Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cool Technology of the Week

On Tuesday, I briefly mentioned the MacBook Air as the Cool Technology of the Week. Although several authors have debated the decision to leave out the ethernet connection and optical drive, here are the specific reasons I believe this laptop addresses many of my top design criteria.

1. The device consumes 45 Watts. My experience is that airline onboard power jacks offer 15V at 75 Watts maximum. My Apple MacBook Pro consumes 85W which makes it very problematic on airplanes. I've experienced issues with powering my Macbook to perform at full processor speed as well as issues with charging the battery while flying. My Dell D420 works with a 65W Juice iGo but does not charge. A 45 Watt device will work on all car/boat/plane power systems and is greener than a typical laptop.

2. The device does not have an internal DVD or CD. Although some may consider this controversial, I've not used a DVD or CD in years, since everything I need is on a network. Just about every workplace and airport I traverse worldwide has 802.11 available, so I've not needed the extra weight of an optical drive. If I need to physically exchange data, I'll use my 4 Gig USB Thumb Drive, which weighs under 1 ounce. I'm a big fan of Software as a Service, Web 2.0 applications, and downloadable open source, so there is no CD-based software on my current computers.

3. The device has LED backlighting. All my existing laptops use fluorescent backlighting which consumes battery power, has a latency to start up from sleep/hiberation, and is more delicate than LEDs.

4. The size and weight are
Height: .16-0.76 inch (0.4-1.94 cm)
Width: 12.8 inches (32.5 cm)
Depth: 8.94 inches (22.7 cm)
Weight: 3.0 pounds (1.36 kg)

which means that I can slide it into my Tumi subnotebook briefcase

My torture test for laptops occurs when the person in the economy seat in front of me reclines completely. Yes, I'll have a closeup view of their hair implants, but at least the Macbook Air will be small enough to work in the remaining tray table space.

5. The device supports native digital video output, which works with either the micro-DVI to DVI adapter (included) or micro-DVI to VGA adapter (included). This means I can plug directly into HDTV displays or LCD projectors. My existing laptops cannot do that. Of course, if I forget the adapters at home, I'm out of luck.

6. The battery life is 5 hours compared to 2 hours for my existing Macbook and Dell. That's advertised life and your mileage may vary.

7. The price is competitive at $1799

8. It runs Mac OS X Leopard, which I believe is currently the most stable, most secure, and most usable operating system

9. It's ecofriendly - since it does not contain lead or mercury. The aluminum case is recyclable.

10. The device has a widescreen 1280x800 format, a full keyboard, and a trackpad which supports gestural navigation, just like the iPhone and iPod touch. My experience with laptops is that 1280x800 format in a 13.3 inch screen maximizes productivity by providing enough real estate to use multiple applications simultaneously.

What the downsides? Although a 5 hour battery life and a 45 Watt power supply that plugs into airline seat power meet my use cases, some folks want to carry extra batteries and since the Air battery is not user replaceable, this may create a power problem for them. The device does not have an RJ45 ethernet port built in and needs a USB to Ethernet dongle . Also, it does not have a built in GSM/GPRS/EDGE or CDMA/EDGE wide area network modem to bypass the costs of airport 802.11 connections. Finally, the 64 Gig Solid State Disk option is pricey at $1000.

As with any new technology, I will wait a few months so that initial production and configuration issues are resolved (i.e. the bugs are worked out of the first generation). When it arrives, my home will include an iMac 20", an Air, and a MacBook Pro all connected wirelessly. This means that my 14 year old daughter, my wife and I can finally iChat together!


Ileana said...

However, you do not need to iChat with your wife and daughter because you are walking in the woods with them three times a week, right? right?

You got my interest... I might just try this as my first Mac.

John Halamka said...

Well said! To clarify, we interact with each other in person every day, but for virtual interaction, iChat's H264 video teleconferencing is the best consumer grade product, available only on Apple machines.

Fake John Halamka said...

Fellow Apple fanboys, I posted more about the awesomeness of the MacBook Air on my other blog.