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Redefining Laptops

Every once in awhile, a revolutionary new product comes along that changes everything.

The Macintosh changed the entire computer industry, by bringing personal computers into homes and offices everywhere. The iPod changed the way people listened to music, and sparked a whole new generation of digital media devices. And the iPhone has totally revolutionized the way people think about their phones. None of these products were perfect, but they were all revolutionary.

And I believe that a revolution is happening again – this time, in laptops.

As computer technology continues to become faster, smaller, and more power efficient, laptop manufacturers seem to be at a stand-still. Laptops today looks the same as they did last year and the year before that. With all these advances in technology, where are the benefits for the consumer? A 200Mhz clock speed bump? An extra 512MB of RAM? Does seconds of time saved really help the average consumer do more with their computer?

Having had the chance to try out a MacBook Air at my local Apple Store, I can truthfully say that I have seen the future of laptops. Forget the specs for a minute. Forget the lack of a FireWire port, and an optical drive. Forget the 13″ screen and the price. The MacBook Air is perfect in every single way. Everything is thought out. It feels solid, but light. It feels small, but spacious. This is the future of laptops.

You heard me right. A 1.6Ghz laptop is the catalyst for a whole new generation of laptops. Many people simply don’t get it. “Why pay more…for less?”

What they don’t realize, is that the value of a product is not in the number of features it has, but in how the features are integrated, and what experience that provides for the user.

Gruber beat me to the punch, and summed it up in his blog post today.

The apt comparison for the MacBook Air is the iPod Mini. The iPod Mini debuted in January 2004 with 4 GB of storage for $249, alongside a regular iPod with 15 GB of storage for $299. The Internet consensus was clear: Why would anyone buy the iPod Mini when for $50 more they could get almost four times the storage? The Internet consensus was, of course, wrong. The consumer consensus was that the iPod Mini was adorable and 4 GB of storage was more than enough. The Mini quickly became the best-selling iPod model, a position still held today by its successor, the iPod Nano.

The MacBook Air really is a revolution. As we’ve seen this Christmas season, consumers want laptops that are small and portable. They are willing to sacrifice excessive power for portability, because in the end, the portability helps them do more with their computers than the power ever could.

Today, most people don’t use laptops as laptops. They use them as desktop replacements. I use my MacBook Pro as my only computer. It acts as a balance between the power of a Mac Pro, and the portability of a MacBook Air. As Shawn Blanc concluded, if you were to put your whole life onto one machine for 10 years, the MacBook pro is a perfect balance.

However, in this day and age, almost every household has more than one computer. For most people, a desktop computer is all the power they need. What they want in a laptop is portability. They want it to be small and thin and light, and virtually inexistent in their backpack. And the MacBook Air is not a slow machine by any measure. In fact, it tops the PowerBook G4 – Apple’s fastest Mac laptop two years ago.

The MacBook Air is the first computer that I can actually use as a laptop. It’s small, light, cool, and has a full size keyboard. For web browsing, email, IM, blogging and even occasional image editing, the MacBook Air is more than fast enough.

While it may not be evident yet, like the iPhone, the MacBook Air will spark a change in the way people think about laptops. Prices will drop. Computer chips will evolve. And laptop manufacturers will begin to innovate. We are finally at the place where technology will become less about the list of features, and more about how those features integrate to create the best possible user experience.