MacBook Air Hype, and other MacWorld Thoughts

Yesterday, I promised to chime in with a non-fanboy perspective on the events of today’s MacWorld keynote.  This annual Steve Jobs speech is typically laced with new Apple product announcements, and has really become quite the cultural event – either you watch it, read about it, or stand in exile from 50% of all geek conversations for the next month.

First of all, shame on Apple for yet again refusing to deliver or allow live online streaming of the event. They’re wasting a real opportunity to take a major event and turn it into a complete frenzy.  Instead, all we got was Twitter crashing and the chance to watch it later (did they edit out any of the technical difficulties they apparently had?).

The main event of the day was the MacBook Air.  Stammy has a solid review that echoes most of my thoughts on the product itself – like most Apple products, I wouldn’t spend my own money on it, but wouldn’t say no if given one.  And I’m fairly sure I couldn’t use it as a primary laptop – 2 GB of RAM isn’t enough for writing Java and using Firefox.  The naming also sucks.  Adobe already has a product called AIR, get over it and find a new name.

That said, the most compelling thing about the Air is that Apple built a VERY interesting, capable, miniaturized PC with what seems to be relatively minimal R&D.  They asked Intel to shrink the chip.  No effort on their part.  The standard 80 GB HD is presumably cripped from the iPod.  They presumably built-in or hardwired the RAM, video card, 802.11n, and any other components that are normally options – this takes some work, but the process to do this is fairly well understood.  Everything built right into the motherboard can be pretty thin, not very customizable.

It’s a niche product.  I think Apple knows that.  But it’s also a proof of concept – they’ve applied multi-touch to the “desktop”, made large strides in miniaturizing capable PCs, and found a way for people to pay for this stepping stone.  It’s not that impressive as the focus of a keynote, but I think future products based on this research and design will be more interesting (but still overpriced).

On to the rest:

Time capsule – a $500 Airport Extreme with a 1 TB hard drive is overpriced and combines 2 pieces of hardware that shouldn’t go together.  Nobody buy fanboys will ever understand what this is supposed to do for them.

iPhone – 5 new apps free for iPhone owners, $20 for existing iPod touch owners.  The Apple screw-the-early-adopter schtick is stale.  It makes me glad I don’t have to put up with it.   I expected at least a minor update to the iPhone hardware, maybe at least more storage or faster data capabilities.  This seems like it would be easy, but maybe they’re saving their goodies for a date when they can sell to all carriers.

The big WTF of the day for me was the Apple TV 2.0 and rentable video download thing.  I am a fan of the  subscription model for media – I have Netflix for movies and Yahoo Unlimited for music.  Both allow me to try out a song, a band, an album, or a film without committing to a purchase ahead of time.  I can compulsively torture co-workers with Warrant without the embarrassment of owning the song.  I do not understand paying $5 per movie for HD that can only be played on AppleTV, or $3 or $4 for iPod watchable movies, especially when I can easily crank through 10 movies a month for $18 on Netflix, with a broader selection, and without trying very hard, plus UNLIMITED online viewing (with an admittedly weaker selection).  Unless you compulsively decide you want to watch a movie immediately on a regular basis, I don’t see how this trumps Netflix.

Apple TV COULD be a compelling product, and may actually be the Apple product I would be most likely to buy for myself.  But I would want to be able to watch online Netflix movies, download and play torrented files, and listen to Yahoo Unlimited music, and pipe it through my Slingbox as well.  I don’t see Apple embracing much of this package unless they can either control it or can’t prevent it.