There’s Not Enough In The Air
A lot has been made about how MacWorld 2008 was a disappointment. Uninformed reporters and analysts who look only to wall street as an indicator of the show’s success were quick to point out the decline in Apple stock following the show, but let’s not be stupid here. Not only is the old axiom “buy on the rumor, sell on the news” almost always true, but of the approximately 30 tech stocks I personally follow, almost all of them are down sharply in January, especially on the day of the MacWorld announcements. Google is down almost 18% in January on general market sentiment alone. Furthermore, anybody who uses 2007’s MacWorld as a measuring stick for what Apple should announce every year is a fool. The iPhone is in many ways, a once-in-a-lifetime product announcement, not to be expected again for a long, long time. The only other announcement Apple has ever made of such instant magnitude was the original Macintosh in 1984 (the original announcement of the iPod was actually met with widespread apathy).
That said, I think the show this year was a success (and mostly in line with my predictions), with the surprising exception of the one product I was most excited about: The MacBook Air.
I’ve waited for a new Apple subnotebook since ditching my beloved Duo in 1997. That’s ten long years, having mostly leaned on the 12 inch Powerbook until it was snatched out of the lineup a couple of years ago without any notice. In order to move into the Intel Mac world, I was essentially forced into a 13 inch MacBook, which I have to say, I don’t particularly care for. It’s a fine machine, for the most part, but it’s bulkier than my 12 inch Powerbook was, and more importantly, it gets greasier than a KFC dinner bucket when you touch it. The “SmudgeBook” as people call it, annoys me more than I thought it would. So much so that I have to give it a rubbing alcohol sponge bath almost every week.
So by all measures, I am the absolutely ideal customer for an Apple subnotebook. If they can’t sell one to me, they have a problem.
And unfortunately, I’m not buying one.
Even more unfortunately, it’s only one and a half specs that completely kill the proposition for me: the 80 gig hard drive (huge deal) and the 2 gigs of RAM (somewhat huge deal). I don’t care about the slower processor, the lack of swappable battery, the minimal connectivity options, or the absence of removable media. These are all things you give up for the incredibly sexy shell. But can anyone comfortably get by on 80 gigs these days? My MacBook holds 230 gigs. And what about the 64 gig “high end” MacBook Air for a thousand bucks more!??! Who the hell is going to buy that model? I bet the lower end model outsells the higher end one at least 10-1.
Steve Jobs said on stage that they know micro hard drives very well, due to all of the iPods they sell, so why couldn’t they have thrown a 160 gig drive in there? It’s already in the high-end iPod Classic. Maybe it’s a heat issue, I don’t know. But what I do know is that at least in my case, it’s the difference between a sale and a non-sale. Between reading The MacBook Air Austerity Program and thinking about moving media storage completely over to something like TimeCapsule, it’s just more hard drive management than I’m willing to take on. And you know it’s going to be a monthly worry.
Memory is the second spec that I think Apple flubbed. If you’re going to offer a slower processor, you need to at least make up for that with ample RAM and ample hard drive space. Free memory and HD space can often mean a lot more to performance than processor speed. I mention the RAM thing as a “half spec” that I don’t like, because if the hard drive issue was addressed, I’d overlook the RAM shortcomings and buy a machine.
So in the end, we have a product line that a lot of people are really clamoring for, but a single spec that is going to turn a good portion of that consumer base away. To make matters worse (or better, depending on how you look at it), we *know* that the MacBook Air will sport at least a 160 gig hard drive probably before the year is over, so there is essentially a zero percent chance people like me will suck it up and buy one now.
The pessimists will say Apple has produced another Cube… a smaller, less functional machine that nobody has much of a reason to go out and buy. The optimists, on the other hand, see the footprint for what will one day be one of the most popular computers around… just as soon as its brains catch up with its body.
Me, I’m an optimist, but it’s going to be a tough several months waiting for revision two.