I use my DVD drive all the time. Some readers may laugh, but I actually pay for movies and music content. Sometimes, I’ll find a deal on a movie or a CD that is better than what I could find online. I take it home, I rip it to my laptop, and it’s mine, convenient and digital. I used my DVD drive when I installed Windows 7 on my MacBook, and when I had to reinstall iWork, after iMovie started crashing again. In my old Camry, my tape deck stopped working, and that’s my favorite way to connect my iPod to my car stereo. Radio transmitters don’t work reliably in my area, but instead of shelling out a few hundred bucks to buy a proper car stereo for a car that won’t last me through next year, I did what we used to do back in the old days. I burned a CD.
I bring this up because I was following two sides of an argument online about the MacBook Air. I bought the original Air the first afternoon it was available in stores. Coincidentally, that morning my Powerbook broke down after 5 years of service, and it was time for a new machine. I was traveling to Barcelona for a trade show a few weeks later, and the Air seemed like the perfect fit for my new lifestyle of international travel and work centered on the Internet and light processing tasks. I love the MacBook Air. I still have it, it will be three years this coming February, and it still handles all of its original tasks with aplomb.
Then the economy crashed, and flying to Europe and Asia was no longer a priority for my job. Instead, we started focusing on improving our photo work and video production, and the Air was no longer appropriate. I told my wife I needed a new laptop, something more powerful, as she eyed my Air hungrily. Since I gave it up to her in favor of a 15-inch MacBook Pro, I have come into the bedroom late at night almost every night and found her asleep with the slim laptop falling off her chest and taking up space on my side of the bed. What I’m saying is, that laptop has been loved, perhaps too literally.
Over at Silicon Alley Insider, Jay Yarow reports on Piper Jaffrey’s Apple Guru Gene Munster, who seems to claim that the number one reason people didn’t buy a MacBook Air is the lack of an optical drive. The story goes on to question where a MacBook Air fits into the current tech landscape, which is, I think, a much more interesting question. Finally, in the last paragraph, Yarow brings up the primary sticking point for the MacBook Air: the price.
For some reason, MG Siegler over at TechCrunch decides to respond to the optical drive issue, as if this problem is remotely interesting. It’s not. Siegler never uses the optical drive on his MacBook Pro. He wants ultra-portability. Instant-on capabilities. Long battery life. But no optical drive.
Where do I stand on the optical drive issue? Like I said, it’s something I use occasionally. I didn’t mind that the drive was left off the MacBook Air, because I bought the external drive. The only thing that bothers me about it is that I can’t use the external drive with a USB hub, so if the drive is active, the sole USB port on the Air is unavailable.
My real problem is with journalists and analysts who can’t see beyond their own front door. There is an implied addendum in Siegler’s story: “for me.” Obviously, it’s his opinion piece, so anything he’s asking for should be assumed to be for his benefit. But he heaps such judgment on Apple’s decisions to add or remove features, it hardly comes across that way. To explain Apple’s decision to launch a laptop with no optical drive, Siegler says “Apple is simply a little ahead of the curve.” He isn’t saying that Apple is addressing the needs of one user with the MacBook Air, and another user with the more basic MacBook, which comes with a DVD burner.
He even rephrases Steve Jobs’ now famous declaration that desktop and full-powered PCs are like trucks, without a hint of irony. As I pointed out in another column here on SlashGear, that statement is probably true, just as it’s true that two of the top five best-selling vehicles in the U.S. are trucks. The other vehicles? Sedans, family cars, compacts, etc.
Tech journalists often live in an insular world. Personally, I live and work in the same space. All of my conversation in a day is either with other tech journalists; my wife, who has no interest in talking about technology in any way; and my two year old son. If I formed all of my opinions around these people, I’d be happy to recommend a technological future that only consisted of super high-end machines, ultraportables and tablets with apps that make barnyard animal sounds.
Instead, I’ve cultivated a large group of friends, acquaintances and former colleagues across a vast spectrum of user types, and I’m always asking them about what they like and use when it comes to technology. This is why, when half the tech journalists I knew were claiming that there is no market for an iPad, and the other half were simply angry at the mere mention of this technological unicorn, I knew it was going to be huge. I’m not saying I was the only one, not by a longshot, but I did see too many writers who couldn’t think past their own current condition to imagine the possibility.
Too many tech journalists brag that their sites don’t review feature phones any more, even though feature phones make up a huge percentage of phone sales, especially if they have a QWERTY keyboard. Too many video game sites put emphasis on online multiplayer gaming, often ignoring serious problems in the multiplayer experience (a column for another time, perhaps) and excusing glaring flaws in single player modes. Anyone who fawned over the Google TV is clearly spending too much time in front of a monitor, and has lost perspective on the way the television audience in America, 115 million households and growing, wants to watch TV.
As my fellow SlashGear columnist Michael Gartenberg frequently points out, mature markets are heavily fragmented, and that’s a good thing. Think of the original days of the automobile, and Henry Ford’s famous quote about the Model T, that buyers can have it in any color they want, as long as it’s black. Now think of the modern car market. Why shouldn’t laptops be the same way?
If MG Siegler doesn’t want an optical drive, he doesn’t have to buy one. But for him to predict that the entire market is skewing away from optical media and predict a drive-less future, that’s simply short-sighted and narcissistic. Sure, in ten years optical media will be a relic of the past, but for a long time to come they will find an audience. So will cheap, underpowered netbooks, as well as more expensive, more powerful laptops.
Arguing that technology will only progress by offering less isn’t smart or insightful. It’s a reflection of the world around you, and that world is unfortunately getting smaller by the day.