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The MacBook Air: First impressions, second thoughts

Some compared Apple's new laptop to the Cube; so did I, at first

January 25, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Right after Apple Inc. announced its new ultralight, ultrathin laptop, the MacBook Air, last week, a colleague asked me what I thought.

"Great. For $1,799 you can get this year's form factor with yesteryear's processor. And no optical or firewire, either? And you can 'upgrade' your hard drive from 80GB to 64GB. Not impressed."

I wasn't so much angry as a little insulted by Apple's new creation. It must have been the buildup leading to this year's Macworld Expo, the first since the iPhone changed everything a year ago. I mean, how do you follow the iPhone? (OK, I can think of one: "We've redesigned the automobile: No gas! Just plug the iCar into your Mac's USB port.") As I read over the keynote speech transcript, I had the sinking feeling that the MacBook Air was -- and I don't say this lightly -- Apple's first misstep since the Cube.

For those too new to Apple to remember that hardware, in July 2000 Apple released a sleek-looking, cube-shaped computer, aptly named the Cube. It was a critical success since the Cube excelled in terms of balancing design, size and processing power; it was even one of the first Apple desktop machines to incorporate wireless networking. The award-winning Cube won praise for its whisper-quiet design and was even showcased in the Museum of Modern Art. It was also a commercial failure, largely because it was awkwardly priced. Within Apple's own hardware lineup, consumers could get a similarly equipped Power Mac that was more expandable and it was $200 cheaper than the price of a Cube. They could save even more with an iMac. Though not as powerful as the Cube or Power Macs, the iMac at the time came with a built-in monitor and most felt it was plenty fast enough, especially given the price difference. So it was that the Cube remained a product many admired, but never bought; Its value didn't hold up compared to Apple's other products and looks alone couldn't save it.

I mentally checked off the reasons I thought the MacBook Air was going to fail: at most, a 1.8-GHz Core 2 Duo processor -- "Oh good," I thought, "Apple's caught up to the year 2006!" There's an 80GB hard drive standard (running at a pokey 4,200 rpm), but you can upgrade to even less space -- a 64GB solid-state drive -- for $999. Fantastic! Less storage than an iPod. There were no Firewire or Ethernet ports, a built-in, nonremovable battery, 2GB of RAM soldered to the motherboard and an opening price of $1,799 that with upgrades flat out clears $3,000.

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