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Ep. 85: The MacBook Air, the Chromebook, and the future of mobile computingWant to buy yourself an Air? Watch this show first. Today we're talking with CNET mobile computing product experts Donald Bell and Dan Ackerman about the state of the art and the near-term future of mobile computing.
-- -- -- welcome to -- is reporters' roundtable. Away it's important that this is our weekly show we discussed a single tech -- each time I am -- needle in in San Francisco today I'm joined by Donald -- in San Francisco as well. Senior iPad correspondent and up from New York. Joining us also Dan Ackerman. Senior MacBook correspondent Augustine -- at least this -- these guys are both senior editors here who cover various portable technologies for -- at CNET. And doubt that is what we are discussing today we are discussing the current state of the art any future. Mobile computing in particular portable computers. As opposed to tablets although that isn't a big part of this discussion. Of course this week the new MacBook Air was released and Apple in doing that also discontinued for most purchasers. The low and regular white MacBook the looks like the trying to push everybody into the -- nicer form factor. Which is now the mainstream. Mac but you -- -- -- and you're an entry level you're coming into laptop. Netbook market this is your first out. Right so we're gonna be -- enter through the air and there through the air -- outdoors here. For the question is how much longer will keep the air moniker dwindled and -- well when when will become just the MacBook. Exactly I want an air pro but we're gonna talk about all that I also -- -- -- that the best nature -- -- going to be talking about Chrome books in which I received one of their of the shipping one com. Windows 7 and windows eight the impact of that tablets -- the tech nation. On the development of mobile computing and other assorted and interesting topics and let's get started thank you Donald and -- both of you for joining us today on roundtable. -- And you were saying let's talk about the air here how important is. The how -- the air right here. It is currently dissecting your screen if you can even seeming. Oh yeah my -- I can't see you. Does -- I got the -- -- its appeal I've got the one way Skype I've got an idea reflects get a giant television network to bias and maybe they can install some of that. You know two way communication video Seth fan on the news you know we both got -- we could just use face time. We should set up most of -- time anyway how important is this little -- -- terminal. Well it's no longer a little -- slice of a notebook when they first launched the area it was and -- product it was especially product it really was for. It was what we'd like to call kind of an executive laptop like the CEO says -- -- give me one of these really expensive things. I'm gonna leave it in the boardroom and showed off to people now what that white MacBook disappearing. The fact that the revenue and -- it now takes at 999 place. That means that this is now the mainstream Mac but because you have this and you have the pro and that's pretty much all she wrote. But it does this product which. Indicate any change any major change of direction in mobile computing overall. -- I think it's indicative of of of several trends one is people losing optical drives and the smaller thing in the smaller systems. People moving gradually toward solid state. Devices and of course with the land property system. Doing what our colleagues got -- predict at like three years ago. Not -- -- two years ago taking the mobile operating system stuff and moving them onto the mainstream computer rather than the other way around. I think you both get a cookie it'll be where is likely it was pretty safe prediction of amateur I -- keep the sideshow. Off a little bit with it and X. A little thought experiment. I have -- a MacBook aluminum MacBook but before the built in prose it's about two to -- -- it's showing its age slowed the idea. And I'm looking at these new 16100 dollar high -- -- And I really want one as an exercise Donald bell chair convince me not to violent. Mike. Missing I mean would be to if you the longer you wait the thinner and cheaper or at least the cheaper they'll get okay now not just the MacBook let you know the that the air as the trend of everyone looking to get their laptops as thin as possible last week. Sony. Press conference they were showing off their Vaio Z -- laptops and and and really pushing how Finn they would get this design even though it is still -- little kind of plasticky in -- very different. I material I'm not convinced boutique -- giant but. I think that we there is something be said about as moving towards the almost dispose ability. Of the laptop is becoming so -- and so but still so powerful that you are gonna get -- -- in ever cheaper button and and more efficient. Aren't well there is that this is an expensive piece of kit here today though so compressed -- So how Dan how have. Actually don't this is this -- York topic from last dance for his perspective on. How have tablets affected the equation of the mobile clam shell computer to -- what we think with traditional laptop. What we've seen is that the guys remember a couple years ago everybody was making -- buying these netbooks these small inexpensive. 300 dollar Intel atom kind of ten inch laptops yeah they're really great for what they award to -- whenever regular computer desktop or laptop and they also get. In netbook to carry around with them and -- ever was happy because people buying twice as many left -- -- One she ahead once you have the iPad. That really coincided with a nosedive -- as netbooks -- people -- for about the same price. It gets an invention work -- better than Apple's always little funky so -- what the PC makers have had to do. Is take that 300 dollar netbook. And turn it into a 450 500 dollar. We kind of called ultra portable now with a dual core processors a lot better to much it's much more like a regular laptop. So you're not seeing people chase that super super super low end anymore because they know the tablets will fill that secondary. Spot. That you have in -- in your technology collection Powell did the netbook market -- things or where they. -- Was it because the that the iPad was so good or was there something fundamentally wrong I gonna tell -- that -- as -- -- -- the Skype calling in and get re connected content. A look I'm back. -- is not so what did they miss judged anything it's that it was a product that was the right product for the right time. And -- and you'd expect pop up messages -- telling me my connection is too slow. It was the right product at the right time it served its purpose it was a fed some things are -- some people -- All the Android tablets right now are sad and I'm sure if you come back in twelve to eighteen months will be a great culling of the bird there may still be a few left or they may have evolved into something else. At the same -- -- the netbooks the evolved into these eleven inch ultra portables like the HB. DM one Z that everybody loves. A Donald would you consider the netbooks a fad and would you consider tablets a -- Search chariots and yes I really both of them I don't know I feel like there there is a part of me that feels like what. Is great about laptops announced that they didn't mean to -- underdog. On the -- -- was expecting them to be in that position you know say a year or two ago. I still feel like. As an Emmy this is just the burn out of reviewing a lot of talents that there's a lot -- I missed about. But tops and how practical how straightforward how easily can get to what you wanna do yeah and maybe that's just. Me feeling my old man -- -- -- appealing. My and the -- it you know impulses towards laptops -- formal computers but. Am I -- you know desert island situation coastal. Take a laptop with me over -- tablet be an iPad or anything else. Alison feel like the other thing that's happening here with Apple as much -- that there. Making tests slimmer cheaper computer but when Apple actually able. Do with both and there -- mobile platform and now with the App Store on their computers. Is that -- -- able to get people -- some software again and that they've done it's great job of getting people engaged in getting software and and and refreshing the appeal of via a laptop or an -- pattern iPhone. -- the appeal of that device you know week to week with people you know getting getting apps you know that brings a -- -- point -- -- the. Which is the push towards the cloud. I mean you have the -- -- look -- well. On turning that if you know what you should be. A why am I got this machine this is that Samsung is that Samsung yeah that is a piece that don't like that that is at the door stop I was very I was very excited at computer. They do have the Google won the I've -- -- the code -- the -- 48. Yet -- -- -- are pretty this is not much better. Ups -- but it at least it only cost me the same amount as it's here for 20 data from and how much did that Chrome book but haven't had the sense that five cost everybody else -- get 500 dollar computer -- I don't forget the exact price but it's so ridiculously overpriced for what -- get. Now for 99 bucks that would be okay. Yet maybe 149. I agree with you on that so but the point of the Chrome book He is -- -- -- cloud computer. And -- something very attractive about this thing there is no argument that you get -- -- you open it up you putting your Google credentials and everything that you were do it on your desktop in Chrome which is what. Most of what I do or even you know other browsers it's just -- there so why. That that concept works would why are people still spending. Thirteen 116100. Dollars for Mac books when you've got such a viable cloud computing. System. You see it's not the you know what this new MacBook air and the ailment mold MacBook as these are essentially cloud -- just -- -- smaller solid state hard drives. -- eleven inch only -- -- 64 gig solid state hard drives of which we measured it when we got it you only get about forty -- to play with out of the box because of the operating system. And preinstalled software they're meant to be cloud based and I've moved largely -- the cloud I do all my writing in Google -- now so -- can access it from any laptop. I just spent a couple weeks of looting and twenty plus gigs of music to the Amazon cloud eccentrics -- -- we all used corporate Gmail here now. What you're buying when you get one of these guys -- 300 -- at 500 dollar netbook -- me you know low cost ultra portable. Is your getting if you're getting that ecosystem you're getting the you're getting that big touchpad with all the multi touch gestures and you're getting the nice web cam. And a nice screen and how everything get out smooth and works well together. But you're still using it to access the cloud stuff this is the car it's -- the highway. Did I leave when my Apple parking ecosystem. But not tell us at I at the county and still -- -- so little I feel like. Philosophically. It's an important product even if I wouldn't buy -- one. -- yet I do feel like there is something to be said about this of the laptop -- becoming just this window into. The the web and not necessarily. This -- the metaphor the desktop and everything else that comes with it Writely and their and -- -- largely already there ever people who are who are ready to make that -- anything more people are making that. Jump all the time -- And I also go into inactive -- the -- -- -- I feel like if you if you keep building down that price. Eventually you will to people over into a beam it you know went. I do you just want that thing that'll get me on FaceBook and as a Google search and that that's really all -- want if the prices low. I don't feel like this is getting you there and it's also just you ample quality wise -- I Agassi can make -- -- -- build quality when you -- -- lower price I mean I got this thing for free announced the and I pay money for a for the Mac for the Mac -- -- any exists for a world that isn't here yet and -- always connected you know Wi-Fi every place -- sit down world. Which you know depending on where you have I suppose that they exist but that from most of us. -- I have also hear I I have a whole stack of computers -- its fuel. I guess it's opposed him. The shipping. I have something else here I've I've whole historical sector computers for the show with me. There are resting by the way on an ancient. Power book check this out as if you're on video what is it. Our power -- 140 sent me by a wonderful CNET Fam doesn't work anymore but -- It's like it's the size of -- merely -- showed me that -- to laptops that it actually looks like a that effect three that the so when you're referring to that looks -- -- is this one mr. because there's two different colors of a plastic this is a view -- come. Microsoft windows tablet computer convertible. It's -- can use it as a laptop. Or -- -- -- computer. Or is entering train or as an -- hasn't -- in -- why why did. What did Microsoft miss about pen computing a tablet computing a touch computing where they just two earlier giving the philosophical this. -- -- We'll do I've ever did you do is jump -- about the beam computer like that we've looked at specifically to review them in the last several years switcher. Certainly none have been particularly great steaks -- two problems one people tried to cram these touch screen things into systems with the Intel atom the try to cheap out and it just never work because -- the overhead. From the touch part of it which -- kill your performance even more so. Then on a regular netbook as second. Nobody could ever develop a decent -- operating system -- because lord knows it can't take your you know pinky and -- tab at the start button. At the bottom of the screen trying to do stuff on there with your fingers or or even really with a stylus them. I don't know why they never you know they said that -- -- windows says Vista is gonna be the touch screen version of windows a -- -- a Windows 7 is gonna be that we are now windows it is going to be it definitely for tablets a 100%. You know I for this three or four times before -- I think Microsoft. Bob is with -- for tablets. Oh that's just me to go all the way back. Yeah disable the trot out every two or three years and -- I don't believe it's -- feel like user interfaces that thing that I mean everything clicked but the iPad are so. We -- yes and -- yet. Windows eight. Is that does Microsoft finally get it with windows -- what do you think. Now not -- it really. Early and I was there I was at. Windows -- with you know the sliding panes and it looks like the Windows Phone system which is a very. Different and I think effective user interface audience absolutely -- -- -- guys are saying this is gonna though is an insider audience that I go -- tell -- more. It's it's all that -- and here's a problem when you when you come up now I think there should be a separate interface for that kind of stuff for a better interface but. You can't have people learn to many different. Languages it did -- -- language to how you interact with these things and one of the problems I'm having with the OS-X lion update particularly on these new Mac books. Is that they -- written a lot of -- gesture controls which is really. What -- -- people interface with the air with their Mac books. And there are two problems one it's it's too different from the previous version of OS-X and two. It's taking the windows version and the Mac version and and and these -- -- literally these languages are becoming more divergent. -- there's a split in the good to know if all separately. And that's not good for anybody you really need consistency even if -- across different platforms -- and products you need a consistent universal language for people feel comfortable with technology. -- -- -- is it's almost and this is saying this from not having played around that so in fairness I don't know whether or not it's gonna blow me away but it feels like. Almost a a gesture towards it being. -- Felix and an engineer was -- look just dumbed down give it a nice interface a skin that is condemn everything down -- the most medium. Common user -- and that that maybe the iPad it. And Android were looked at these dumb down. -- finance for a complex operating system so I feel like. -- windows eight seems to me like it's condescending front patent for what it's still very powerful and -- operating system behind it. But it's it's it's -- smoke and mirrors like you feel that Microsoft -- -- talking down to when that that you must hate Apple at. Now I actually I mean I have my own reservations about half life they think they complain about there but damn it I felt like -- Windows -- with just -- From what I can tell -- it seems like. Them in just trying to say like look. But He try -- try this out and see if this is gonna be. Look and feel like this totally streamlined mobile version of windows security one. We're gonna take a little diversion here on on the topic -- of changing things up for users because Dan mentioned how post headline. Pretty much rewrites many of them at the just parts of the user interface and I agree I I I installed lion -- -- -- works -- -- -- -- -- -- -- that -- I changed -- I I I found the thing that bothers me the most about than -- to quickie post this morning on fixing it -- -- that. -- -- to double tap and drag yeah I'm with you on my cell hidden I saw your headlights and hidden. You have to go into like these weird site it's not a good touch -- options its under like universal access. Oh really and you can turn it back not yet three finger click and drag is pretty -- but it doesn't always -- but. Maybe maybe until you learn that you -- both -- I am with you anyway. Who -- a lot of -- -- on Apple's part -- to rewrite the gesture language for people to make it more. -- -- -- Consistent with their touch devices my guess there are more iphones out there than than -- books I think so it does make some sense. It could Microsoft that are they trying to that with windows eight to rewrite the way you interact with windows and in a fundamentally and can they get away with -- they've got. I'm 85% of market to Apple's 14% -- -- gonna -- and even more people. But isn't fundamental or is it just in overlay over the same kind of start menu folder system. That they've always had I know they always have one and now they have -- focus groups and engineers looking at these things. Maybe they should bring in linguists to try to understand sort of the visual and and and in -- -- language that people develop when the use technology. And incorporate some of that is there rather than trying to sort of just you know hasn't it looks new and fancy. -- -- I think that there is it -- -- like they're missing. The entire question we have is I can -- make a operating system that is that a fun place for people to spend their time in now and it. And not necessarily like how they do that are how they -- -- the controls how they presented but just like. And I don't feel like. In the collective consciousness of you know technologies -- or even just basic consumers are looking for computer. That windows as an option comes up as something that seems like. What they wanna have -- the home computer experience that it is that it at least on par with what the novelty -- an iPad. Or or what Apple's -- the market as there that option isn't funny how their. How as when people buy computers to run applications and to do things online. And yet here we are talking about operating systems -- -- it still matters. It's like this is a lesson that Google really needs to learn -- Because I'm telling you -- -- is an unsatisfying operating system even if this this fair assessment can't save -- you know -- -- 82 to channel -- answer to that -- are we just calling it too early are we gonna get there and it's there is it just a few generations away before. He now. That that -- really operating system continued to disappear like in the Chrome book which makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways it just become a window. Into this larger world. Or to put another way. Maybe not so much fine maybe the operating system should. Aim for maximum transparency. Of them. Meaning better apps that it lets talk about hardware for a little bit in particular -- and we've been talking about com. Apple's hardware. A bit and the -- sort of Intel has announced this initiative called the ultra book. They handle what is that -- and why does it matter. It's the same -- tells people -- -- making these but a name on it ridiculous. That's it ridiculous. I'd like I can see -- five ultra books -- amount is right now they don't call them but they have they fit whatever the in the at Samsung's series Nyhan. They gave -- these for years the nude. Dell X -- fifteen Z the -- you actually want just put -- this year. -- not important doesn't matter it's not that it's. Was it it's it's following that sort of MacBook Air model and once again. I hate to sound like this because I'm really windows guy at heart but Apple does something and everybody else that it's again get the Dell Adamo -- -- -- credited saint that was an innovative concept of easily putting the hinge in the middle instead all right at some things but are there only are there any good -- hardware mobile hardware concepts coming out of any anywhere else. Its -- like they say distance it has been anything new written since Shakespeare not really sure in terms of just saying oh this is half an inch. Thinner on the sides are gonna call -- a new name and make it a new concept. These are essentially the same clam shell keyboardist -- products that ever stated that we've had since the vintage examples. I'm told you have there sitting at the desk next few I wish I could see them but I I'm sure they're very impressive. It's it's -- anything really that systematically different now. Besides -- told his whittling it down. Our -- let's also talk about how people are getting applications. Apple has. Put the App Store concept in two OS-X with snow leopard. Of course is be part of -- now there's even a launch pad. Let's pop tart so that apps sourced now. Is this something that and Microsoft I think has an App Store but it's not as well integrated you can still go outside the store to get whatever you want -- the center is is the App Store important to the mobile computing world. I think signed on back to lead the Prius you know response and given just this idea of what the App Store is -- when I try to explain it to. You know different developers -- in development for and -- developing for the platforms and why. Why Apple has this seeming stranglehold over the -- has happened at the the biggest most moment -- most momentum behind their App Store. I feel like so much of that is just this. This. And the sense of that no matter -- if you get bored with this product you can always find some novel new way to refresh that experience by finding something in in the app circulate part of that is -- just that positioning about the actually this space discovering new stuff to the App Store. -- -- But a lot of guys just having that that He in the momentum for developers having that -- the new newest coolest stuff always to always come to IOS before the other platforms. And yeah I think -- that's important that's how people are getting the software and I don't think it's too too much to say that. That the most innovation the most interesting stuff coming out for suffering now is to that field apps and Apple seem to have the lock on. I mean that Mac App Store that you can get them on any MacBook now and it is particularly well integrated into into -- It is billion dollars completely correct that is that is how ever -- should have been doing it frankly the entire time. And an Apple I think is these discoveries not the great near -- reduced duration and that's what it's always been about since the beginning at least of the Internet age. Is taking all this stuff and and and -- some top level duration on it. And almost that's the argument for having the same company built the hardware and the software in kind of limit this and limit that there -- security for -- that's the generous read other if you will. There also eliminating all the pain of what the software installation experiences and -- now -- and by doing that I -- by owning the story and the entire experience you not like. Running the windows like certificate chat can hear it and doing three different -- Okay is could do -- all the different terms of service and all the stuff that comes with that. All that pain. Is gone and even the pain of the the payment method is gone because you -- how -- of that friction. I wanted to say yes I want this yes that's my password and it's there -- -- desktops and. And on the PC -- steam -- done that well for years in terms of games in the Mac App Store unlike with CB IOS App Store you do have to check the the required the system requirements there's some stuff won't run on some netbooks -- anyway the have a discrete graphics card are not -- confusion about that. But once and I have noticed that and and and this little sneak preview of the story I'm I'm I'm gonna read this weekend. Especially for games on the Mac App Store. There -- a little bit more expensive than -- get the scene -- for from let's say Amazon even in a downloadable format. So so they they have you're locked into the strict code is a great fun but then -- and -- paying fifty bucks for copy of Call of Duty 4 which is like a 45 year old game. When you go over to Amazon again after 25 bucks. -- -- There. -- Who will we see the operating since -- we're seeing the user interface concepts in the store concept and that the the touch gestures of visual language merge. Are we don't see the operating systems themselves -- it is just to set the level here so -- understand strictly. Microsoft is saying that for tablets and four computers at the same OS -- windows eight in the future. Google is saying on Smartphones and tablets we've got Android on our netbooks we've got the Chrome OS. Apple saying that IOS and -- they're very different -- is they're going to be more of under the covers merge on Google and Apple we think. Mean I can't imagine the Chrome OS will continue to exist the stand alone product it's not even really an OS it's like. Linux and it only over the Chrome browsers if if if I'm not mistaken. That that seems to -- to be the odd man out I can totally see I it was an Android on a certain class of products and windows and OS-X or eleven whatever the future hold on another class of products because they are. More closely related than you would think. I would say that there's there's definitely the case for the -- user needs a professional tool and the the operating systems the formal operating systems are going to be the place for them from here on out I don't think threaten anyone's gonna be doing serious Photoshop work. On tablet no matter how good it is are you guys have just called it and the Chrome OS failure. And which and and well reasoned I believe you know that people actually that so when we see the next Chrome -- collection Android a couple of years yet. I don't know and I I I'm -- back up because I don't think that that the Chrome OS is a failure I distinct the this is where it's gonna find its -- aren't your your conventional consumer. You know options and -- -- -- there is definite definite advantages for even inexpensive laptops for educational users for like almost disposable laptops fair. Sales forces and and and IT -- roll outs for for companies but I don't think that's gonna be. And what's it's like -- free FaceBook branded. Chrome laptop that you know. That you get if from Buena -- -- there's nothing like that I don't think that's gonna have that the total momentum at a news. Britain where you get from the mobile phone operator when you sign up for two year contract and they just give you this thing we received were doing with some netbooks -- -- a couple years ago. As it goes on and content to sit. It's a dumb terminal -- that that's one of the oldest concepts in in in office computing really. That was a great idea of a netbook giveaway to realize that the -- the cost of supporting those devices can -- to building them. All right we'll wrap up with this what is the next big leap in and portable computing not tablets but in in work. Email computers. It's a touch screens batteries for -- what you guys think what it what's the next great leap forward -- from touch screens to scratch and sniff -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- I think I think price is gonna -- a Muslim anywhere is gonna be the biggest thing that's gonna drive interest being breakthrough products is is gonna be like that Kindle -- where you drive the price them close enough to that. Now that that whatever that magic price points -- -- be whether it's 200 dollars -- hundred dollars for something that make it. I'm so compelling did not you can't just to avoid getting -- can -- help when getting even if you have. Another laptop around another device. If this -- can make that really that one laptop per 12100 dollar. Laptop and make it something really cool. That's gonna be. A place that can decent season in addition. If you are right. Apple -- screwed. Because they're still at the high and what happens to Apple if you know their competing if if we've got thirteen hundred dollar computer. Competing with. 300 -- I'm not saying it's going to kill have to -- -- -- -- what what is Apple does they have an Apple as it is a premium brand. They have to go a little low market into they have to start we really duking it out with windows and and say that you know we're gonna give you a break and the Apple tax of their premium brand with the dominant share of the mobile computing space -- they don't and -- looking at the -- of the. Can still get an iPhone for fifty bucks an iPhone 3GS they think it I kind of -- about it they do compete in that low end. And that's what people who don't have any money is not computers used to get a line induced that -- use their phones and just to build on what Donald saying I think the future. I'm a gonna make not a bold claim here and I don't think there's anything particularly bold about it but I think -- are entering or are already in. The post hardware error -- -- error of the the actual components don't matter as much computers are frankly fast enough. The future is all gonna be about. The user experience -- I did -- interface that makes it too technical. It's -- user experience how do you as a human integrate with something that does not human. And I think that's with screwing up a lot of the manufactures right now that there. That there is in this. It pretty much predictable evolution -- look more -- evolution a product -- The next version of the hardware you come -- it's got the faster processor the better camera whatever and that's what sells it. I figured I feel like now. That that that's certain threshold has been man of great hardware and now it's time for a -- is due to turn back around and really focus on the user experience. And they're having a hard time reconciling and. Are doing a super quick funny story along those -- really fast. -- for years PC makers have told me and and and and -- or other colleagues here that that political speeds and feeds don't matter that -- by which to mean the components that go in the computer they use that as excuse -- -- -- crappy slow computer and it turns out they were actually -- all these years but now that -- finally right they don't have the user interface and and sort of that forward facing stuff that the consumers actually need. Interest thing. Guys thank you so much your time Donald bell runs tab tablet notebook and music stuff coverage here to chair of Internet -- it. -- -- -- recommend is our and laptop and notebook -- -- in New York City thank you very much for joining us. He is always a pleasant. Thanks a -- for watching. This edition of reporters' roundtable we are off next week we are upgrading their studio. Yes. So we will be back a week from today -- the week from next Friday with another great episode of reporters roundtable -- Twitter stream that's -- or my Google plus stream. -- needle enormous FaceBook fan page you can find it all the -- -- -- and aren't.