Is the MacBook Air a Dud?

Macbook Air
Since the MacBook Air was launched, there’s bit a healthy amount of debate about form (lightweight, thin) vs. function (no optical drive).

What has been absent is enough excitement to suggest the MacBook Air will be anything more than a modest-selling product that let Apple introduce/test some new features while, at the same time, convincing some people such as Martha Stewart to pay a sweet premium for it.

In that sense, the MacBook Air may not be Apple’s 21st century version of the Newton but it may go down as one of Steve Jobs’ less inspired creations. The same could be said for Apple TV, which has failed to resonate with consumers even after Apple did something highly unusual by dropping its price.

Maybe Apple has finally hit a creativity lull after many years of introducing hit after hit – much like a rock band can lose its mojo after producing a string of fantastic albums. Truth be told, it was bound to happen to Apple given the iPod and the MacBook have set the bar so high. Anything less spectacular will look disappointing – sort of like the reaction when Boston’s “Don’t Look Back” album sold only seven million copies after its debut album, “Boston”, sold 17 million.

Aside from the MacBook Air’s lack of sizzle, another puzzling issue is how the MacBook Air seems to be over-engineered and, as a result, more expensive to build than it needs to be. The Nikkei Electronics Teardown Squad recently took part the three-pound Air and, among other things, discovered it has a huge number of screws to attach components, including 30 for the keyboard.

“If I proposed such a design, our company would never approve it,” one of the engineers told Tech-On, while another said “I can’t find anything that is technically superior. We can make the same computer at a lower cost”.

Maybe as Robert Cringely suggests, there’s bigger things in play strategically, and the MacBook Air is just a part of the puzzle whose role will become clear in the years to come. In the meantime, the MacBook Air could be one of those products that, in theory, looks good but fails to gain much commercial ground.

Update: Speaking of laptops, Engadget reports Sony is offering people interested in buying its TZ200 the option of not having “crapware” on the machine. The downside is this option costs $49.95, which appears to be a rip-off more than being consumer-friendly. What marketing geniuses come up with these programs?

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  • Jevon

    The Macbook Air was never designed for geeks, and hasn’t been marketed at them either. You don’t see the MacBook Pro being advertised during Oprah, but the Macbook Air ad is on in those prime time slots.

    To be honest, the target MBAir customer probably thinks having 30 screws for the keyboard is a GOOD thing.

    They didn’t lose their mojo, the band is just big in Japan now.

  • Leafs News

    The Macbook Air is revolutionary, if not flawed. The cons are many, but the POTENTIAL for new laptops is great.

    The solid state drive is the future for laptops, and soon there after (once capacity issues are increased) desktops.

    Mac was the first to do it. v1.0 of the Macbook is a little underwhelming, but the fact that it is using solid state hard drives is unique and provides many benefits to people outside wealthy middle-aged women that like them because they are small and cute.


  • Andrew

    Aren’t Mac sales up 14% over last year for the period the Air was introduced. They had 25% of the computer market for Feb. Those are huge numbers. I am staring to see Air’s everywhere.

    Every other PC manufacturer will follow suit with an Air competitor, it is a game changer.

  • Sylvain Carle

    Well, I got one and I love it. But then, I was also one of the first to jump for the original ultraslim VAIO (and it was, ugh, purple!) then the awesome x20 from IBM and was using a macbook (not pro) prior to purchasing the Air.

    I want slim, ultraporable, cloud connected, roadtrip ready (solid) and long enough battery life. The Air has all that. If these are not your requirements, just don’t buy it…

    The design decisions to go with no wired or ethernet optical drive built-in makes me think of the iMac, when Apple decided to ditch all those legacy ports (and disquette drive!) to go with only USB and CD-Rom (quite prescient at the time)…

    Overall, for what is pretends to be, it’s a great laptop and I’m quite happy with it.

  • Mark Evans

    Sylvain: Thanks for the insight. Good to hear from someone using an Air.

    Jevon: Now, I’ve got Big in Japan on the brain – very 80s! :)

  • AM

    Almost every one of the new mac users (mostly switchers) I know is planning to buy a MacBook air – and I know atleast 8 of them – more on the way. If you dont realize that the Air is setting a trend – where the web apps are going to rule and wireless access and performance are going to be the next frontier for laptops – then your are not Apple or Steve Jobs. Our company is rapidly moving to Google Apps – and the MacBook Air would be perfect purchase for half of us.

    As far as the company ““If I proposed such a design, our company would never approve it,” – lets see – what kind of market innovations have they brought in the last 20 years? and is the “Nikkei Electronics Teardown Squad” some sort of band – paying in Japan? So Apple engineers who design EVERY part of their product from iPods to MacBook Air – are going to say – what the heck lets just put in 30 screws just for the heck of it. Do you think they did structural and thermal analysis – and used a packaging efficiency software? – Naah – no real engineer would use such tools – they would instead “tear-down” other products to see how many screws did the other chap use!

    Apple got where they are by being bold – asking them to be just Engineers would make them the “Cupertino Electronics Teardown Squad” and nothing more – eh?

  • AdamC

    You should write this article or should I say revisit this article in a years’ time and then give us your opinion, it is too soon to pass judgement on the AppleTV and Air.

    BTW What would you have done if you were designing a ultralight laptop from the top or bottom up? My guess is you will use less screws to keep the price down.

  • Chuck

    We’ve bought four here at work. People love them, those who travel a lot and just need email and web. I am not sure why you don’t think it’s selling well. Do you know how many Apple has sold so far?

    Didn’t think so.

  • David Dugan

    Mark.. although your stance is in line with the general punditry at the MBA’s release, it looks like the Mac Book Air is actually <a href=””>quite a hit. MBA sales accounted for a full 20% of Apple’s brisk notebook sales, and are not cannibalizing sales of MacBooks or MacBook Pros.

    I think you’re going to have wait a bit longer to play your “Apple has finally hit a creativity lull” card. And I wouldn’t crow too loudly about the AppleTV either, if I were you. That chapter has only just begun.

  • mark

    Critics are generally slow to recognize the value of mobility. Similar comments were made when the first Mac Powerbook was introduced, when the iPod mini was introduced, and now when the MacBook Air was introduced. Have no doubt that more powerful laptops will replace desktops, and less powerful but more mobile laptops are the direction for the future. It’s not innovation in the mainstream, but it’s innovation on the edge.

  • Rich Lafferty

    The optical drive thing seems like a non-issue to me. I’ve got a Dell D410, which is a 13″, 3.5-lb barely-subnotebook. It gets the low weight by coming with an external optical drive, which connects via a combo usb-and-power connector.

    The ThinkPad X40 and X41 and X60 subnotebooks are the same way.

    (None of those are as thin as the Air, but they’ve all got standard hard disks too.)

    But the important bit is that many of those optical-drive-free subnotebooks were released around 2004! External optical drives have been the way of lightweight computing for a long time, and I don’t understand why it’s such a surprise when another vendor’s subnote has no optical drive either.

  • Kevin P

    I’m sitting here setting up a MBP for one of our salespeople who travels about 2 weeks a month, and I’m certain it’ll be perfect for her. I ordered the external drive, but haven’t needed it yet — or even the Remote Disc feature. I happened to have a disc image of Office 2008 already on the network, along with other software I need.

    The machine itself is quite zippy for general apps (the 2 gigs of RAM is probably a huge help). Its build quality is astounding. You wouldn’t want to sit on it, but It’s otherwise incredibly sturdy yet lightweight, like no other laptop on the market.

    As far as price is concerned, I personally think it’s an absolute bargain for the technology you’re getting (I didn’t opt for the SSD). Just a few months ago, we paid about the same price for what turned out to be a crapalicious HP subnotebook, which had a sub-par screen, only 1 GB of RAM, and was made mostly of plastic. I really don’t understand why people would think the MBA is overpriced, when all of the top-tier brand subnotebooks are often far more expensive. That’s why I had to go with the HP — the Sonys, Toshibas, etc. were too expensive. The MBA, with everything included, rang in at less than $1900.

    Anyway, I had concerns about the lack of ports, but I have yet to even notice their absence. The only remaining issue is how the battery will stand up, but I have an airline adapter on order, so it’ll probably be a non-issue for this person. She said she’d prefer not to tote another battery around, anyway.

  • Mark Evans


    My sense of Air sales is based on a couple of things: the lack of buzz and the fact I haven’t many people using them. When Apple releases its Q2 results on April 23, we may get a sense of how the Air is selling, even though there will only be two months of Air sales in the quarter.

  • skipc

    another pointless review by someone does not “actually” have one. those who can…create while those who cannot…criticize.

    …try this

  • Mark Evans

    Skip C.: I’ve got a MacBook so need to buy another model. But if Apple wants to send me an evaluation unit, I’d be happy to try one out.


  • Sarah

    I say the Air has its heart in the right place. For a notebook in its class its a decent value but I do agree that its Achilles hill would be its size – it would have been much better if it was 12 not 13 inches.

  • Jack

    Bought one for my wife; she picked it out, however. It replaces an old Powerbook “Pismo” still chugging along. We live on a 37 foot boat. She’s using it now, working on some genealogy. I’m typing this on the boat’s built in PowerMac G5 with a 23″ Cinema HD display, soon to be replaced by a 24″ iMac. She love’s the Air, and it is not only stunning to look at, but easy to stow. Who gives a s*** how many screws hold it together? Enough, I suppose, but they also give it the look of a precision machine rather than some cheap toy. Apple will sell a zillion MBA’s, I believe.

  • Eric

    Initial sales analysis from Shawn Wu (AmTech analyst) suggest the MacBook Air is selling extremely well and he predicts it will be 20-25% of portable sales. Additionally its not majorily cannibalising MacBook sales. At least he does research to back up his claims.

  • Mark Evans

    Eric: We’ll see on April 23 how well the Air is selling. Maybe Wu’s on the mark. If so, I’ll be among the first to admit I was wrong.


  • william

    Of course the Macbook Air could be made more cheaply, so could all of Apple’s products. The reason Apple’s products don’t feel cheap is because they weren’t made that way.

  • Mickeleh

    It’s impossible to answer the question in your headline without knowing Apple’s goals for the product. Even when you get the sales figures, you’d need to be able to compare them to plan.

    At the minimum it has enhanced the Mac and Apple brands, gained a lot of free coverage, and driven traffic to the Apple store.

    When the sales figures come out, don’t just measure sales for MBA. Look at total sales across all Mac notebook lines. If a new customer comes into Apple’s orbit, enticed by MacBook Air, and winds up with a MacBook (lower price, higher performance) or a MacBook Pro (max performance and specs)… that would make it a very savvy “dud” indeed.

  • Mark Evans


    That’s an interesting perspective that I didn’t take into consideration. It makes sense from a marketing and MacBook brand perspective.

  • Jim Courtney

    Informal observational survey during a week spent at communications tech conferences over the past ten days in Silicon Valley saw several (purchased) MacBook Airs being pulled out of knapsacks, backpacks and other geek toteware. And narry a negative word heard. Lightweight and well selected functionality says a lot.

  • mike jones

    How do you think the macbook air inst inovative? THe macbook air is way ahead of anything, its brining the micro processing chips out

    sent from: [FID86239]

  • Michael Barry

    I hope my two day old MacBook Air is the exception, because it is a dud. Slowest machine I have ever used. Dashboard keeps failing and sending in reports to Apple. Programs take forever to open. Back to Apple tomorrow.

  • Trevor

    Great SEO Mark! I found this post via Google while searching for how MBAs have been selling.

    Anecdotally, I’ve never seen an MBA in the wild, and I live in the heart of downtown Toronto. I’ve seen iphones aplenty, so I figure it’s the right demo.

    Personally, I think the mba is ugly, particularly that nasty Hasbro keyboard. (Why black Steve? Why?) But who cares what I think. Sales matter.

    Mark, why didn’t you link to some interweb reports? Here’s one that’s mildly negative

    and one that’s positive

    Despite being an Apple fanboi, I don’t think there’s much wiggle room in the ultra-slim market, not at the MBA’s price point.

    Bottom line? I think the jury’s still out.