The new MacBook Air is not a substitute for a MacBook Pro. Steve says as much, and if he didn't the pricing would tell you so. They both cost about the same. The Pro is undeniably the more powerful and expandable system, so should photographers even care about the Air?
Maybe, just maybe.
Surprisingly, the MacBook Air is not a lot smaller than a 15 in. MacBook Pro. The Pro is only an inch longer. The Air is only 25% thinner, coming in at three-quarters of an inch instead of one. It's startling how much difference that makes; if I had hazarded a guess before I measured it, I would've said the Air was only half as thick. The big difference is in the weight: the Air weighs only a bit more than half as much, coming in at three pounds.
Apple discarded a lot to slim the machine by that much. No optical drive, no Firewire or Ethernet ports, and no expandability. The I/O limitations could be a problem. You can get USB to Ethernet and Firewire adapters (although the latter are rare and costly). You get 2 GB of RAM, an 80 GB hard drive, a built-in battery, and you better like it. You can plug in an external monitor, which is cool. You can also plug in an external optical drive, which isn't really. I've owned compact laptops which had external peripherals. It's a pain hauling them around. It's a lot more convenient having everything built into a larger machine.
On the plus side, the machine is incredibly wireless-savvy. It can communicate wirelessly with another Mac or PC and use that machine's optical drive. The LED screen is bright enough to be readable in direct sunlight (although I'd rather not). The keyboard feels great.
So why might you care?
For start, when you're traveling, the RAM and hard drive are entirely sufficient. 2 GB RAM is enough to work on pretty large images in Photoshop efficiently; few of us own such high-end digital cameras that we'll be taxing the system resources. After installing the OS and all your primary applications, you're still going to have a good 50 GB of hard disk space free for images.
Two reasons why a photographer might go for this, both of which have photographic analogies:
• The camera that makes the best photographs is the one you have with you. The fancy camera that you left at home because it was too big or inconvenient to use doesn't make very good photographs at all.
• No professional photographer would ever think of going on assignment without a backup camera body. No smart amateur going on expensive trip would, either. Camera failures are rare, but they can ruin your assignment/vacation photography.
How important is having a computer with you when you go off to to make digital photographs? Think about the possibility the MacBook Air is like that second camera body or the camera you take with you because it's small and light enough to not be a bother.
I'm not running to buy one. But you might have good reason to be.
Photos courtesy of Apple, Inc.
Featured Comment by Herman Krieger: "And there is the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) with a built in camera."
Featured Comment by John Camp: "I just spent a couple of weeks dragging a 15" MacBook Pro around Iraq, and I definitely need a lighter laptop. With a D3, three lenses, the usual accessory bits, a sat phone and a couple of books, I could barely pick up the pack. One way Apple has reduced weight in a fake way is to move the power supply off-board. I don't see any change on this one, so I'm assuming (incorrectly?) that you'll still have that fat white power supply to haul along with you. There's another half-pound or so that they don't count.... What I really need is simply a small 12-inch MacBook Pro. I could finesse the optical drive, but need battery access.
"I'd make some changes—like more USB ports, and dedicated CF and SD ports would be great. Shrink the power supply.
"I think the problem is that Jobs thought he learned a great lesson with the iPod and the iPhone, which is that flash counts more than function. It does, to an extent, in certain products, but function becomes more important when there's more cash on the line. They produced a flashy computer with the Air, but it's short of function. What they really needed to do was sit down with engineers and figure out the best possible travel computer—what do real working travelers need, when they're Mac users? They didn't do that; they went for cool-on-the-beach. My personal feeling is that possession of a Mac, alone, won't pick up that many chicks. Of course, I could be wrong...."