Defending Apple's MacBook Air

Includes: AAPL, MSFT
by: Yankee Group

By Carl Howe

Blogs worldwide are moaning about the MacBook Air's deficiencies, ranging from its slow processor, its lack of an optical drive and wired ethernet, its lack of a user-replaceable battery, and of course, its high price. All we need now is someone predicting that it will be the death of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and the second coming of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and the moaning will be complete.

Frankly, it strikes me that these people who about the feature set are a bit like the thsose who complain that Ferraris don't have enough trunk space. Apple's going to sell if not a gazillion, at least a few million MacBook Airs in its first year. Why? Because Apple has identified an untapped and very profitable market niche for the MacBook Air that will expand its market share: fashion designers and luxury hospitality companies.If you're an executive at Ralph Lauren or Prada, the ugliness of carrying around a Dell laptop would give you hives. For these people, style and design isn't a luxury; it's an essential job requirement. And its a category of people whom the computer industry has not served well to date with boxy designs, techie jargon, and a general rejection of the value of fashion. Said another way, how many computers look good with an Armani suit?The same could be said for the concierge desk at the Four Seasons, or the reception area at the W Hotel. In the hospitality industry, there are two types of products: those for the front of the house (customer-facing) and those for the back of the house (production). Most computers are designed for the back of the house. But you could put a MacBook Air on a glass desk in any one of those front of house environments, and it would fit right in. It's a product designed for this market.To give you a better concept of this target market, let's do a quick rundown of the published MacBook Air deficiencies with a synthetic fashion executive who is looking for a new laptop, and has admired the design of a MacBook Air:

  • Slow processor: "Seems fast enough to me. I have people who can do spreadsheets if it doesn't suit my needs."

  • No optical drive or wired ethernet: "I don't want to have to lug around extraneous baggage, and wires and physical media are so last century."

  • No user replaceable battery: "If I need it replacing, I'll send it out. I like the fact that the Apple store will service it for me."

  • High price: "Expensive? It costs less than my suit."

Fashion isn't about gigahertz and feature sets. It's about design, elegance, and lifestyle -- said another way, it's about focusing on a few, essential and beautiful things, and leaving everything else out. And for the fashion industry -- and the hospitality industry and TV shows and countless other image-driven businesses -- the MacBook Air will be right at home.

Disclosure: Author is long AAPL.