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

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 ( 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.

New iPhone and iPod Touch

I was expecting a bigger upgrade to the iPhone, but a 16GB version is nice, and the 32GB Touch finally sounds useful. I would like that much space in mine, but I will make do with 8GB for now. What I really do want, though, is a faster data connection on the cellular network. I find that speeds run between barely tolerable and glacially slow, tending more towards the latter than the former, unfortunately. The curious thing is, I do not see a clear correlation between signal strength and data speed. Sometimes I will have one or two bars and the speed at which I open a page feels okay, and at other times I have five bars but surfing feels like crawling over broken glass, no matter what website I visit. How can that be? I wonder whether it is AT&T's interconnect to the Internet that is the problem. I wouldn't have thought so, but perhaps the time of day and other network traffic is a greater factor. We will have to wait a while for 3G, it seems, but at least AT&T plans on expanding its 3G network into another 80 cities and introducing High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA), claiming better speeds than today's 600-1,400 Kbps down and 500-800 Kbps up speeds. But kilobits per second is pretty slow, nothing like the 300Mbps their LTE 4G network might do and WiMax's even higher throughput.

The iPhone software seems to be getting better and better, though, so I just updated to 1.1.3 from `1.0.2. That was not entirely smooth, however. The upgrade failed part way through, and iTunes told me I had to restore my iPhone. When I agreed to that, I was shortly presented with an error message telling me, "The iPhone 'iPhone' could not be restored. An unknown error occurred (1603)." I tried to restore it again and again had the same failure. I then turned off my USB2 PCCard, unplugged it, and plugged it in again, and tried it a third time, and while iTunes chugged along I checked around for references to "iphone 1603" and found quite a bit of information, including an Apple document referencing that error in particular. The third attempt worked for me, and I did not have to restart the Mac or reload iTunes or do other things that people have had to suffer through to get beyond this error. I will use the iPhone in its "native" state for a few weeks before Apple releases its SDK so I can get a feel for how the SDK changes the "normal" user experience. I can see that Apple is preparing for an influx of applications, with the addition of multiple pages of icons and giving us the ability to rearrange them easily. None of the apps I had installed there were critical to me, so blowing them away wasn't particularly painful. What was somewhat painful was restoring 8GB of music and podcasts and videos and photos. Even over USB2, it was sloooow. And for some reason, it didn't remember the passphrase for my WPA2 wireless network. I had to look it up in my Keychain and then tap it in using the iPhone keyboard. This wouldn't have been so bad if it was short, but being the security-conscious person I am (paranoid? prudent?) I use a 62 character phrase with a mix of uppercase, lowercase, and special characters, in a completely meaningless jumble. To make typing them in easier, I pasted the string into a TextEdit window, made the typeface quite large, and put spaces between each pair of characters. My eyes moved easily between Mac and iPhone and I'm pleased that I typed it in right the first time, but why didn't the iPhone check my keychains and request to use one or more keys there for itself? It also lost the photos I had taken on the phone, but of course they were archived in iPhoto. Despite these glitches, I'm so glad to be able to both surf and listen to music at the same time and the touchscreen again detects touches immediately when you switch from an app to Springboard. And now I can look forward to third-party apps--if Apple does the right thing and opens application installation to third-parties without making them painfully jump through hoops. That would be tragic.

Microsoft makes a bid for Yahoo

The rumors were circulating for a while that Microsoft wanted to buy Yahoo. I don't really understand it myself, but I suppose Microsoft wants to buy Yahoo's eyeballs and talent. You could even say that I'm a yahoo "eyeball" because I have a couple of e-mail accounts there and I use a Yahoo account for instant messaging. However, I rarely use their mail, almost never visit the Yahoo main page, never use Yahoo for searchng, and use Trillian (PC) and Adium (Mac) for my IM clients (Microsoft won't be getting much out of me). Yahoo hasn't been able to beat Google's search engine, and the speculation is that Yahoo may be forced to use Google's search to sell advertising. Well, it might increase Yahoo's income, but if Yahoo gives up on its own search engine I dread to think about how many Yahoo employees will be fired. Yet if Microsoft buys Yahoo, I expect that Microsoft would also get rid of more than just a few people. Either way, the human tragedy in the pursuit of profit can be terribly painful. I do not mean to imply that such changes are not necessary. "The life of man," said Thomas Hobbs in his 1861 book Leviathan, is "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short" but we build communities and form societies to help overcome that essential nature of the world. Businesses and corporations, despite the painful times they and their employees sometimes go through, are key to improving our lives, and I hope that Yahoo can make it through this difficult period and again become an innovative force. There was some speculation that Apple might be interested in making a friendly bid, but although possible, I doubt it. Apple is better friends with Google (despite Google's own interest in making a phone platform) and has made no real moves into being a portal or advertising company. Apple produces its own products. It has little interest in assisting other people to sell theirs. As of today, Yahoo wants a lot more than US$31 per share, so this battle might go on a while.

Apple print advertising

I came across an amazing site recently which has archived some of Apple's early print advertising:

They have ads for Apple II and IIc and III machines as well as the Mac, and many clearly show the DNA of today's Apple advertising, from disembodied hands to exceptionally clever turns of phrase. They even have an ad for the Apple Hard Disk 20! Twenty-five times bigger than a floppy! Three times faster! Its problem was that it attached to the external floppy drive port--intrinsically slow. Still, I remember when I installed one at my part-time job in college, and it was such a wonderful change. I used PageMaker 1.0 for "desktop publishing" at the school... No more swapping floppy disks in and out--what a relief that was. One ad even mentions a special deal where you can trade in a Lisa or Macintosh XL (Who remembers the Mac XL? Raise your hands!) and get a Mac Plus and Hard Disk 20 for only $1,498! It was such a pleasure looking over those pages, and quite surprising to realize how many I recognized, how many I actually saw in print way back then.