Hot Air

As expected, MacWorld was a big disappointment. The MacBook Air was supposed to be the big “wow” item, but it’s more of a big “meh”. Apple clearly set out to make something comparable to the VAIOs Sony has been selling for years–which is a great idea, as I love small laptops, but in the quest to be thinner than anyone else they introduced a few too many design compromises.No optical drive built in is no big deal; I go weeks between using my Mac’s optical drive. More of a problem is the lack of any Firewire capability, the inability to upgrade the RAM, and the fact that there’s no ethernet unless you carry around a USB ethernet adaptor. And of course, that adaptor will use your only USB port, so better carry a hub too. And cables for your hub.

[Update: It's also no smaller than the regular MacBook; just thinner. So it's not an ultraportable, and no easier to carry around.]

Now, if they had done something like Fujitsu’s P1620 and made it possible to flip the keyboard under and use the device as a tablet, that would have rocked. But as it is, it’s just another laptop, albeit a very thin one; and it’s not really suitable as a primary machine.

So what’s the target market for the MacBook Air? People who want a status symbol, or people who travel an awful lot and need the absolute lightest Mac possible. They also need to be people who can afford a second Mac as a main machine, or people with very light needs. So I really can’t see the Air selling in great quantities. If I were choosing a Mac laptop today, I wouldn’t get one, even if price wasn’t a concern.

I was more interested in what they’re doing with AppleTV. I’ve been thinking for a while that dealing with scratched and scuffed Netflix DVDs is a pain, and I’d rather just rent movies via the Internet. AppleTV is going to offer this as an option. Add in the ability to buy TV shows a la carte, and it’s starting to look pretty tempting.

Of course, there are a couple of problems. The first is that a lot of content isn’t in MPEG-4 format. The iPod would never have been a success if it hadn’t been able to play MP3s and had only worked with MPEG-4 audio; and similarly, if Apple wants the AppleTV to be a success, they need to make it able to play more formats than just MPEG-4.

The second problem is selection. Right now, the movie and TV selection via iTunes doesn’t even come close to Netflix. But give it another year or two, and I think the cable TV and satellite companies are going to be in big trouble.

The economics are simple. I watch 2-3 hours of TV a week, on half a dozen channels. To get those channels, however, I have to buy a bundle of over a hundred channels that I literally never watch. I could buy the shows via iTunes instead, cancel the DirecTV subscription, and save $30 a month. But not this year, not until all the shows I want are available…

The big question will be whether the new AppleTV software can be easily hacked to enable installation of other codecs and playback of non-MPEG-4 content. If so, I may get one. If not, I’ll wait until the content is all available in MPEG-4–which may be a long wait.

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3 thoughts on “Hot Air

  1. Wasn’t audio out on Apple TV a sticking point? I find it a bit hard to hard tell from Apple’s website, do you know if the Apple TV optical audio is 5.1? Is that even a sensible question?

  2. Apparently the problem is that the downloadable movies use AAC 5.1, which hardware receivers can’t decode; so the Apple TV recodes the AAC 5.1 to Dolby Surround Pro Logic which it passes out via the outputs.

    The hardware can do DTS 5.1, but the downloads don’t provide it for space reasons.

    Of course, the new software might change all this.

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