MacBook Air won’t be a hit: Woz

Dan Warne
3 March, 2008
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If there’s one good thing Telstra has done for this country, it’s paying to bring Steve Wozniak over to launch a broadband conference being held by the Australian Communication Industry Association.

Woz spoke for an hour in a keynote speech to launch the conference, as well as giving a half hour Q&A session for journalists. Warm and jovial as ever, Woz gave fascinating answers to all sorts of topics. But his most interesting commentary wasn’t on Australia’s broadband situation, but his thoughts on recent Apple product releases.

For example, he is frustrated with the new Apple TV, even though he says it is a tremendous step forward in the delivery of entertainment over the internet.

“The Apple TV is a really good indication of the future of the world. I don’t think it’s taking off yet, though. I don’t think the new technology is going to get recognised in the same way the Macintosh did … now every computer in the world is a Macintosh. [laughter]

“The AppleTV has problems … once I start watching [a rented movie from iTunes], I have to finish in 24 hours. My life is way too mobile and unpredictable for that. I don’t want to have to pay again to watch the rest the next night.

"I don’t like to be given control of something by remote control, then have restrictions put up against me about how I can use it. That interferes with my feeling of humanness.”

And while he carries an iPhone in his pocket everywhere, he was surprised when Steve Jobs announced it had 2G support only.

“To tell you the truth, I was really disappointed when the iPhone was introduced. I was in the audience, and half the phones that AT&T sold at that time were all 3G phones. I had 3G phones and non-3G phones and I knew the difference, so I was shocked because Apple was bringing full internet with full web pages, and I was surprised that it would not be 3G, and I knew that that would be a speed detriment.

“I suffice with it in a lot of cases, and whenever it gets to the point where things are loading too slowly, I’ll look at it later on my laptop. So, I can’t give you any clues as to when it’s coming, but it’s sorta been known since day one that it would be here.

"I was surprised, because Apple normally is into the future technologies … looking where the world is going and trying to be one jump ahead. 3G phones still work at the slower speeds, if the network isn’t established enough.”

He says he is not so sure it was solely a battery life issue. “I don’t understand why it would be a battery issue. I get as much life on my 3G phones as I do on my non-3G phones. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m not paying close enough attention. But I don’t think that’s it though.”

Earlier in his keynote speech, he said that he often turned to his Razr as the first choice for internet searching, simply because it was faster.

“I carry multiple phones with me, some for one purpose, some for another purpose. I have normal slower phones, and I have 3G phones. And I find that when it comes to having a question like, ‘What year was Jerry-Lee Lewis born’, before I hit enter on the Google search on a slower phone, I realise I’ll get the answer quicker on my 3G Razr. Speed of mobile internet is so important to me,” Woz said.

He is also torn over the MacBook Air. He loves the form factor, and thinks he will make do with the feature compromises for the sake of having the coolest, slimmest thing, but doesn’t think it will be a big hit sales-wise.

“Occasionally, I like products when they are smaller, nicer, good styling … it’s sort of like a little way to show something off. Like, you’re a geek, and you can be in the first place … in the top category. The MacBook Air … actually I like it. At first, I thought, it’s so feature-missing, and I use … I burn DVDs a lot to pass files to other people. I watch movies on airplanes. I need one that will go an entire flight and switch batteries, when there’s sometimes no power on the plane.

“So, a lot of its missing features bothered me, but when I got it, for some reason, the way its keyboard is, I can type faster, it’s a more comfortable, positive experience.

“So I’m trying to figure out a way to make the Air part of my life, because I’m a one-laptop-only person. I’ve got to now change my approach and have a desktop tower computer at home, keeping all my big data, which I don’t have enough disk space on the Air for, and I can finally take my Air around with me and use it.

“But I kind of want to. I don’t think it’s a benefit if you have to carry around a DVD player with you, a couple of extra dongles to connect to Ethernet and things, and maybe an extra hard disk to carry your music on … but still, it’s the appearance.

“I really like it. But I don’t think it’s going to be a hit. I know some people love it and it works great, they have a computer at work, and they use their Air to give presentations, but I don’t see a mass swing over to them.”

And since Woz was giving a fairly robust critique of Apple’s lineup, we asked him whether his old business partner Steve Jobs ever gets antsy about his comments.

"Very seldom. He calls me and he says he doesn’t like something that I was reputed to have said. But he gets it out of context. A reporter’s seized on a comment and strung along with that. I’m very positive on Apple, but I’ll also point out things that could be better, or aren’t the way I’d like them to be. But we’re very good friends. We’ve never argued over these things … but occasionally he’ll ring me and say ‘thanks a lot!’

"But I’ll say, ‘Steve, think about it! I’m saying the same thing as you!’ I got ganged up on recently at a conference … Apple lowered the price on the iPhone and I got asked what I thought. I said, ‘well, it was kinda overpriced, and they dropped the price too much, too fast’. Well, Apple had already said that. They apologised, gave a hundred bucks back, and I was saying the same thing as Apple. I got accused of trashing Apple! All I was doing was plagiarising Apple!"

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