The MacBook Air was a jaw-dropping, if somewhat compromised product when it launched in January 2008. It was thin and svelte and beautiful to behold, but it was limited by woefully underpowered processors and a battery life that bordered on shambolic. Beyond this, it was prohibitively expensive for the mainstream. For a machine that was so clearly aimed at the ever-ready traveller, it was, in many respects, a promise unfulfilled.
Fast-forward to 2011 and the latest MacBook Air is a very different beast. The issues that made the original such a disappointment have now been comprehensively addressed: the processors are quick, the boot-times are near-instantaneous (largely due to the exclusive use of flash memory), the battery life is much improved and although not cheap, it is a much more affordable option for the everyman, with the 11” model starting at £828.59 (or £729.60 if you’re able to claim Apple’s Higher Education discount).
That is not to say that it is a perfect machine; with the cost of flash memory still high, the entry-level model has only 64GB of storage, which, although sufficient for the novice or secondary user, can soon be swamped by those with even moderate photo/video/music collections. In some respects, frugality is the order of the day - to keep the essentials on the machine, and trust the rest to either the cloud (Dropbox and Box.net are excellent options) or an external hard disk. Furthermore, the lack of an SD Card slot on the 11” model means that you’ll still need to use an adaptor or cable to transfer photos onto your machine - something which adds friction to an experience that we now expect to be largely seamless.
Today’s MacBook Air is still not a machine for everyone, but then it doesn’t need to be. If you want more storage on your Mac, but don’t want to pay a fortune for it, you’ll have to consider the MacBook Pro, which still offers more conventional hard drive options, an optical disk drive and more besides.
But if you’re after an almost effortlessly portable, quick-enough for most needs, relatively affordable notebook that you’ll never notice weighing down your satchel, then the new MacBook Air is something that is hard to overlook - it may not be perfect, but it’s amongst the most enticing ultraportables on the market. Perhaps this time form really did follow function.