Apple’s New MacBook Air: 5 Things It Didn’t Get

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The new MacBook Air is certainly a great improvement over previous models- namely the move towards exclusive solid-state storage in a laptop is a welcome paradigm shift. However, there were a few notable oversights in the new models that I’m sure a lot of people are disappointed about. Here are a few of them, and the reasons behind Apple’s omissions.

1) Intel Core i3

While the GeForce 320M graphics card and solid-state storage will improve performance of the new MBA to a certain degree, including the same 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo as the previous model was a slightly disappointing move. Intel’s Core i3 Mobile processor tops the Core 2 Duo in almost every way in terms of performance.

And although Apple didn't explicitly say anything on the topic, in the last MacBook refresh, Apple decided to stick with the Core 2 Duo because of its compatibility with nVidia's integrated graphics system (moving to the Core i3 would require Apple to use Intel's integrated chipset).

Reasons for omission:

-Cost, power consumption (read: battery life), and hardware compatibility.

2) USB 3.0

The new USB spec was announced back in 2008 and consumer products started arriving last January. High-end PC’s are now shipping with USB 3.0 and Apple was the first to widely adopt USB with the first iMac, yet we haven’t seen a single Mac ship with the new standard.

Reasons for omission:

-Cost, Intel Core 2 Duo chipset not designed for USB 3.0.

3) SD Card Slot on the 11inch model

The 11.6-inch MacBook Air can be configured to include either 64GB or 128GB on-board storage. Both are relatively scant amounts of space on a laptop by today’s standards. The 13” model includes a convenient SD Card slot for increased (removable) storage capacity. While high-capacity SD Cards aren’t that cheap yet (a 64GB SDHC card will run you over $200), you could always get a few 32GB cards to expand your storage for a bit less money. This would have been a much handier option on the 11” model, which is in more dire need of expandable storage.

Reasons for omission:

-Cost, enclosure space.

4) HDMI-out

Apple hasn’t indicated they are planning on phasing out its Mini DisplayPort in favor of the HDTV audio/video all-in-one standard any time soon, but a man can dream, can’t he? If anything, we’ll see this on MacBook Pro first, but I’m not holding my breath either.

Reason for omission:

-Mini DisplayPort is smaller, no other Macs or Apple Displays use HDMI. Probably cost, too.

5) Retina Display and Touchscreen

It’s fairly obvious the reasons this was omitted, but if Apple really wants to combine the iPhone/iPad and MacBook lines in the MBA, the screen should have touch input. Some of the new OS X Lion UI additions like Launch Pad and Mission Control are just begging for touch input. The increased resolution on the screen is nice, but a full-on Retina-display would have been nicer.

Reasons for omission:

-Phil Schiller noted in the MacBook Air video that touch-input on a laptop screen is awkward. I can’t imagine it’s anymore awkward than performing gestures on a Magic Mouse. Once again, it really all comes down to cost.

I think we can see a common thread here. Apple wants to put a fully solid-state, bare-bones laptop in the hands of a lot of people (without just making a netbook). Only offering flash storage was a great move and hopefully leads the way to more solid-state laptops. The original MacBook Air was priced like a luxury good with features that didn’t quite add up. The new models, while they aren’t quite cutting-edge in the performance department at least now have a price to match.

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