I was reminded about our MacBook Air conversations (including the comments on a recent post from Walter) by seeing it as one of the minor stories on the cover of Laptop magazine. So I did some poking around the web to see what platform neutral and PC-oriented pubs had to say about Air.
By far the most often-cited reason to love it is how cool it looks, and how much fun it is to use. "An undeniable sexiness," says Gizmodo. PC Magazine tested it running Vista under Boot Camp, and says it's "hard to pass up." The reviewer at Ars Technica says, "I won't be able to go back to a MacBook or MacBook Pro—despite the Air's other downfalls."
I found a bunch more along these lines, and planned to keep going along the "pull quote and link" style, but got a little bored. The fact is that EVERY review I found said that they either wanted them, or had already bought one with their own money...even after much of their reviews were quite explicit about Air's shortcomings, including some you've never heard about, like the discovery that watching movies in iTunes destroys battery life.
These aren't consumers. They're people who work with computers for a living. Of course the one thing they had in common is, not a pro app in sight. And they ultimately love Air.
Which brings me back to my peeps at Laptop magazine. Look, there are a million ways and places and reasons to use a laptop, and the folks in our neck of the woods count for about a dozen of those million. I love Laptop's assessment because it very much agrees with my own -- why else?
This work of art is worth considering for corridor warriors who attend lots of meetings, as well as for commuters who do a fair amount of work while traveling to and from the office.
The last company I worked at was barely mid-sized, around 2,000 people worldwide, maybe a tenth the size of a corporate giant like Apple. And I saw scads of people spending their own money on super-light, super-small computers that they preferred to the corporate issued dogs. Not one of the disadvantages of Air mattered a whit:All software was on the network, and even the wireless was fast (g speed then, probably up to n by now) and accessible (the only place in the buildings you can stand without being in sight of 2 AirPorts was in the bathroom).
I personally loaded software from disk TWICE - one was Final Cut Studio. That feature where you connect to another optical drive, Remote Drive, works great even if the computer you're connecting to is a PC. Connects automatically when there's one in the vicinity. You can even use the option key to BOOT from a Remote Drive. And that's without buying the $99 USB DVD drive. Which, by the way, can't be used with any other computer, including those from Apple.
Which also reminds me, I'd be more interested in an ethernet adapter than an optical drive. Oh wait, THERE IS ONE, and it costs $12.99. Pushes up to 100BaseT full speed through a USB 2 port. Did I mention that it's only $12.99?
The biggest benefit, as noted above, is the crazy portability. It wasn't unusual for me to be in meetings in 6 or 8 different rooms in a DAY, or that many CITIES in a WEEK. (No kidding. Sometimes more.) I'd have freaking KILLED for a computer like Air. If you think that cutting the thickness AND WEIGHT more or less in half doesn't make all the difference in the world, it's because you haven't gone through this.
Oh wait, one more reason. Every technology company, including the couple I worked for, is paved wall to wall with gear lust - cars, home theater and on and on. Laptop envy is darn near the top of the list, and tiny was always prized over powerful because, frankly, for business, they're all plenty powerful. This tiny computer would make any corporate weasel carrying it the absolute biggest of gear lust dogs.
And why buy a Mac at ALL if this isn't part of the reason you do it? 'Fess up. You know it is.
I can think of a whole bunch of other use cases scenarios where Air is absolutely ideal, but that's the one I lived in. Did I mention that I'd have KILLED for Air? You can find other scenarios at Amazon, where all 9 reviews so far are 5 stars.
Heck, if I had $1800 laying around, I'd buy one. Of course I'm very happy with my MBP, and there are a bunch of things I'd rather spend that kind of money on, all the rest of which my wife would enjoy every bit as much as me. Still, I don't mind being alone again -- naturally -- in my opinion on this, but after chewing on this for a couple of months, I think this is the most interesting Apple machine since...
...well, since the Cube. This ain't anything like that, but I'm just saying. Apple gets big when they do small, and I think this one's a lot likely to be bigger for Apple than smaller.
PS. The "Why is there air?" title is a reference to the 1965 classic comedy album by Bill Cosby of the same name. It's easy to forget today that he won an unprecedented SIX consecutive comedy Grammies, and he did them all IN A ROW. This one starts a run of truly indispensible discs that include Wonderfulness, Revenge, and To My Brother Russell With Whom I Slept. Not really a comic but a storyteller, he was the best at it since Will Rogers, and maybe since Mark Twain.
PPS. Look at the picture for Mr. Cosby's take on the answer to his own question.
Posted by: Tim Wilson on Mar 16, 2008 at 9:39:14 pm
I initally agreed with Trent Reznor's argument that Radiohead's experiment with the internet release of In Rainbows for any price someone wanted to pay -- including zero-- didn't go far enough, but I was wrong. The more I've thought about it, the more I think the hypists were right for once, In Rainbows was the opening shot in a revolution that the hypists said it was.
The best article on this (found on a blog of course) is Anti-Marketing In the Music Business. Amazing stuff, and well worth a read for anyone interested in music, distribution, online business, and the role of the internet in all of these. Regardless how you feel about Radiohead, this analysis by a student of political science and philosophy is as carefully researched and written as anything you'll read anywhere.
Here are a couple of things to note. First, even though Radiohead offered the album for as little as ZERO...and the album's tracks were 100% DRM-free -- they made so much money from their brief experiment that Thom Yorke, the band's lead singer and primary writer, says that it was more money than they'd every made for the entire release of ANY of their albums before that.
Second, In Rainbows is really, really, really good. "Brazen, bold, brilliant," and, as Rolling Stone says, "it delivers an emotional punch that proves all other rock stars owe us an apology." Here's a round-up of reviews to further underscore that Radiohead gave away something truly valuable...along their way to making more in a couple of months than they'd ever made before.
And all the internet hub-bub notwithstanding, the physical disk entered the charts at #1 in the US, the UK, and the United World Chart.
This mirrors their previous experiment with Kid A. They posted the entire album for free -- both free of cost and free of DRM -- two weeks before the physical release...which also entered the US charts at #1.
What? They gave it away on the internet and still made big money with their physical release?! Yes.
Before we get carried away with the whole internet distribution thing, it's worth noting that these albums -- Kid A for a major, In Rainbows for an indie -- were in fact released as albums. An internet-only release would have been "stark raving mad." Why? He observed that around 80% of music sales are still on disk. People like objects. "We didn't want it to be a big announcement about 'everything's over except the internet, the internet's the future', 'cause that's utter rubbish."
Still, Radiohead left a giant conglomerate to make the In Rainbows experiment on their own dime.
"We have a moral justification in what we did in the sense that the majors and the big infrastructure of the music business has not addressed the way artists communicate directly with their fans.
"In fact, they seem to basically get in the way. Not only do they get in the way, but they take all the cash."
(More about this in part 2 of this article.)
Note also that Trent Reznor also left a major in favor of independent distribution (AFTER Radiohead). And while he still offers the first 9 songs of his 36-track album for free cost, DRM-free download, he also sells physical disks to those who want them. The package that includes CDs, 180 gram vinyl, hardbound art books, prints suitable for framing and much more has sold out its limited edition of 2500...lots and LOTS of physical objects...at $300 each, for a total take of $750,000.
All part of the reason why, even with GIVING AWAY DRM-FREE files, or selling the same ridiculously high-quality DRM-free files -- all 36 of 'em, plus artwork -- for only $5, he still pulled in $1.3 million in ONE WEEK.
Sorry, got distracted for a minute. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the colossal damage to the record companies caused by free downloads. Maybe to THEM...even if experiments by Radiohead while on EMI proves the EXACT OPPOSITE.
But the artists are making MORE with free downloads, and physical disks distributed themselves, than they EVER did behind the iron gates of the majors and their multimillion dollar fight against downloads. And, for that matter, the majors' fight against artist's rights.
That's the subject for another conversation for another day. And so I shall soon. Stay tuned for part 2.
Posted by: Tim Wilson on Mar 16, 2008 at 4:53:48 am
True confession: I hated The Matrix and its sequels. Absolutely despised them as dreck, a colossal waste of time, talent, and money. I really hate those movies so much that I can't find the words to describe it. Really, really, really hate them. A lot.
I didn't hate Speed Racer, but I didn't love it as much as my friends did either. When it showed up in 1967, it was the first major Japanimation to hit these shores, nothing like the early Warner Brothers cartoons that I loved, and still do. I eventually got into it for what it was, which was pretty cool.
(See below for the opening theme of the original Speed Racer. It's the only clip I can find...which tells me that it'll probably be gone soon. Don't blame me if the link is dead when you try to get there.)
Here's the cool part: the movie version of Speed Racer by the Wachowski brothers is coming this summer, and I'm ridiculously psyched for it. Check out the HD trailer, available in both 720 and 1080. Awesome.
(It continues to utterly mystify me that the MacBook series are the only 15-inch laptops on the market that don't support 1080. My wife had a VAIO that supported full-raster 1920x1080 before the turn of the century.)
The Ain't it Cool blog is the place for all things, well, cool. They have the links to the 2 international trailers that followed the US version below.
BTW, if you're even vaguely a fan of anything sci-fi, fantasy, Lost, Kevin Smith, comics, etc. you really should swing by Ain't it Cool every now and again. The guy who runs it, Harry Knowles, and his pals are true nut cases, but Harry's blog has such enormous influence that he has gained some of the most intimate access to this news on the planet.
Anyway, I'll see you at Speed Racer in May.
Posted by: Tim Wilson on Mar 14, 2008 at 4:23:09 am
Reuters: Microsoft says no Blu-ray for Xbox 360. I wrote earlier that this was likely coming, but now that I think about it, MS never ever positioned Xbox as a video playback platform. It's a gaming platform whose media is irrelevant to the game buyer -- you get whatever format it comes on, end of story. I had a quote from MS to that effect in my earlier story, but I drew the wrong conclusion. It happens.
More fun to follow.
Posted by: Tim Wilson on Mar 14, 2008 at 3:50:38 am
I've written before about my enormous respect for Trent Reznor and his impact on popular music. Now, he's raising the stakes for everyone distributing any kind of music on the web.
There was a lot of talk recently about how the release of Radiohead's latest album, In Rainbows, on the web before it was released in stores as a traditional disk, and how this was going to shake the music industry to its very foundations.
Here's the exact headline of one such story, one of a gajillion you can find on the topic: Radiohead's Album Threatens Music Industry. No need to mention the name of that news outlet here. You probably caught the story at the time, if not, you can look it up. The fact is that virtually EVERYONE got this story exactly wrong.
Yes, it was cool that Radiohead offered a DRM-free, web-only release of the album, for any price you wanted to pay, including zero. Even so, the band made more than they'd ever taken home on any album before. They haven't said how much money that is, or how much they made, but I love it. I'm a huge Radiohead fan, especially The Bends, which is definitely one of my desert-island disks. Anything that makes them money is a-okay in my book.
Here are the rubs: it was very low bandwidth (160 Mbps) compared to other DRM-free releases --less than HALF of some of them. Also, it's over now. You can buy it digitally from Amazon etc. at 256 Mbps, or as a CDm both at a fixed rate from a major record label. As far as you're concerned today, the web thing never happened. What kind of threat is THAT? None, that's what.
Now our boy Trent, on the other hand, HE'S shaking things up. He left his major label for the express purpose of controlling the distribution and cost of his recordings. He's not at all happy with what had been happening, including the outcome of his direct confrontation of his label regarding what he feels are outrageous pricing.
Here's what he expressed to fans:
"Has anyone seen the price come down? Okay, well, you know what that means - STEAL IT. Steal away. Steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin'. Because one way or another these mother****ers will get it through their head that they're ripping people off and that that's not right."
You can see that clip below. I couldn't figure out how to add two movies to the page, so here's the link to
, and the song it preceded.
Feel free to disagree, but he said what he said. And indeed, he has put his money where his mouth is. I got my copy of his new recording free, directly from him.And unlike other digital downloads, it includes ALL THE ARTWORK, including a 40-page pdf of photographs taken alongside the project.
Now the free part is only the first volume of 4: 9 songs of 36. But you can stream the whole thing for free, or buy it for only $5. That includes the release as 320 Mbps MP3, genuinely lossless FLAC, Apple's fake lossless codec (sorry, it's true). For only $20, you get the immediate download now, plus a 2-CD release when it's available: a 6-panel digipack with the printed PDF, along with some goodies like wallpapers and such. The kids eat that stuff up.
Things get really interesting from there. A $75 deluxe edition includes all of that, plus a Blu-ray release of the album in 2 versions, including hi-def stereo. Following a precedent that Trent has set for a few songs, all 36 tracks are available as separate multi-track mixes that you can play with in any audio editor on Mac or Windows. (Trent is a famous Mac zealot, so you can be sure that he had Garage Band in mind), plus all that other stuff.
Most interesting: a 2500 limited edition that includes all of that plus heavyweight vinyl, plus 2 large books of artwork, embossed covers, the whole deal in a fabric slipcase. Plus 2 giclee prints: enjoy as is, or ready to frame. The package signed and hand-numbered by Trent...and more...for $700.
The amazing thing: that edition has long sold-out, long before the actual release. It's among the reasons why Trent was able to take in $1.3 million in the first WEEK of its availability...again, before the releases in April and May of various versions.
Pay for only what you want, as few or as many goodies that you want, entirely outside the label distribution chain. Now THAT starts looking like a threat.
So about a week after my download, Ars Technica ran a pretty cool story about the whole thing...albeit without the link to the thing that I provided above.
PS. Trent wasn't the first to speak out about labels overpricing records. Tom Petty held up the release of his 1981 record Hard Promises because the record company raised the price of it after promising they wouldn't. It was a big deal at the time, but the story never comes up anymore. It had 2 big hits (The Waiting, and A Woman's in Love), but it's still among my favorite of his records.
Posted by: Tim Wilson on Mar 14, 2008 at 3:32:26 am
...or so some observers believed in 2006! This was upon the news of the second laptop to include Blu-ray drives, this one from Dell. And why not? When Apple joined the Blu-ray Disc Association in 2005, they said they were committed to promoting the format. Seen anything to back that up since then? Anything?
I think Dell makes better computers than a lot of people think, and you certainly have them to thank for the idea of truly custom configurations and computer sales over the internet, both of which they practiced years before many others did. But their stuff is nothing next to Sony's. The VAIO line is pretty elegant, and introduced thin form factors, wide screens and 1920x1080 res back before the turn of the century.
Oh wait, Apple still doesn't support 1920x1080. In fact, the current fave res for PCs is 1980x1200, to allow player controls on a 1920x1080 movie. I love my MacBook Pro - I use it for 90% of my computing, 100% for the last few months, and I am of course typing on it now. But I've long ranted about how far behind the curve Apple's display technology is, and this is one of many examples of what I mean.
So back in MAY OF 2006, they introduced a laptop with these specs:
1920x1080Blu-ray reading AND WRITINGHDMI out, so you could play those Blu-ray disks out to your HDTVBuilt-in TV tuner4 GB RAM standardGeForce 7800 with 256 MB VRAMBuilt-in camera
At least the 17" MBP has those last 2 now.
The price of that Sony laptop 2 years ago was $3500, very much in keeping with the $2500 price of the MBP plus 2 more gigs of RAM when you add back in the 2 years of price decline for today's MBP...which 2 years later has no TV tuner, no HDMI, no Blu-ray reading or writing, and no 1920 res.
And then just about a year ago, Sony introduced a later VAIO that unambiguously smacks on the MBP, with a few tweaks from the previous year's model to bring the base price under $2000.
15 in. screen (check - second lightest in the game after the MBP)Santa Rosa Intel (check...wait, a YEAR ago?!?)No longer standard 1920x1080 res, but you can upgrade to that! I HATE that MBP's video options aren't upgradeableHDMI 1.3 a YEAR agoBlu-ray burner/readerUpgradeable to 400 GB storage with 2 internal 200 GB hard drives a YEAR ago
Did I mention that the base price was under $2000?
Again, I love my MBP, and am using it now. I've never owned a VAIO. I'm just saying that Apple has a long way to go to catch up to the state of the art. Oh, and lest anybody suggest that Sony brought these models out because they had such a large stake in Blu-ray's success, I say, not so fast. The exact numbers are hard to pin down, but most of the sources I've found place Sony's stake in the format at somewhere around 20%. (Look it up - plenty of references.) The job of the laptop team is NOT to support the Blu-ray team (Japanese companies don't work that way). Their job is to sell laptops, and with this kind of price-performance, they're keeping themselves at the top of the PC game.Couple of other notes as I write this on Sunday March 2 aught 8, Acer has also announced Blu-ray enabled laptops in Q2, supporting 1080p in both 16 and 18 in configurations. (I have no idea what's up with those sizes.)And in a "you had to see this coming" announcement from the week before, Toshiba has confirmed that it isn't ruling out Blu-ray drives on its laptops. I'm not sure what "confirmed" means in the context of "maybe," but there you go. The "see this coming" part is because Toshiba still has the biggest laptop market share...and see above re: Sony. These guys couldn't care one flip about the outcome of the format war. They have numbers to meet, and they'll do what it takes.
Now, to see why this would be cool, check out the specs on T's HD DVD laptop last summer. HD DVD-r of course, and the usual suspects (802.11n, webcam, bluetooth, etc.) but check out the rest:Santa Rosa 2Ghz Core 2 DuoGeForce 8600 with 512 MB VRAM (!!!)included HD tunerfingerprint reader (a big deal for business computers, trust me)2 160 GB drives4 Harmon Kardon speakersEarly last summer, for $3199 stock. You might not care about some of these features, but the price-performance is once again, well ahead of the current generation of MBPs, and maybe the next.
The fact is that I DO own a Toshiba laptop from my PC days. After 4 years, I still love it, a true entertainment powerhouse -- cable tuner, built-in (and very good) DVR with one-click burning to DVD (from 4 years ago, so SD of course), and the best sound I've ever heard on a laptop...with only 2 Harmon Kardon speakers. You know they sound great since HK was the first, and still the best, mfr of matched external speakers for the Mac.
My point isn't to pee on my own MBP...ewwww....a computer that I truly adore. Just an addition to Walter's admonition to Apple, to shake a leg and add the features that have existed on PCs for years.Final notes from our peeps at Wired:Later this month (3/08), Dell will ship a sub-$1000 Blu-ray enabled laptop. Wouldn't it be a kick to see this introduced in the MacBook, or even iMac, before the MBP? It's happened before. And btw, if it would work with the Pro Apps, I'd use a 13" MacBook in a heartbeat. Still the biggest bang for the buck in the Mac universe, and a great form factor.
The bulk of the article focuses on what an energy pig the Blu-ray drives are for laptops. The big thing is that Blu-rays decode is currently processor-intensive, but efforts are underway to move that to the GPU. I suspect that this is how Dell is pulling off the sub-$1000 price: a less expensive CPU, and as is ALWAYS the case (grrrr), a less expensive, higher-performing GPU than the MBP has.
So, to invoke the Prophet Biscardi again, Hello Apple! What about it?
Posted by: Tim Wilson on Mar 2, 2008 at 7:52:18 am
The move "Once" was one of my favorites from 2007, and against all odds, a song from this lo-budget indie WON the best song award. It led to the most magical moment I've seen in over 35 years of avid Oscar watching. Too bad you're never going to see it. It only aired ONCE, and Oscar is trying to make sure that you never see it again.
"Once" is the story of two musicians who accidentally develop an intimacy that ultimately, very gently, pushes them back to their previous loves. It's sweet and beautiful, and has GREAT music. Hence the Oscar nom and win.
Among the reasons the movie itself felt so fresh is that the two lead actors are actually musicians who've never acted before. Glenn Hansard is a member of The Frames, another member of whom made his directing debut with the movie. Marketa Irglova, a classically trained Czech emigre, plays a...classicly trained Czech emigre. The Oscar-winning song is "Falling Slowly," and was written together by both the actors and the characters. Check it out on YouTube while you're waiting for Netflix to deliver Once to your doorstep. You HAVE to see this DVD.
When they won the Oscar, you've never seen two more surprised or grateful people in your life. And in typical Oscar fashion, they cut to commercial after Glenn's speech, and before hers. Grrrrr.....
Coolest Oscar moment EVER: host Jon Steward comes back from commercial AND BRINGS HER BACK OUT to give HER speech. It was an amazing speech, and the audience went nuts over the whole thing. It was no wonder that the whole thing, both speeches and Jon putting them together was YouTubed all over the place.
No wonder Oscar made them yank it down. This is the same industry that fought home releases believing FIRMLY that it would be the death of the movies. They fought rentals because it would undercut the money they started to make from home sales.
And here we are. While rentals boom, home sales are now BIGGER than box office sales...which are actually bigger than ever, and still trending upward.
SEE??? The more people can see good movies, they more they WANT good movies. Even though plenty of movies bite (like books, music, TV, etc.), people find their way to good ones, and go to theaters hoping for more.
This was the lowest rated Oscar telecast since Nielsen started tracking it in 1973. You think that if people could see a moment of such overwhelming joy and surprise that they might tune in next year hoping for more? The history of movies says ABSOLUTELY ENTIRELY YESSSSS!!!!
And yet, they're determined that it air only ONCE, and you never get to see it. It will have the opposite effect than they hope....which, if the music business is capable of learning anything (still up for debate), is learning right now. Guard the gates, and guess what? PEOPLE DON'T GO THROUGH THE GATE.
While they don't have the video, at least Oscars.com has the speech in print. It doesn't give you ANY of the flavor, but worth checking out despite Oscar not wanting you to to ever get any of that flavor, EVER.
Fer pete's sake, why don't they at least sell DVDs of the thing? Again, following the experience of the movies, they'll make more from the DVD sales than they do from airing the Oscars ONCE. Even the NFL, who puts on the Super Bowl -- a MUCH bigger event than the Oscars -- re-airs the game on the NFL Network, and sells DVDs of it. Why? Because they want to MAKE MONEY, both from the people who didn't see it the first time, and more important, from people who DID see it, and want to see it again.
And Oscar, if you sell a DVD of the show with the award for ONCE, I'll be first in line to buy it, because I want to see the award-winning performance from ONCE, and the amazing speeches from the award-winners, more than ONCE.
The fact is that you can still find this Oscar moment online now and again, by searching "Marketa Irglova Oscar." You can also find pieces of the funniest host gig EVER, by Jon Stewart by searching "Jon Stewart Oscar."
And to end with a legit search, check out thedailyshow.com for some of Jon's stories about the Oscars. One of the best is him telling that Czech girl Madeline Albright, humbly but firmly, There was NO WAY Marketa Irglova was NOT coming back out.
You can also find the actual performance from Once at YouTube. Why? Because Glenn Hansard has been using the net, including YouTube, for YEARS to build an audience. You'll find plenty of other results for other live performances of it.
Too bad that the most uplifting, unpredictable moment in Oscar history only aired ONCE, and you'll never get to see it again. Maybe they'll eventually see that they'll make MORE money by giving people an opportunity to see moments like this more than ONCE.
Posted by: Tim Wilson on Mar 1, 2008 at 6:23:47 am