Slate’s Weird Air Criticism

Wednesday January 16th 2008, 11:50 am

Paul Boutin on Slate today posted an article criticising the new MacBook Air ultraslim notebook for not having built-in cellular Internet browsing like the iPhone does.

“After using my iPhone for a few months, it started feeling weird that my PowerBook doesn’t have ubiquitous wireless networking,” respected Apple-watcher Jon Gruber blogged Monday. “It just feels crippled.” Gruber said he’d pay a premium for such a feature to be included in a laptop. So would a lot of other people.

Phone and laptop technology is converging. The iPhone and other smartphones have as much processing power as the desktop workstations of five years ago, and laptops are getting smaller and more portable. It’s only natural to expect that the advances seen in laptops would come to phones, and vice versa. So, why has Apple failed to make foolproof, always-on Web access—the iPhone’s killer feature—a standard component of its next generation of computers?

This seems to me a very strange criticism. In order to get your cellular internet on the iPhone you have to sign up for a contract with Sprint AT&T. I can’t imagine Jobs asking customers to sign up for a cell phone contract in order to get a laptop. But perhaps he could simply build the cell phone technology into the laptop and give you the option of using it with your cell phone provider. But then Apple has a deal with Sprint AT&T and letting people use cellular Internet with other providers might be a breach of that deal; indeed opening up the Air to any cell phone provider might highlight the fact that that’s exactly what the iPhone can’t do, while making Air customers only able to use Sprint AT&T would seem strange for a laptop. I think it makes sense that Apple would just bypass the whole thing, and figure if you want cellular Internet you can just get a separate USB dongle like everyone else. (The author of the article complains that his Sprint AT&T dongle doesn’t work very well, which seems a matter he should take up with Sprint AT&T, not Apple.)

Granted that cellular Internet is a cool feature. But until the cell phone companies get a lot more lax about letting people use their networks — as in the ideal of letting people use whatever network is convenient at whatever time, rather than exclusively tying them to one network or another — I think cellular Internet as a standard feature still won’t materialize.

My take? The MacBook air is cheaper than the two sub-notebooks I’ve bought in my life (both cost about $2,000) and more powerful. It’s also a heck of a lot thinner. I’d probably buy one if I wasn’t swimming in computers as it is.

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