The recently unveiled Macbook Air lacks durability and certain features that business users look for, but industry experts predict it'll sell like hotcakes within the market segment for which it appears to be intended.
Simply put, the MacBook Air will attract a completely different type of customer than the typical business user, says George Swords, marketing manager at PowerMacPac, an Apple solution provider in Portland, Ore.
"The MacBook Air isn't meant to replace a full-featured Macbook Pro, and the first adopters will probably be people that already have a MacBook Pro or tower," said Swords. "It could also appeal to some business users as a device that's bigger than a PDA, but isn't a Tablet PC."
Michael Oh, CEO of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple specialist, says the lack of built-in Ethernet and Firewire ports shows that Apple isn't positioning it as a PC notebook killer. "For general business users, I don't see the Macbook Air taking off in huge quantities because of the limitations and sacrifices Apple has made," said Oh.
However, "we've seen tremendous interest in the Macbook Air from people who already have laptops and who are looking for a second laptop. It's similar to the way people think about a sports car they buy as second car," said Oh.
At least one of Apple's competitors in the notebook PC market doesn't expect the Macbook Air to make much of a dent in their share of the business traveler market.
While the Macbook Air appears to be a solid product, it's "somewhat surprising" that it doesn't come with integrated wide area wireless, says Kyp Walls, director of product management at Panasonic Computer Solutions Company, the Secaucus, N.J.-based unit that makes the Toughbook line.
"If Apple missed the mark with anything about the MacBook Air, it's that they didn't put a big emphasis on wide area wireless, or in building a machine that's going to hold up well being used outside the office for extended periods of time," said Walls.
The ability to swap a spent notebook battery for a new one during plane trips is "pretty critical," and the Macbook Air's non-removable battery could be off-putting to some business users, Walls said.
"It's a bit surprising to see that there are companies making notebooks with batteries that aren't easily removable, especially in a country the size of the U.S., where it's not unusual to find yourself on a 5 to 6 hour flight," said Walls.
But according to a Friday report by the enthusiast Website Apple Insider, changing the Macbook Air's battery is a trivial process that takes as little as 3 minutes and only requires a size-0 type philips screwdriver.
Despite the limitations imposed by its thin form factor, the Macbook Air does allow for the optical drive in another Mac, or even a PC, to function as its own optical drive, notes Swords.
This feature, called Remote Disk, could come in handy in a corporate environment by allowing administrators to create an image of an OS and broadcast it out to a group of MacBook Airs, according to Swords.
"The majority of people who will buy [the Macbook Air] already have a system. It may take a while for some people to realize it, but like all Apple products, there is some pretty revolutionary technology in here," said Swords.