Thoughts on the Air’s Place in a iPad World

Earlier today, Ben Brooks and I had a conversation on Twitter:

This whole thing of a small Mac raises an interesting set of questions. Do people need a smaller Mac OS X device, as I suggested to Ben? Can a small Mac survive in an iPad world?

One problem that has always plagued the MacBook Air is that it can’t really serve as a stand-alone computer for most Mac customers. I think most people use an iMac or a MacBook Pro as their machine machines — and for good reasons. These machines are powerful, with large amounts of storage available for photos, music and more.

The MacBook Air, however, tops out at 256GB of storage, with 64GB being the base option for the smaller MacBook Air. Many people have iTunes libraries bigger than 64GB. It’s clear that the Air isn’t designed to be a main machine for most people. It packs less horsepower, less RAM and less storage than any other Mac.

The upside of the Air — the very reason it exists — of course is size. Still razor-thin, the new smaller Air takes up even less space in a bag or on a desk as before, which is a good thing for some people.

It’s more in line with the iPad, spec-wise and size-wise, than any other member of the Mac line.

In fact, the MacBook Air’s biggest competition is the iPad. Both can be used as a standalone product, but really shine when used as a secondary device. Both have great battery life and are thin and light. The smaller Air is even close to the size of the iPad.

The difference of course is all about software.[1. Comparing the iPad and the Air includes some factors other than software. Will the Air’s higher price dissuade some people from purchasing it over an iPad?] For some people, iOS just doesn’t meet their needs.[2. Of course, this group of people may be smaller than I think.] 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[3. Calling the 11.6" MacBook Air a full-blown computer is hard to do with that 1.4GHz processor. I’m not sure I’d want to run Aperture on that thing.] that can go just about anywhere, the Air is an obvious choice. For everyone else, though, the iPad is really, really hard to ignore.

Update #1: Giles Turnbull at Cult of Mac sums it up nicely:

It looks like a beautiful product but I don’t think I’ll be buying one. If I want a lightweight portable computer, I’ll buy an iPad, which offers better battery life and is far, far cheaper. Even if I splash out on a wireless keyboard to go with it.

Update #2: Ben Brooks weighs in:

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.

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.

Update #3: Marco votes in favor of the Air:

If forced to choose between bringing an Air and an iPad on a trip, to a meeting, on a train, on a plane, or pretty much anywhere, I’d choose the Air. (Even the 11”.)

Most of what I do on computing devices either can’t be done or would take much longer on an iPad, and I’m impatient and demanding with my hardware.

If you can say the same about yourself, an iPad probably won’t replace a laptop for you.