True to my astrological sign, Taurus, I’m always on the look out for some new, fancy-shmancy restaurant or coffee shop or paper store or whatever. As such, I’m starting to get more and more into the local review site Yelp.com. I’m adding my Yelp profile page to my links list here and dropping the Facebook application Yelper to my FB profile page, too.
Yelp is a very long-tailish sort of Internet destination. Here I am in Needham, Massachusetts, reviewing and reading reviews for the local joints and establishments that I like best. I’m swimming in a pretty small pond of Yelp’s hundreds of thousands of reviews from cities all over the country. But I can see the amount of effort most reviewers put into their postings of places I know first hand and that makes me trust Yelp all the more if I’m going someplace new or looking for hot spots in a different city. It’s also another example of Facebook’s social network tying things together. With Yelper, my reviews show in my FB news stream for all my friends, hopefully encouraging them to become yelpers too and then feed me with their reviews. It’s a virtuous circle. Sweet.
(Updated 1/25) The more I think about the new uber-thin Macbook Air, the more confused I am about one design decision in particular. I can get over the lack of ports, the add-on optical drive, the wimpy graphics. But I keep coming back to the dreadfully small hard drive which maxes out at 80 gigabytes. Yipes! My Macbook Pro’s home directory is over 72 GB alone and I don’t even keep digital photos on it. So why can’t you get a decent size hard drive? Because of Jobs’ obsession with thinness. Slightly thicker hard drives — three millimeters thicker, in fact — go all the way up to 160 GB. It sure feels like Jobs has written off a large portion of the potential Macbook Air market in return for a measly three millimeters of thinness.
Here’s the back story. As Macworld and others have explained, the new Macbook Air is so thin that only a 1.8″ hard drive containing a single spinning platter can fit. Most drives these days have multiple platters. 80 GB is the highest capacity available for single platter 1.8″ drives. It’s the same hard drive in the current 80 GB iPod Classic. Careful observers will note that the iPod Classic 160 GB model is thicker than his little brother, three millimeters thicker. And in fact, the difference between Toshiba’s single-platter 80 GB drive and its dual-platter 160 GB drive is exactly three millimeters.
Hoping you can wait a few months for Toshiba or someone to intro a higher-capacity single-platter drive? It’s gonna be a real long wait. In September, Toshiba announced a prototype 120 GB 1.8″ single platter drive using something called “Discrete Track Recording” but it’s not going to be available until 2009. And, seriously, a year from now minimum acceptable storage requirements are going to be even bigger. How about the super-expensive solid state flash drives? Currently available as a $999 option and maxing out at 64 GB, there’s not much better news here either. Samsung said a few days ago it had doubled the capacity of that drive. The new version, to be available by July, didn’t come with an estimated price tag but it’s sure to be off the charts.
Had Jobs simply allowed the Macbook Air another few millimeters, there would be adequate space for an adequate drive and an adequate price. Unfortunately, thin is a little too in.
UPDATE: The inestimable Jason Snell writes a great post, which as an aside demonstrates so many of blogging’s best attributes, explaining how almost impossible it is for him to fit the contents of his digital life onto the Macbook Air’s slender drive.
Steve Jobs had a couple of widely leaked “surprises” to unveil at yesterday’s Macworld show. As we’d all read everywhere for the past few weeks, Apple added rental movies to its iTunes download store. The selection is a bit small and the 30-day delay from DVD release to rental seems ridiculous but, hey, these are the Hollywood studios making the rules. Putting applications like Mail and Weather on the wifi-enabled iPod Touch seems like the correction of an obvious mistake. And I’m all into the wireless router with hard drive baked in at a price that’s actually pretty competitive. The big announcement Stevie saved for last was the new sub-notebook computer, the Macbook Air. What’s the big draw? Why, it’s the world’s thinnest computer. Am I the only one wondering who cares? Are these super-thin computers from Sony and Toshiba actually selling that well? Not really. Does thin somehow make the computer work better or the battery last longer or something? Not really. What’s the real draw then? Macbook Air is also very light weight — three pounds, Jobs said. That makes it more portable and easier to carry around, a legitimate and desirable feature.
I’m all into light laptops, or least I used to be. Back in the early 1990s, I had one of the first thin, subnotebook computers called the NEC Ultralite. It didn’t even have a hard drive. Then I had a couple of the early models in Sony’s lil purple Vaio line, starting I think with the 505. They had hard drives but no CD drives. The screens were tiny, as were the keyboards. I was so into the ultraportables I started haunting the web sites of those crazy firms that bought the very smallest laptops sold only in Japan, reprogrammed them with English software and resold them to Americans at a tidy markup. I even did a little story for Wired magazine. Times has been cruel to this weird niche so most of these techno-lust fulfilling sites are long gone, but one, Dynamism.
Inevitably, super lightweight computing has meant trade-offs. In today’s world, it’s hard to envision the Macbook Air, with its maximum hard drive size of 80 GB, poor graphics card and lack of built-in DVD drive, as the right answer for too many people’s needs. I was also expecting a docking station that might have made it more desirable as a hybrid system with some nifty syncing software. I have already read some folks comparing the MB Air to the ill-fated Mac Cube that emphasized cool design over desirable features and good value for the money. Still, watching Jobs explain in his keynote how many of the activities you used to need wires and drives for can now be accomplished wirelessly, I couldn’t help but get a chill and the strong sense that he’s absolutely on to something big if perhaps a little too early. Better to be ahead of the curve than skidding off the road…
p.s. Whatever you think about the Macbook Air, they’ve cooked up a great commercial for the thing. Fits in an interoffice mail envelope? Wow. What’s the song playing in the background? Yael Naim‘s “New Soul” off her eponymous debut album from last year.
Wandered out today ’round my Needham, MA, home to give my Canon Rebel XT digital camera (complete with Canon’s wunderbar 50mm 1.4 EF lens) a cold weather work out in the umpty-umpth snow storm of the 2007-2008 winter class. If I had to categorize this dump of some 6 to 8 inches, I’d call it Mister Heavy. Two big tree limbs came down and all the trees look burdened. Couple o’ highlights below: