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The MacBook Air
October 20, 2010 - 9:01pm

Curse Apple. On the same day that I finish Johnson's amazing book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Apple releases the MacBook Air.
Apple breaks our rules about how innovation is supposed to happen. We all believe nowadays in the power of transparency, openness, failing fast, the wisdom of crowds, the power of open networks, the strength of weak ties, and the wiki approach to collaboration and creation. Johnson's book clarifies, interrogates, and elucidates these ideas - tracing the history of innovation through the lens of networks and collaboration as opposed to lone geniuses or profit driven inventions. From Darwin to the Web, public health to GPS devices, disruptive ideas are best birthed and nurtured in a collaborative, loose and open ecosystem as opposed to a closed lab.
Which brings us back to the new MacBook Air I'm thinking that the 11.6 inch model is the laptop I've been holding out for. For a while now we've needed to replace our Dell Inspiron Mini Ubuntu netbook. I look at my netbook purchase as sort of a failed experiment. It was cheap (like $300), but the keys are too small, the performance too slow, and the experience basically bad.

What I want is something very small and light - but with a usable keyboard and a good screen - and the ability to surf the Web but also write e-mail and documents and interface with our (growing) iPad and iPod infrastructure. The new Air looks like the right size - and although I wish it was cheaper (base model $950 with my education discount) - it is still below that magic $1,000 psychological threshold. (Not sure if it would be smarter to up the memory etc. - thoughts?).

Johnson actually takes on the case of Apple and innovation head on in his book. His argument is that Apple is internally open and collaborative. We don't see it, but Apple employs an approach where all parts of the company participate in the development and launch of a new product. So the designers sit with the marketing people who sit with the hardware folks. Apparently the birth of an Apple product is messy and contentious, with lots of long meetings and the expression of strongly held opinions. Contrary to popular belief, Jobs and Ives do not "hand down" a finished design that other people implement to the letter - rather they lead and participate in a collaborative process. This means that the final product is not watered down by the realities of manufacturing or marketing, as those teams are on board throughout the entire design, development, manufacturing, and shipping stages.

Maybe that is how it works. Perhaps this is plausible. I wonder, however, why every company does not work more in this way? If Apple's special sauce is internal collaboration and external silence then why don't we all do that? Maybe their crowd is wise enough - I don't know. I'm not fully convinced that Apple's approach is the way to go (at least intellectually convinced), and I believe that most companies and institutions should be more than less open (and Johnson would agree). But Apple keeps turning out products that I am willing to pay a premium for - the new MacBook Air being today's example.

What do you think of the new Air? And what are you reading?

 

 

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