Kyleのシリコンバレー通信(英語)

2008年4月号 超軽量ラップトップは賛否両論,MacBook Airいよいよ登場

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We've been waiting for an ultralight Mac laptop, Should we be happy with what we got? Will it capture people's hearts and minds? It only came out a few days ago, and already people are alternatively praising and dismissing it. Some people say that its lack of built-in ethernet and no built-in optical drive are killer problems. And the little door that flips open to expose the USB port isn't enough for some people, whose multiple USB dongles don't quite fit. Someone somewhere commented that the machine felt cheap and very plastic, but let me tell you, I find it anything *but* cheap and plastic. Yes, it is true that my first impression just looking at it on a table down at the Apple store in downtown San Francisco (http://www.apple.com/retail/sanfrancisco/week/20080203.html) made me almost hesitant to touch it... Would I break it? But opening and closing the lid, picking it up, turning it over, and so forth gave me a far better impression of its strength. The apparently magnetic closure on the lid feels strong enough, and I might like it more than the physical hooks we find on other laptops. Apple was very clever designing the older hooks to pop out by magnetic force once the upper lip of the screen nears the body, far more elegant than the "slide a button to unlock a protruding hook" in the Dell Latitude I use at work (not noticeable day to day, but rather unattractive when you do). But the old Apple designs don't feel very secure. Neither my 15" nor 17" latches feel strong enough for me to simply close the lid and pick them up. I notice myself grasping the laptops so that I keep their lids pinched shut. I didn't have that impression with the MacBook Air, and you don't need to hit a little button to release the lid, either. There is a little section carved out along the bottom edge that provides a good place to leverage your finger under the lid as you break the magnetic connection and lift. Yes, it seems quite satisfactory to me. As for my overall impression of it, at first glance I thought the screen was a bit small. However, it was just my perception. With a native resolution of 1280 by 800 on a 13.3" screen, it is the same as the iBook, which didn't feel particularly small to me. I did notice the obvious glossy sheen to the screen, though. That isn't necessarily bad, but I suppose it depends on personal taste. I am more accustomed to the matte surface of older laptops, but for the two weeks I could enjoy my black MacBook I didn't find its glossiness distracting. I did notice that the back of the screen felt quite cool. I expected at least the lower back of the LCD screen to be minimally warm to the touch, but it was not. Could be that Apple did a good job making the aluminum body into a heat sink. I do wonder how hot it can get though. Let us hope that Apple has learned from previous heat problems!

I only used the keyboard briefly, and with only a short time to look over the machine I didn't pay much attention to it. But I did try the multitouch keypad and found it... interesting. I am not a big fan of touch pads, but I use them without much trouble. I prefer a mouse or even a... oh, what is that thing called, the little pencil eraser embedded in the middle of the keyboard, invented (if I recall correctly) by IBM long ago. There doesn't seem to be a standard name for that thing: I have seen "nubbin," "eraser," "pointer," "touch point," even "joystick" (!) to describe it. I rather like those for business use but not much else. However, sometimes you will see it zip off towards one corner of the screen at hyperspeed for no obvious reason, and all you can do is wait for it to calm down and give you back control. I suppose, overall, a touch pad is the best choice, and it certainly gives Apple the ability to offer multitouch. The Air's touchpad is quite large, and I experimented with pinching and expanding in Safari, which decreased and increased the font size. Okay, I can see that being useful, I suppose. One thing that did feel strange is the very narrow button. Apple is maintaining the single button, of course, and I do not see them changing it, but I wish it was just a bit thicker.

The power connector is interesting, as is the drop down wedge for plugging wires in. Will its single USB port be a problem? No Firewire, no built-in ethernet. No built-in CD/DVD. There are lots of USB-ethernet options, of course. Apple's software for accessing a CD/DVD on another machine over the LAN is nice but not revolutionary (you are supposed to be able to access smb drives using something like smb://PeeCeeName/D$ if you happen to know the remote machine's Administrator password, but I seem to remember having trouble getting it to work years ago). What Apple has done is bring it out into the open and make it easy to use, but it is still limited -- you cannot play DVD movies and I am sure you won't be able to install software with copy protection. Too bad, but that is what happens in today's closed world. Still, it is useful, I suppose, for accessing ordinary data, but most people will still want to buy Apple's external drive. Apple's installer sounds clever, letting you copy your files and configuration over the network. I remember using Firewire to move things over to my MacBook and it was easy and fast. Let's hope this is as good.

I really like the SSD option. Even though it is much more expensive than a hard drive, it offers flexibility and opens new possibilities for (rich) people. Random reads are likely faster and problems with head crashes and mechanical failures should be essentially eliminated. It isn't worth the money to me at the moment, but prices will continue to drop and some day solid state devices will be ubiquitous. I don't see hard drives going away any time soon, but they may become more common in arrays or desktops, while laptops might favor SSDs.

If you need to connect several USB devices, you can certainly use a USB hub, but that can become inconvenient after a while. Do you need a MacBook Air or would a MacBook or even MacBook Pro be better for you? While some people are questioning whether the MacBook Air is going to be another Cube, that's an invalid comparison to me. They're comparing "apples and oranges." The MacBook Air is for people who have access to wireless networks, who can copy media to their local drive and don't need to be constantly using DVDs or CDs, who need to travel quite a bit or don't have space to keep a large machine. This is simply one more machine in Apple's lineup giving us a wider choice based on our needs. And remember, this is first generation.

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