The other day, I walked into a coffeeshop. I needed my daily caffeine and sugar, and unfortunately, the cheaper options were a bit out of reach. There I noticed a man sitting in a corner. He was busy typing emails on a Macbook Air.

A few seats removed sat a girl, about sixteen, checking her Facebook. On a Macbook. As I sat down, sipped my coffee and stepped out of zombiehood and started to take notice of my environs, I confess I had a bit of a Resident Evil moment: I was surrounded by horde of people on Macbooks. The only people who weren’t tapping away at the metal Apple concoction were the staff. And myself, of course, because I roll a Chromebook.

(Mind you, this scenario would only happen in Colombo).

I’m not going to say something as cliched as “Back in my day, we didn’t use Macbooks mumble mumble mumble” because as far as I’m concerned, this still IS my day. But there was a time, just a couple of years ago, when Apple’s machines were like unicorns in the cityscape. In fact, the chunky HPs and Compaqs of yesteryear have vanished. How the heck did the Airs become so popular?

BACK IN TIME

macbook

The original Macbook Air never hit Sri Lanka, at least not in the way we mean it. It was slim. It was sexy. It was also amazingly expensive. A hundred-thousand rupee laptop was considered an expensive investment. Anything beyond that was usually reserved for the expensive, and extremely rare “gaming laptops” that were on display at the likes of the EPSI showroom in Kollupitiya.

It was curious, because the iPhone was pretty much THE thing to have, and some of that brand awareness should technically have bled over to the Mac front. It didn’t. The Air took a long time coming to Sri Lanka in force. Perhaps it was that ridiculously high price tag: despite how slim it was, it wasn’t great value for money. The SSD was a concept embraced by a few ardent hardware hackers. Most people just looked at the price tag, looked at the specs and realized they had better ways of spending their money.

Someone told me that the first adopters of the Air were executives, who, tired of lugging around laptops for presentations, decided to put their earnings to better use. I disagree. By and large, Sri Lankan boardrooms have one thing in common: a projector with an old VGA port. Any Macbook Air user would have been at a serious disadvantage in presenting anything. Even today, a surprising number of executives lug around old laptops that can double as riot shields.

I’m not so sure about that. Rather, I think it was a mix of Mac enthusiasts and coders. At first there’s the lure of the new hardware, then someone probably figured out that the Airs were cool tools for software development. And somewhere down the line, the Macbook Air improved. Eventually, in 2011, Apple dropped the Macbook, adopted the Air as its beginner laptop, and dropped the prices.

Pretty soon, what began as a curio evolved into its own experience, much like the iPhone. Ironically enough, I think it was Intel’s Ultrabook advertisements that spurred a new wave of Air-purchasing. Until Futureworld and Abans picked up the torch, there was nobody to really promote the Air: Epsi was more focused on trying to push Asus products and BT Options were making the mistake of being too exclusive to be known.

The Ultrabook push, by a sort of collateral process, generated interest in the Airs, which were the inspiration for the Ultrabook spec. People who buy stuff at that range tend to Google long and hard before making the leap: and on the Internet, the Air reigned supreme. Reviews pointed – and still point – to the Air as being the best ultraportable. The battery life probably played a part: I think we were expecting a laptop that could last more than 5 hours on a single charge. In any case, it’s hard to ignore something Engadget consistently lauds.

BUT FROM WHENCE CAME THE PEOPLE?

Perhaps we can look at the lineup and the pricing over the years and say that the Air eventually got to the point where it was worth it, but I think there’s more to it that that. By that indication, the 70-thousand rupee price point saw the biggest change. Today you can get something that looks fabulously good, is almost an Ultrabook, for less than 80 thousand bucks, and you can be sure it’s going to be faster than that first, monstrously expensive Air.

Is it the price reduction? Not really. If anything, people seem to have gotten richer – or at least, more willing to spend. The Air’s still an expensive device.

Perhaps it’s because people who buy ultralights have, to some extent, stopped being locked to one platform. Who cares if it’s Windows? How does it do Youtube at 1080p? How fast does it boot? Heck, even I use a Chromebook.

It’s not the hardware, or the price point that matter anymore: by that argument, you should be seeing more Windows-based Ultrabooks around. Things like the Samsung Series 9 ATIVBooks, for example – they look amazing, they work supremely well, the battery life is good, and it’s got Windows on it, an OS that everyone’s familiar with. Hell, HP has a phenomenal brand presence here and they’ve got Elitebooks. Dell has their XPS series. We should be seeing these around.

We aren’t. Instead, we see Macbook Airs. It’s not even the OS: despite MAC fans drooling over its speed, most of that comes from the hardware – a decent processor paired to a Solid State Drive (SSD). SSDs are becoming more and more common: slap one on a Windows laptop and you have a butter-smooth Windows, and you’ll find a lot more programs for it, too. It’ll also be cheaper. Lots cheaper.

But despite all of this, the Air, like the iPhone, simply became cool.  It just comes down to one thing: image.

It’s moved into the same circles as the iPhone: overpriced, but bought nonetheless, because it’s as much a social ornament as it is a device. Despite not having any real presence in that laptop nexus, Unity Plaza, the Air has done very well for itself simply because of this jewellery aspect of its nature.

And unlike the more arcane, and perhaps more sophisticated products out there – the XPS, for example – the Air is easily recognizable for what it is: you don’t need to spend your time explaining what it is for the average Colombo person to realize you’re loaded. It doesn’t matter if you’re a coder or an exec. The status conferred upon you is still the same.

It’s simply the thing to have.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Windows also really started sucking in that time frame. Even now for office we try to have as many people on Mac or Linux as possible. Windows 10 seems to be their first decent operating system since XP, and even that runs on such high-end specs that a Mac is competitive. It’s as much a story of Mac improving as Windows falling over and losing.

  2. The practice of clearing out the last gen product at ridiculously low prices as soon as the new gen product launches has helped a lot for this trend IMO. For example, at the end of last year, the 2013 Air started at around Rs 120k. Just weeks after the 2014 model launched, I remember being bombarded by email flyers offering these barely outdated models for as low as 70k. Just watch out for the same this year, you could be walking away with some serious kit for very little money.

  3. There is one thing that is vastly superior on a MacBook Air compared to rest of the UltraBooks, and that is right up there in the list of things that can make or break a laptop. The touchpad.

  4. I know its very immature of me but I had to quote this one

    “A surprising number of executives lug around old laptops that can double as riot shields”

    Nice. XD

  5. I cry “imports” from rich family living overseas. nuf said!!! ;D
    And Windows XP was & is (still) a shitty operating system. they barely fixed it up with the many constant updates. Win7 was actually an improvement. Only reason we stuck to XP was coz there was nothing else. And GAMES!!!

    PS: Did u know that many folk from the 3rd World (SL obvi) refer to a Tablet Computer as an iPad. they believe that is the term given for a slate-looking computer. WTF! Marketing FTW!!!

    The saying “Intel inside, Idiot outside” never felt more relevant than today. xD

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