(Solid) State of the Union

One of the more common complaints that I’ve been hearing about the Macbook Air (and I’m not referring to its slower processor, lack of optical drive, lack of additional USB ports, or wired ethernet ports!) is that Apple, in doing the computing public a “favor” is making solid state drives available as an option over traditional 2.5″ hard disk drives. This is supposedly in a move to make the laptop even lighter than its waif-ish 3 lbs., and to increase the efficiency of the laptop, as boot times are increased, and battery consumption is decreased when driving a device with no moving parts.

The basis for the complaint has been two-fold: 1) 64 GB is NOT enough for the modern user, and 2) the read/write capacity on solid state drives (which I’ll refer to as SSD’s for the remainder of this post) is limited – there is some magic number that you can potentially hit with a SSD that will cause it to fail. Though the focus of this post is primarily on the second point, I’ll briefly mention that Samsung has already begun production of 128 GB SSD drives that debuted IN devices (laptops, etc.) at this year’s CES. 64 GB on the Air will not be the standard. The technological times are a-changing; the usual question is how cost prohibitive the component is. That said, I would expect a refresh in the Air lineup by WWDC this June.

Though every gadget and gizmo blog has put the Air through the rigors, I often wonder who their core audience is, because I think that there is a broad difference between the core audience of technology blog readers and the intended audience (and eventual owners) of the Air. The Air is a direct competitor to the ultra-thin/ultra-portable single usage machines that are pumped out by the Sony’s and Dell’s of the world. As I stated in an unrelated post, Apple is starting to take a position that the average person never expected – with the Air and the iPhone, they are making a break into the enterprise. That said, the Air is not an every-user Mac laptop. I know that as much I think that it’s a cool factor type of device, it would never work as the video editing, Photoshopping, podcast recording workaholic that is my MacBook Pro. But… for my Mom, who reads email and goes to recipe sites, and just wants something light to use while she’s sipping afternoon tea, this is the perfect machine. (As a caveat, the Air is not priced for my Mom. It still is an expensive piece of tech for its’ limited functionality.) This is the same mindset of the executive business professional. For the most part, people in positions like this are not the producers of content, but the managers of it – and hence, a device that can be used to write email and spreadsheets is the prime tech of upper enterprise. And between iWork and its’ support of the additional XML data attached to the Office 2007 file formats, or even Office 2008 for Mac, there is plenty that the executive can do on a MacBook Air.

But let’s get back on point.

How limited really is SSD as a storage media? Is there a truly limited amount of reads and writes before the device fails? Well, about that. There are a few blogs dedicating space to smashing through the “myth” of limited read/write capacities, but I’d rather go to a manufacturer. MTron is a solid state drive manufacturer in Korea, and has made some pretty robust claims about SSD technology. If you read on down to the bottom, the claim is that if the user wrote AND erased 50 GB’s of data per day, the SSD would only last 140 years. Only. You might want to plan on upgrading in that timeframe. You know how great 14o year-old tech is, you know? Even taking their example of standard SSD’s, the device still lasts over 5.5 years, with a 50 GB read/write cycle per day! Who traffics in that many Word documents or emails DAILY? Not the average executive. That kind of read/write usage is more in line with a videographer editing in Final Cut, or an engineer working on an album in Pro Tools, and those types of users wouldn’t gravitate towards a MacBook Air.

I think that the writing is clearly on the wall: Apple is making headway into the enterprise. And as I’ve said before, Dell, Sony, and all the big box retailers ought to be shaking in their boots. Those same execs that said Apple should have shuttered its’ operations years ago (and given money back to the shareholders – you know who you are), are the same execs that are watching Apple’s market share increase substantively every quarter, while their own continues to shrink. This only means good things for both Apple AND PC users. Competition is the soul of innovation. Gone are the days of being able to sit on your tech laurels – everyone (Apple included) has to stay fresh to keep the attention span of the Twitter army.