MacBook Air’s Real Design Innovation Is Under the Hood

There are a lot of reasons not to like the MacBook Air, but most of them are missing the point, because it’s a luxury item aimed at executives, journalists, and perhaps people in the fashion and hospitality industries. It’s also Apple’s first volley in the ultraportable market, and others are sure to follow.

Let’s start with a few solid reasons to diss the Air: Its relatively high price, its curious lack of an internal DVD drive, the maddening fact that it has just one measly USB port (and no FireWire, or Ethernet ports). You can add in a few softer reasons for disliking it, such as the likelihood that the first few months’ worth of shipments may have some as-yet-undiscovered mechanical flaw, bug, or other failure of quality control, which seems all too common in new Apple products.

Not to mention, a super-thin, three-pound notebook may not exactly be the most durable thing in the world, which should give you pause, particularly if you’re considering dropping three grand on the 1.8GHz, solid state disk version.

But all these critiques miss the point, because the Air is not aimed at price-conscious buyers, and it’s not intended to be anyone’s sole computer. (Though some Mac enthusiasts will surely try to use it that way.) Instead, it’s meant to be an elegant, portable traveling computer for people who put a premium on looking good, getting a bit of work done away from the desk, and on not letting a laptop bag put deep creases in the shoulders of their Brioni sports coats.

For that market, the Air seems like a good bet to become a hit, provided it doesn’t turn out to be crippled by poor performance or bugginess. These people want an ultraportable, but they aren’t buying them yet because most ultraportables are butt-ugly, squarish looking things that have tiny keyboards and tiny screens, so even if they cost just $400, you’d still be embarrassed to set them down on the shiny, polished surface of a boardroom table on the 21st floor. A superlight, thin computer with a full-sized screen and keyboard is just the ticket for this market.

What’s more, the circuit board inside the MacBook Air is far smaller than the computer’s axe-head-shaped chassis. In his keynote, Jobs said this custom-designed board was about the length of a pencil, though that’s a pretty non-specific measurement. (Here’s an annotated photo of the MacBook Air circuit board with a pencil, showing that the RAM chips are indeed soldered on.) Whatever its exact size, it’s clear from the photos that Apple could easily shove the board inside a wide variety of devices for other markets, from some kind of tablet-like device, to more classic shrunken-keyboard style ultraportable (now known as a MID, if Intel has its way), to who knows? Maybe a reborn Newton running OS X Leopard. Well, maybe not that.

Bottom line: Apple has now entered the computer miniaturization game. It would be truly shocking if the MacBook Air were its only entry in that category.

Link: MacBook Air’s Real Design Innovation Is Under the Hood

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

MacBook Air’s Real Design Innovation Is Under the Hood