MacBook Air: Quibbles with an exquisite design

A new MacBook Air seems imminent. Will Apple address minor flaws in an otherwise great design?

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

The MacBook Air was announced in January of 2008. I've been using one day in and day out since February of that year. Amid rumors of an imminent update, I can't help but wonder whether Apple will address a few outstanding, albeit small, issues with an otherwise stellar design.

I use a second-generation MacBook Air and Dell Adamo--both sleek, attractive designs. And I use an older first-generation Air as back-up.
I use a second-generation MacBook Air (R) and Dell Adamo--both sleek, attractive designs. And I use an older first-generation Air as back-up. Brooke Crothers

I've already stated, pretty much ad nauseam, that I like the Air. A lot. I've never used one design so consistently for so long. That, alone, is testimony to its eminent usability and close-to-perfect design. And I've used a lot of laptops over the years.

Now, with fresh speculation about the new design and even possible photos, I thought it might be a good opportunity to offer a wish list of minor fixes.

Heat: This is a given in any ultrathin design. And, let's be clear, neither Hewlett-Packard, nor Dell, nor anyone else has solved the problem. That said, there are technologies out there that can mitigate heat issues. And Apple, especially, with all of its design prowess, should be able to engineer a cooler ultrathin laptop. I have experienced times (admittedly pretty rare) where the Air is simply unusable because it gets too hot, slowing the system to a crawl.

Battery life: Again, a challenge for any ultraportable because the design, by definition, leaves little room for a big battery. Apple offered probably the best possible battery life for a sub-one-inch thick design when the MacBook Air was designed a few years ago (using a thin-and-wide battery enclosure). I get anywhere from 1.5 hours to four hours, depending on what I'm doing. But it's usually closer to a couple of hours than four hours. Apple opted to go with relatively high-performance, low-power processors. In other words, for the second-generation Air, Apple didn't use Intel's ULV (ultra-low voltage) but went with Intel's LV processors. Does this affect battery life? Yeah, that and Nvidia's graphics-centric chipset. The point: It's now about three years later, Apple can improve on both battery life and performance, as evidenced in the newer MacBook Pros.

Price: This is probably the biggest gripe I hear from others. Yes, it's an elite MacBook. I understand that. But most people don't. They marvel at the design but not the price. The next Air doesn't have to go as low as $699, but Apple could at least make the design more accessible to average MacBook consumers. Many see it simply as an expensive MacBook without an optical drive. A contradiction not easy to reconcile.