How the New 11-inch MacBook Air is Not the New 12-inch PowerBook

Before the ‘Back to the Mac’ keynote kicked off today I lamented on Twitter that I really didn’t see the point of an 11.6” MacBook Air. To which Shawn Blanc responded:

@BenjaminBrooks The 12” PowerBook is considered one of the favorite Apple laptops of all time. Though now we’re all used to big screens…

Which could not be more true, I had a 12” PowerBook (my first Mac actually) that I bought because the hardware was so good on that machine. Now though an 11.6” screen just seems silly, no? I can see what Shawn is getting at when he says “we’re all used to big screens” because at work I use a 24” Cinema Display and my MacBook Pro has a 15” screen. My MacBook Pro screen feels tiny when I use it.

I think all of that is irrelevant though, there is certainly a large contingent of people that use small screen computers everyday without ever hooking up to a larger screen. And yes the new MacBook Air is an incredibly portable laptop by any standard – especially with the great battery life it has. The real thing that would keep me from ever buying an 11.6” MacBook Air is that I have a 10” MacBook Air already, it just happens to be called an iPad.

Ok, Ok an iPad is not the same as a MacBook Air running OS X – I agree. But what I would use that tiny 11” MacBook Air for is the same thing that I currently use my iPad for. Consuming news and writing. Given that there is no reason for me to buy it – in fact all I need is a bluetooth keyboard / keyboard dock and I am set.

The 13” MacBook Air though make a whole lot of sense to me – the screen is large enough in those and the power is to a point (with the upgraded processor and RAM) where it really makes a tangible difference.

The Portable Executive

Justin Pennington brought up this point on Twitter:

@BenjaminBrooks If it really is 11” with 8-10 bat I’ll get some other members of the management team switched (I’m at 2/5 now including me).

Ok I can buy that execs would really dig the 11” MacBook Air – but, and this is a big but, wouldn’t they rather just have an iPad with a nice desktop back at the office?

Stephen Hackett posted this:

The difference of course is all about software. For some people, iOS just doesn’t meet their needs. The new 11.6″ MacBook Air offers all of the features of Mac OS X in the smallest package ever. For people who need a full-blown computer that can go just about anywhere, the Air is an obvious choice. For everyone else, though, the iPad is really, really hard to ignore.

Spot on. I could not word it better, and I am glad I caught this before I finished typing this post.

Heir to the Throne

For me the 11.6” MacBook Air is not the heir apparent to the 12” PowerBook that I so dearly loved. The 13.3” MacBook Air, that just may be the heir to the throne. Right now I have a 15” MacBook Pro 2.8ghz 6gb RAM and 240GB SSD HD – a very fast machine – I have been thinking for quite some time about getting a Mac mini for my office so I don’t have to lug the MacBook Pro to and from work. The MacBook Pro + iPad is a weighty combination.

Guess what, if the 13” MacBook Air can run Photoshop/Aperture/LightRoom at a decent speed then I will buy one of those without thinking twice.

The 11.6” MacBook Air for twice the price of an iPad does not offer enough of a productivity boost in my eyes. The 13.3” with the larger screen stands a chance to offer enough of a boost that the tradeoff from the 15” MacBook Pro may just be acceptable. Of course this is all assuming that I would get rid of my MacBook Pro, in all likely hood I will add the 13” and just keep it at the office, and on trips.

Back when the 12” PowerBook was the kingpin you had the option of 12”, 15” or 17” PowerBooks. There was no iPad, or iPhone. That is what made the 12” so damned good – there was nothing more portable and more powerful than the 12” PowerBook. Now though that is not the case, many people just travel with an iPhone and have no problems. In fact the iPad would be perfect for travel if I had a way to edit RAW image files on it (LightRoom really). I don’t need a ton of image editing powers, I just need to be able to do what LightRoom can do (which is very powerful, not full blown Photoshop).

That is the very reason I don’t think the 11.6” MacBook Air is the heir to the 12” PowerBook – there are far better portable options. The 13” though is not the direct heir, but pairing it with an iPad and you should have all you really need.


So who has the benchmarks to find out what these tiny things can do?

Note: Having finished typing this up I am 90% sure that I could survive with just 13.3” MacBook Air – I am headed to the Apple Store as soon as they have them to play with.

Originally posted for members on: October 20, 2010
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