That MacBook Air (and the iCore of the Future)

June 7th, 2011  |  Published in mac and iphone

I’m officially a fan. I think it’s the  SSD that manages to make an ultralight laptop packing a 1.4GHz processor and 2GB of RAM feel as nimble as a desktop with a 2.4GHz processor and 8GB of RAM. There are some things I don’t do on the Air: It’s not running MySQL, Apache or Rails. But for all the “normal computer” stuff —surfing, writing, mail, RSS, light coding — it’s great. It even seems to run WinXP in VMWare pretty well, though doing that manages to get the (very quiet) fans to spin up.

Some day, if my situation changes such that I don’t want to have a big desktop machine handy, I can see entertaining the notion of owning another “full-sized” laptop, like a MacBook or MacBook Pro. For now, though, I don’t think I’ll ever want to own a notebook larger than an Air. It does everything I need in a notebook at about half the weight and without any sense that I’m making some big tradeoff. In fact, the old white MacBook just feels bloated and unnecessary: A device packing too much because there was a good chance it was going to be The Main Computer for a lot of its anticipated market.

Having had both side by side for a week now, I’ll be the first to say that having both an Air and an iPad is an unimaginable extravagance. There may be times when I’ll be glad to shave an extra pound off my bag and take just the iPad along, but I think I’d also be about as happy having my iPhone in a lot of those cases. During the day, when I’m still working but taking a break from the desk, there’s no way the iPad makes more sense than the Air.

Could it ever? Maybe, but it would involve Apple building the sort of hybrid device that third parties have stepped in and created with iPad keyboard cases, and it would involve Apple opening iOS more than it seems willing to. My day-to-day basics are heavily tied up in things like being able to use clipboard history applets, quick flipping between apps that are guaranteed to remember their states under normal load, and browsers that don’t need to reload tabs if I’ve been away from them. With those things, I could make some of the compromises needed to work around other deficiencies.

I’d like “some sort of hybrid device” a lot, but here’s my notion:

In under ten years, Apple’s going to be selling us iPhone-like devices we’ll jokingly call “iCores,” because they’ll (either literally or virtually) snap into the back of three form factors: larger tablets, notebooks and consumer desktops. The iCore will pack enough RAM, processing power and storage to do everything you need in a desktop computer today (with some help from the cloud). It’ll just be less wasteful about it, because you won’t need three different CPUs, GPUs, storage devices or sets of RAM. Instead, each form-factor will have a slot for some kind of physical interconnect or enough wireless hardware to communicate with nearby iCores and drive audio/video/input: They’ll be thin hosts to a fat client where fat has been defined down to “thin metal wedge you can slide into your pocket and use as a phone, too.”

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