Steve Jobs introduced the new 2010 line of MacBook Air laptops by asking “What would happen if a MacBook and an iPad hooked up?” You’d think the result would be a netbook … and in some ways the MacBook Air counts as one, especially the new 11-inch model.
But at the event where he introduced the iPad, Steve Jobs denounced netbooks as useless, or at least as machines that “aren’t better than anything:” not better than laptops for using as your main or travel computer, and not better than smartphones for browsing the web on the go. So why the new netbook-sized 11-inch MacBook Air laptops? What are the problems with netbooks, and how does Jobs think Apple has fixed them?
The standard netbook has a 10.1 inch display, with a squashed aspect ratio that makes the screen look like it’s been flattened. Meanwhile, even if a netbook’s keyboard spans its whole width, that doesn’t leave much room for a touchpad.
The new, smaller MacBook Air laptop has an 11.6 inch display, just half an inch smaller than Apple’s old 12-inch iBooks’, with a normal aspect ratio for a laptop. Except that with the MacBook Air’s widescreen display, it should have a roomier keyboard than the old iBooks did. Plus, instead of a tiny rectangle touchpad with plasticky buttons on each side, the new 11-inch MacBook uses a larger, all-glass touchpad, like other MacBook laptops.
One area where netbooks might seem to outshine the 11-inch MacBook Air is in the size of their hard drives. The netbook I used for a few weeks last year had a 160 GB hard drive, while the new 11-inch MacBook Air only has 64 GB of space, at least in the base (under $1000) model.
But where a netbook’s hard drive is slow and clunky, the new 11-inch MacBook Air uses solid-state flash storage, the same kind used in the iPhone and in digital camera memory cards. Not only will it be extremely fast, especially when starting up, but it’ll also make the 11-inch MacBook Air more durable, since it’ll have no moving parts.
Power under the hood
Netbooks generally use Intel Atom processors, extremely low-power chips that stutter on full-screen Flash video without an optional (and more expensive) HD video decoder. The 11-inch MacBook Air, on the other hand, will have an Intel Core 2 Duo, with an NVIDIA GeForce graphics processor. So not only will the 11-inch MacBook Air be able to play HD video, you’ll be able to get an adapter for it that’ll let you plug it into an HDTV or other HD display.
In Marco Arment’s much more detailed rundown of the new 11- and 13-inch MacBook Airs’ technical specs, he compared the new MacBook Air to “a two-seater car,” and said that it’s not for everyone … especially if “the application you use most frequently begins with ‘Adobe’ or costs more than $100”. Even he had to admit that the new MacBook Air makes a great secondary computer, though … one that he’d rather bring with him traveling than an iPad.
So, it looks like Apple was able to make an almost netbook-sized computer that has none of the traditional netbook’s disadvantages. And even the pricetag — $999 for the base 11-inch MacBook Air — isn’t too bad for a machine in its size and performance class. The old 12-inch iBooks sold for $999, after all, and so do today’s 13-inch MacBooks. And they’re both twice as heavy as the new 11-inch MacBook Air, and are (or were) made out of polycarbonate plastic instead of aluminum.
What do you think? Is the new 11-inch MacBook Air something you’re interested in? Would it be able to replace the machine that you’re using right now? Especially now that it has two easily-accessible USB ports, instead of the one USB port behind a side panel like last year’s MacBook Air model had.
Scroll down and leave a comment; and whatever computer you’re using a year or two from now, I hope you have fun with it.