Monday, January 21, 2008

Apple's War on Consumer Choice

There are two reasons I don't switch from a PC to an Apple. The obvious one is price. Apple charges a "coolness" premium. The other is their philosophy about how the computer should be used. The new MacBook air is an extreme example of this.

First - it has all the requisite Apple coolness. It will fit in a manila envelope. It looks good. It's "greener" than most computers but not enough for Greenpeace.

But it dictates how it will be used through what is missing. There is no ethernet connection, just WiFi. There is no DVD drive, not even a CD drive. And replacing the battery has to be done by Apple technical support.

The missing ethernet connection is a bigger deal to some than it might seem. For security reasons, we don't have WiFi at work so it would be useless to me there.

So how does it stack up as a personal and travel computer? It's small and light but most padded laptop bags are a lot bigger than the PC they contain. If I was a business traveler I might appreciate being able to stuff it in a briefcase.

When I travel I use my laptop for email, Internet access (especially news sites), and for media. Granted I have most of my music on a Sansa View but where do you think that came from? My laptop, of course. With the Air I would either have to have a second computer for ripping my music or I would have to buy everything fresh from iTunes (not really an option since most of my CDs are from obscure Irish musicians and many were purchased directly from the artists).

Then there are movies. I often play DVDs on my PC. The picture is better than on my TV and the mouse is easier to use than a remote. Even a second PC doesn't help much with the Air unless you buy a special program to rip DVD. These exist but are legally questionable under the DMCA.

Of course, I could rent a movie through iTunes. There are a lot of issues there. I don't always watch the DVDs I bring with me and you only have a month to play a rented movie. Also, sometimes I watch a movie over several days, especially a long one like Return of the King. Apple only gives you 24 hours from when you start watching. And all of this ignores the significant amount of time it takes to download a movie.

Then there is the battery. Like other Apple products, you have to send your Air in when the battery starts to go. You can't carry a spare battery and you can't buy a new one yourself when the old one starts to go.

I won't even go into the single USB connection.

At some point someone, probably Steve Jobs himself, decided that it was more important to have a really slim laptop than to include any of these features. He decided how you would use your expensive laptop for you.

In the meantime, I'm sticking with my Compaq.

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