The Promise Of The 15-Inch MacBook Air

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In my home office sits a 27-inch iMac with a secondary 24-inch LED Cinema Display attached to it. It’s a glorious vision of screen real estate.

And yet, I dread using it.

First world problem? It’s perhaps the definition of the term. But it’s true. I’m sitting here on a couch adjacent to my desk because I’d rather type this post on my MacBook Air. To be completely honest, I’d rather be using my iPad right now. But I must admit, it doesn’t come anywhere close to cutting it when it comes to typing more than a few dozen words. So for now, the MacBook Air exists as the pinnacle of personal computing in my eyes.

And it appears that those eyes are about to widen a bit.

The rumors which started as a trickle have now become a full-on stream. Apple appears to be gearing up to release a new 15-inch model in their thin laptop line. As of right now, the current MacBook Air models end at 13 inches. For many people, that doesn’t seem to be enough.

Earlier today, I posted some quick thoughts about a possible 15-inch MacBook Air. Most of the responses were along the lines of “WANT!!!”. But why? It’s not like the difference between 13 and 15 inches will be that dramatic.

Instead, I believe it’s related to a continuing shift in computing. Whereas a decade ago, big, bulky desktops (towers, even) were the norm, today’s computing world is increasingly mobile. And it’s more than that. Computing is quickly moving in the direction of the machines themselves disappearing into the background, as Mathew Ingram highlights today on GigaOM.

It was a little over a year ago that I realized I would be ready to buy something like a MacBook Air. I noticed that I had never once used the optical drive in my MacBook Pro, it was just a giant waste of space and unwelcome bulk. My sense was right. I immediately replaced my Pro with an Air and haven’t looked back since.

But others have been hesitant to do so. Some worry about having less storage. Others worry about less potential RAM upgrades. Even more seem to worry about using a smaller screen. Of course, that argument is already more complicated than it may seem because the 13-inch MacBook Air and the 15-inch MacBook Pro actually offer the exact same screen resolutions (1440 x 900). Still, we’re in this weird transition moment where the previous era of expanding screen sizes is running headfirst into the era of shrinking computers.

Many likely view a 15-inch MacBook Air as a perfect compromise between the two worlds. It represents as many as 1920 x 1200 pixels (guesstimate based on the resolution of the 17-inch MacBook Pro — but might it be even more?) floating in your lap. Sure, there’s a computer attached to it, but it’s so light that you’ll barely notice it.

Remember when laptops were humongous? I recall having a 15.4-inch Dell that weighed just shy of 10 pounds and doubled as a thigh cooker. The battery lasted 2 hours if I turned the brightness down all the way and prayed. A 15-inch MacBook Air would probably be no more than 3.5 pounds — or a full two pounds lighter than a 15-inch MacBook Pro. The battery may last 9 hours.

Such a machine represents the opposite of being chained to a desk. You can take it anywhere for an extended period of time and still feel like you have a fully operation personal computer at your disposal. You don’t even think about it being a computer at that point, it’s just a big screen with a keyboard that gives you all the same abilities as that big, bulky machine on your desk.

It will lack multi-touch, but that’s clearly next. The iPad 3′s 2048 × 1536 resolution display should only drive that point home.

While the Apple may have kicked this transition into high gear, they’re hardly alone. When netbooks were surging in popularity, everyone focused on the price. But just as important was the portability factor. But the reality was the netbooks did not turn out to be worthy traditional computer replacements — MacBook Airs are. That’s why this year at CES, the PC industry is poised for a do-over with the “ultrabooks” — a name that sounds as if it was dreamt up by a completely unimaginative 12 year old.

The vast majority of those will probably fail, but the idea is the right one. Push forward into computing’s future by removing the computer as much as possible. That’s also the promise of the 15-inch MacBook Air.