lug around my old 15" Mac on an extended trip makes my back wince.

Ultraportables are like cars: you do actually pay for lightness. It's a feature, much like a carbon fibre hood is if it's going to save you a ton of weight over a conventional steel hood. Not everyone needs it (or wants it), but it does make a difference. Every extra thing you put on a notebook is going to make it heavier and more failure prone. Being willing to risk taking out things always been one of Apple's strengths. They don't always get it right (see: no eSATA on any of their computers, or the backtrack they just did on the iPod shuffle), but they do push things forward. I'd bet the CPU on the Air would be significantly better if Intel weren't balking on their i3 CPU packaging (or if their own integrated graphics weren't an industry joke).

I don't miss serial ports, for example, and I'm willing to bet I'm one of a handful of people here who actually uses them on a semi-frequent basis. As such, I'm the owner of a couple of USB-to-Serial adaptors, and they go in the bag when I go to visit the datacenter. I don't expect to carry a modem, either (though the network admins still have a use for them), but I do have a 3G USB dongle in case of on-the-road emergencies. I don't really expect Apple to provide it inside the Mac; I've seen what happens when we changed providers and a bunch of 3G equipped laptops were suddenly on the wrong carrier.

28:

What I thought of when I read your second paragraph.

http://i.imgur.com/51f9p.jpg

29:

Hello, great article.
I am just about to buy some new equipment for my graphic design and webdesign company.

I am often on the road, going to or from clients, and need a portable Mac. The thing I wonder, if you have any thought, is how the Macbook Air will work with graphic design software as Photoshop or Pixelmate?

What kind of software do you aim to use on your new Air? Do you think it will manage some a little more demanding processes?

30:

Photoshop?

You could do that on a 13" Macbook Air, but I wouldn't recommend it -- especially if it's what you do for a living in front of clients.

Apple just added a 2.8GHz Core i7 processor option to the 15" and 17" Macbook Pros. That, along with the high resolution screen option, is where you need to go (along with an 8Gb RAM after-market upgrade and maybe a fast SSD on top).

The Macbook Air isn't aimed at being a portable graphic design studio. I'm a writer; I don't do that stuff. (My favourite tool is MacVim.)

31:

For what it's worth, a coworker of mine has a 13" Macbook Pro (which has a similar, slightly faster CPU than the new Air). He's a big photography nut, and has pretty much maxed out the computer (8GB of DRAM, nice big SSD). Running Aperture, he's CPU bound, and he has seriously considered trading in his 13" for a 15" with an i5 or i7 CPU.

Heavy photoshop use would fall into the same category, I think. You'd want a Macbook Pro 15" with an upgraded CPU (and get the upgraded screen as long as you're at it), assuming you decide to go Mac at all at that point.

By the way, that same laptop with a copy of Parallels on it runs a Windows 7 VM quite nicely. Better than my iMac, despite the lesser CPU, because of the extra RAM and the SSD.

32:

Here's the question to ask: do you need a portable workstation, or a laptop?

If you're going to be giving presentations, and spending hours doing intensive edits, then you may want to consider getting a 17" instead. It's a beast of a portable, but it's got the guts to let you do HD movie editing. And if you're sitting giving a presentation, getting feedback from clients in real-time, you'll want those guts.

If, however, you're going to be spending a fair amount of time editing, and want something that you can more easily carry about and use in limited seating, then the 15" is probably the one you want to look at. And if you're just going to be doing light editing, and mostly just want to see what it's going to look like when cropped, slightly edited, etc., then you may want to consider a 13" MacBook Pro, or possibly the new MacBook Air if your needs are even lighter than that.

And then, if you just want to see what it's going to look like on a larger screen, there's the iPad with the camera kit.

33:

FWIW, and I am personally a rabid Lenovo fan, we've had warranty/support issues with just about all suppliers. Apple are one of the best, and Sony have been pretty average. Lenovo recently have been a massive let down.

34:

I used to own a 12 inch G4 iBook, a good kilogram heavier than this Air thingie. A lovely computer that had a Unix underneath, and that nevertheless seemed to anticipate everything I wanted to do and the way I wanted to do it.

The only problem was that if I tried to use the iBook for what I had bought it for, it looked at me sadly with these big brown I-am-just-a-toy, I-am-not-meant-for-work puppy eyes. Running a Tomcat server together with the GIMP caused for very interesting text editing, as I could see the characters appear one by one in the editor.

This and the fact that mine was the only G4 I knew that did not try to implode or throw itself off a building made me decide not to buy the Apple juice for awhile. (I knew this one guy who had only had his G4 iBook for six months, and already he had to learn touch typing as all the ink on his keys had hid somewhere. And Apple warranty is the Western equivalent of a union steward in a third world sweat shop---doesn't last long, and only if it sits in a corner being very, very quiet.)

The goodbye was magnificent though: somebody bought my iBook from me for his daughter for 400 euro. She needed a laptop as she was about to start high school, and I ended up with 2/3 of the price of my next laptop, a Dell 4 times faster than the Mac, and with all kinds of irritating and sometimes infuriating Windows quirks that nevertheless never stopped me from just GTD.

35:

I'd say that half the weight and the SSD account for most of that

You bet. I have honestly no idea what miserably slower graphics would actually mean. I don't, in fact, do HD video editing as a routine proposition. I suspect this is a wee bit audiophile, but I know much more about networking, so I'll just point out that wireless N matters...if you have a LAN and Internet service that isn't slower than the WLAN. I have yet to encounter the situation where "I wish I could reach the AP 15 feet away faster" is a useful statement.

36:

Shorter me: adjust expectations, it's cheap.

37:

Apparently the new thing has "no optical hard drive".

38:

Alex @35:

In my particular case 'miserably slower' is the difference between being able to run World or Warcraft, or not. A Macbook with the nVidia 320M can, a Macbook with the built in Intel graphics cannot. Ars Technica has a somewhat less game-centered explanation of what the trade offs are, particularly in support for OpenCL, something Apple requires in all desktop and notebook computers it sells.

The difference between WiFi G and WiFi N is streaming HD video, essentially. No, it's not going to matter for your external Internet connection, unless you're Finnish, but if you have DLNA or (coming soon) AirPlay configured devices in your house, it will be quite useful.

39:

Neither did the old version. This one at least comes with the OS on a thumb drive, which I think is pretty nifty, personally.

40:

The optimal config for performance would probably involve a MacBook Pro, 15" or 17", top CPU speed, 8GB RAM, with an SSD, and with the optical drive removed and a second SSD put in its place (http://www.mcetech.com/optibay/). With the two SSDs set up as a RAID 0 array (backed up religiously!).

But that'd be overkill.

41:

As with previous Macbook Airs -- going back to 2008 -- if you want to put the contents of one of those quaint shiny disk things into it, you need to plug in an external Superdrive. Or, you can cheap out and use a no-name third party DVD-ROM drive (unless you want to boot from a recovery DVD; no longer necessary, as this generation of Airbook comes with a recovery USB stick).

42:

..are there many "optical hard drives" round your way? I always thought a hard disk was a magnetic storage medium.

43:

Well, optical media tend to be hard, right up until the moment they explode due to flaw propagation ...

44:

@ 34
Are you posting from the USA?
Here, "warranties" are almost irrelevant, because we have something called: "The Sale of Goods Act".

It doesn't work?
Take it back to the shop & demand a full refund, uttering the magic words: "Not of merchantable quality". This now applies across thw whole of Europe.
A few years back Intel tried cheating on this one, and it went spectacularly pear-shaped.

45:

I should note that Apple have a policy I've seen in action a few times: if a machine goes tech and needs to be repaired repeatedly, under warranty, the third time it comes into the shop the customer gets handed a shiny new replacement. Even if it's an upgrade because the old machine is no longer available. Combine this with the 3 year AppleCare extra-cost cover, and you occasionally get spectacular results. (I've heard of one guy who accidentally ended up with an Intel-based Macbook Pro by way of a replacement for a G4 Powerbook that finally fritzed out for the third time a month inside the three year warranty.)

46:

No, the Netherlands. And such rules are precisely why I won't buy extended warranty---I should not have to. But being right and getting your rights are two different things. Apple Netherlands claims that if you do not purchase the extra warranty, anything that goes wrong is your own damn fault (according to consumer rights TV show Kassa).

Thing is, I'd prefer to own stuff that just works rather than hanging round Dixons arguing about the law with sales people in pink striped shirts.

Anyway, that's not the main reason I have cooled my enthusiasm about Apple for a while, the underpoweredness of my G4 was, considering that for the same amount of money I could get about 4 times as good a laptop. (This was about a year before the introduction of Intel Macs IIRC, I imagine performance has evened out a bit now.)

47:

That does not sound like Apple policy to me -- I've read the AppleCare extended warranty legalese, for the US, and I've never been given reason to believe it's different anywhere else. All it does is extend the normal one-year warranty to three years. (Or, from one to two for the non-computer devices.) It doesn't add any extra protection, nor does not getting it weaken the normal warranty.

(Just to clarify: it doesn't sound like it, and thus I would be utterly surprised if that is the case, but I don't know anything about it.)

48:

over priced and underspeccd

49:

ok, I may be being mad here, but the world post 'nightmare green'
thats warhammer 40k isnt it?

50:

We have been a Mac house since we donated our Commodore 64 and Amiga to a park's rec center. We are on our 10th Mac and are considering replacement of 2 of the 4 working and upgrading the other two. What Charlie says about the "3 time" rule is pretty true. I used to work for Apple's IP attorneys, and they were the best of the inventors to have in the office. Our office, BTW, was completely mac-based from 1986 on.

We have decided against the Air because of our need for graphics production for Hubby, who is a writer and graphics designer. But for me? Well, my MacBook is old and slow now, and I thought it was zippy compared to my old Titanium. I've been carefully considering and waiting for the next gen of iPad or the MacBook Pro, given that I'm the reader, accounts, taxes person with writing on the side. Hence, I read these reports of yours, Charlie, giving them weight in my decision. It will always be a Mac, but which one?

51:

And Apple warranty is the Western equivalent of a union steward in a third world sweat shop

I've used my AppleCare warranty (the three-year version I always buy) regularly for tech support (tracking down problems caused by third-party drivers). No hassles there.

The only Macs I've had that needed repairs were my laptops. The old G4 iBook eventually needed replacing (persistent motherboard failures) and the new Intel MacBook needed a new keyboard. All handled under warranty, mostly while I waited or next day service.

So I'm actually quite happy with AppleCare. If I could buy longer-term coverage I would.

52:

@ 45:

I should note that Apple have a policy I've seen in action a few times: if a machine goes tech and needs to be repaired repeatedly, under warranty, the third time it comes into the shop the customer gets handed a shiny new replacement.

This happened with one of my daughter's early iPods. Made her into a customer for life, getting her dingy old unit replaced by a shiny new one (and in the color that she liked, rather than the one her clueless parents picked out the first time around.) Granted this was for something that cost on the order of $100 rather than $1000, but given the failure rates, probably a profitable strategy all around.

53:

17" widescreen. 1600x900 resolution. Quad-core processor and 3Gb ram.
And change from £500.
You seem to be prepared to give up soooo much because it's a wee bit heavy.

Anyway, congrats on a fine piece of creative writing, in the tradition of all apple product reviews.

54:

Dude, I'm on the road for three months out of every twelve, I fly everywhere, and I've got a dodgy neck and shoulder. every gram counts.

PS: before trolling again, please read the moderation policy. KTHXBYE.

55:

Charlie has his own problems, but I'm not supposed to lift more than 10 pounds. You'd be surprised how difficult that makes even keeping house.

56:

And if you totally loose it, you can drop a QXGA (2048x1536) pannel in it fairly cheaply. Though I think I would upgrade to a T60p with a Core 2 Duo (64 bit), and that is a drop in upgrade (pannel is easier, aside from needing to flash a eprom on the pannel).

57:

@ 55:

Charlie has his own problems, but I'm not supposed to lift more than 10 pounds. You'd be surprised how difficult that makes even keeping house.

On those grounds, I'm guessing that eddie is at best (or at worst) a twenty-something. Which, actually, makes me more sympathetic to what he's saying, rather than less: I remember being that age or younger and finding the common medical complaints of the gerry set - which for me at the time meant anyone over 40 - to be, literally, incomprehensible. Of course, now that I'm a fiftyish geezer and have a creaky back and knees, bad eyes, allergy problems that take prescription meds, I'm laughing out the other side of my mouth.

Which leaves me sanguine about eddie's sort of chivvying: he'll get his soon enough :-)

58:

Apple has a long history of going the extra mile if you have paid extra for Apple Care, I would not normally consider an extended warranty, but I would for an Apple laptop, and if you get a bad one, history shows you will be taken care of (I had a white ibook G3 with the MB issue, damn near got a new machine even without apple care, but it just wouldn't die one last time). And every laptop maker makes a bad one sooner or later.

59:

The one bad thing about the new Air is I think the SSD controller is rather lame (it's not a Sandforce 1200 unfortunately), but perhaps I am wrong. And OS X still does not have trim support, which means you need a GOOD controller, that can handle doing clean up in the background.

And for everyone who complains about high dpi screens: get a set of glasses for using the computer, it's a bit longer distance than normal reading glasses are set for, I have been very happy with them.

60:

Someone's already dissected one of the new Airs. The SSD module is a DIMM-type plugin custom made for Apple, not an off-the-shelf 1.8" SSD unit which would be too big to fit in the size-limited housing. Basically the Air doesn't require a firebreathing 30,000 IOPS SSD, it just needs Flash storage that is compact and cheap. The Pro range of proper laptops will have more powerful (and expensive) SSD options.

The pics of the inside of the Air's casing reveal the space inside is mostly taken up by batteries, not suprisingly. The actual "motherboard" with the CPU, memory and graphics controller is about 10cm x 5cm, tucked away in a corner.

61:

@59: "And for everyone who complains about high dpi screens: get a set of glasses for using the computer, it's a bit longer distance than normal reading glasses are set for, I have been very happy with them."

I'll second that. 18 months ago reality won out over vanity and I got glasses specifically for computer work. I now run my CRT at 130 dpi and my default font is 8 point Droid, which is comfortably readable.

62:

It seems from the back-and-forth that the Macbook air isn't all that advanced beyond what could be bought for a bit more money, or a bit less depending on features. How much of this is brand loyalty? None of our computers are Macs, for the simple reason that I've been buying DOS/Windows PCs for over twenty years (actually just a bit more than 30 if you count the TRS-80), worked in tech support with machines running DOS/Windows in the 90's, and that's what I know. That's it, the sole reason we don't have a Mac in the house. Well, given that the Que e-reader has apparently been canceled for the foreseeable future, Santa might be bringing Dad an iPad this Christmas. But that's a different niche.

Otoh, the only sort of portable media players we have in the house are iPods. No mystery there; in our daughter's set iPods are the default player for the cool kids, and knockoffs like the Zune are considered to be worse than nothing. So Mom and Dad get her hand-me-downs :-)

Finally, there is no way no how (at least at this time) that we'll use iPhones. That image thing again: to hear my daughter tell it, Android is what all the cool kids are using, the iPhone is what the kids who think they're cool but really aren't (but you have to be polite and tell them they are) are using, and anything like - shudder - the Blackberry? That's what your parents use. Don't go there.

The reason I mention these three consumer items is because even though I'm the techie and the smart shopper (every house has to have one), smart shopping doesn't exactly figure into these sorts of buys. Nor really, does any sort of brand loyalty. In fact, the only people I know who go all in for Apple are those who, in the words of our host, want to Get Things Done. And - these are overlapping sets - people who want their stuff to look good and in a coordinated way.

My question to all this windup is, aren't most of us in the former camp, governed by inertia and the caprice of others and other arational considerations when it comes to consumer electronic purchases? You'd think that this is one of the places where free market mania would be the rule of the day[1], informed consumers making very considered, very rational choices, especially given the nature of a good chunk of the clientele. But if anything, it seems that Shiny! rules the roost.

[1]When buying the latest it phone for my daughter, I always tell her that I don't care what the phone itself costs, but I do have to look at the plans that support it. A $400 phone that costs us $50/month is less expensive than a $200 phone that costs us $90/month. It's one of the few restrictions I've impressed on her, and though she looked bored at the time (could she be otherwise in my company?) I heard her passing this received wisdom as her own to her circle, to their approval and their laudatory comments in re her smarts.

63:

scentofviolets makes an important point about people making rational choices. I think it's so difficxult to make informed choices given the marketing - reality gap, not only in apple product info.

Sorry if any of you thought I was trolling. Anyway, Charie, it's you're blog. I shouldn't even put you to the expense of deleting my comments.

But no. I am over 40 and have some of the same physical issues as others have mentioned. I'd be interested to hear how you make decisions on £ per gramme as much as £ per Gb or MHz.

64:

Okay, let's put it down to user experience and design. I'm a UNIX guy -- have been, for donkey's years. I have tried, repeatedly, to use Windows, and inevitably found it got in my way and made easy tasks hard and difficult tasks impossible. It's just badly designed from a usability perspective, and more recent iterations which could be good are hopelessly compromised in the name of backward compatability with a jumped-up programmable calculator. (It's also the target of choice for malware, and for parasites like McAfee and Symantec who piggyback on the malware to peddle their wares.)

I'd write more, but a pub is calling. Later ...

65:

I've possibly made a decade-jump in computer tech recently, or nearly so. Possibly dropping back in a comparison with the high-end machines, but still a huge jump.

But I don't see any huge jump in the results when I'm writing. I see more difference from replacing a CRT with LCD tech (which I did last year) than from all the boost in processing power.

66:

@59: "And for everyone who complains about high dpi screens: get a set of glasses for using the computer"

I was going to say, how long before the Terry Gilliam/Brazil-style fresnel lens magnifiers are a reality for computer screen use, but then I discover they already are.

67:

I started early. ;) I had the badly broken ankle when I was 28; the autoimmune lung disease when I was 31 (triggered by the anesthesia during the fourth surgery on the ankle); the first renal failure when I was 35 (caused by the NSAID I was told to take for the arthritis in the ankle). More after that, but he'd think I was too old there, too.

68:

Wait, the first renal failure was when I was 32. The second one was when I was 35.

69:

I've been a Windows guy for a long time. I built my desktop from parts, and I installed the keyboard on the laptop I'm typing this on. I'm used to Windows and have very few problems with it.

Having said that, I've started looking more and more toward shifting to Mac recently. Rolling my own system has lost its luster; I'm forty-seven years old now and while I can still swing a screwdriver I don't see the need.

I don't know if I'd go so far to say Macs are perfect and awesome, but it's looking more and more like one would be a great fit for my needs. All I need do is figure out how to get it into the budget.

The new Air certainly looks very cool.

70:

Macs aren't perfect by any means, and they're slightly more awesome in absolute technical terms (for those of us who remember Before Micros) than most comparable PCs. They're simply less flawed.

And remember, as a backup plan you can always run Windows on them (and well due to the generally good build quality), or dive into the command line for UNIX tools (and if the tool you need isn't supplied there are tons of free ports including audio and video editors).

71:

I switched over to OSX (with its FreeBSD underpinnings) from Slackware Linux in 2003, and have never looked back.

I love the iPad (64GB, 3G), and believe that once it supports multi-tasking in the next month or so, it'll do for a great deal of my on-the-road computing needs (i.e., email, IM, Skype, writing documents, making presentations, remote access via ssh and/or VNC, reading via the Kindle app, reading syndication feeds, watching movies/TV shows via iTunes & VLC, etc.), especially with the cool Compass stand and Apple Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard I picked up for it.

However, there's one problem with it - it isn't a *lap*-top, meaning that one must sit at some sort of desk to use it with the external keyboard. As a 90wpm touch-typist, the physical keyboard will remain a must until such time as iPad 2020's morphing nanotech screen will extrude the requisite bumps whilst beaming the video directly into my eyes or smart contacts.

I like the new 11" MacBook Air a great deal - I'm currently on a 2-year-old 13" MacBook w/GB of RAM and 500GB HD, which runs Lightroom and the Nik Suite for Lightroom just fine - but 128GB of non-upgradeable SSD just isn't enough. The 13" Air doesn't seem as if it's small/portable enough for my needs.

So, I gave up ~10 hours of my life and $250USD to hack OSX into running on a Samsung N310 netbook, upgraded to 256GB of SSD with another $500USD.

Yes, it only has 2GB of RAM, but that's enough for email, IM, Skype, NetNewsWire, Firefox, Keynote, Word, PowerPoint, and even, in a pinch, Lightroom (not all of these at the same time, of course). The other HUGE drawback is that Apple may well break things with 10.6.5, or 10.7.

In the meantime, though, I've an extremely lightweight OSX-based netbook which, when combined with my iPad sans Bluetooth keyboard (it can also serve as a second, higher-resolution display for the Samsung Hackintosh via an app), still weighs less than my 13" unibody MacBook, gives me better battery life, and takes up less space when traveling.

Yes, I feel kind of dirty - but, so far, It Just Works.

I wish Apple would give me the choice of a netbook in the form-factor of this N310 - the case would be higher-quality, of course, and it would weigh just a bit more. But I'd gladly fork over a premium for it.

72:

I hear that. Duff back & knee here, went from a 17" Dell to a little 13" MBP. It's still a litteral pain to cart around but not as much of one.

I should of gone for the Air.

73:

This is what I found as well. I'm in my 30's, yes I'm an IT geek, yes I can compile my own kernel and I've submitted patches to OSS projects TYVM. But... no I honestly can't be bothered to DIY it any more.

Hardware's long reached the point of "good enough" for my needs... hell my MBP's 9400M plays a mean game of Mass Effect 2 and EVE:Online in Windows via BootCamp.. so it all came down to "what looks nicer sat on my desk?" with "what's not going to hurt like hell carting it around?" in hot pursuit.

Apples main advantage is there is a store I can visit and try their stuff out before splunking the cash. Was interesting watching people watch me pick up each model of MacBook and go "nope, too heavy".

The only thing I wish Apple would hurry the hell up with is their OpenGL & driver performance, seeing EVE:O run blisteringly quick in Windows & Linux but chug along in OS X (sudo port install wine-devel) is a pain.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 21, 2010 10:08 AM.

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