Apple’s flagship laptop, the MacBook Air, is a beauty. Very thin, very light, it is a piece of art. There have been three attempts so far to build a product that would outdo the Air: the HP Voodoo Envy, the Lenovo ThinkPad X300, and most recently, the Dell Adamo. Let’s talk about each, and end with the 9.99 design concept, the only product I’ve recently seen that could make us forget the MacBook Air.
The target and standard for the class was presented by Steve Jobs personally when he pulled it out of an interoffice envelope and made the first row of the audience at the unveiling drop their collective jaws into their laps. This initial presentation was widely shared, and set a perception that no other product has yet been able to beat. The unveiling was a large part of the success for the product, though the Air’s predecessor, the HP Sojourn, which was vastly less practical and vastly more expensive, drew crowds in its day as well. It is interesting that Apple is seldom really first with big concepts; it just tends to be the first to get them close to right. And unlike other companies, it tends to have a better hit rate when they first come to market. Steve Jobs seems to borrow the vision, but then do what is needed to make the vision successful. For instance, the iPhone is effectively a better LG Prada. It is interesting that the closest thing to an iPhone comes from Palm (the Palm Pre) and HTC (the Android-based Hero) and not from LG, which originated the concept.
In any case, the Air created a bar, and a number of companies went for it.
HP Voodoo Envy
The HP Voodoo Envy aggressively took thin and light to a new realm by using carbon fiber get to a similar configuration, and even lighter weight. It tended to be more expensive than the MacBook Air, but it was also more exclusive (though it seemed to drift rather far from Voodoo’s gaming heritage to get there). It had a standard SSD drive, LED display with ambient light sensor, and an automotive-quality finish. In a way, this was like the racing version of the Air, but the product lacked the performance that would have allowed it to benefit from Voodoo’s racing heritage. Despite its beautiful appearance, most people seemed to consider it to be different, but not necessarily better, than the Air. It was more like HP’s version of the Air with a racing body wrapped around a small, fuel-efficient engine. It did alright, but a MacBook Air Killer it wasn’t.
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 Series
The X300 series really drove home the point that to beat the Air, you couldn’t make a more practical product, you had to make one that was sexier that created a sense of amazement.
Adamo by Dell
The Adamo focused back on the sexy aspect of the offering, and tried something new, weight, to add to the luxury feel of the product. In terms of sheer beauty, it was easily the most attractive laptop of the bunch. The case looked like brushed stainless steel, and had glass inlays to give it a color depth unmatched to this day by any other laptop or desktop product I’ve ever seen. Weighting it was an interesting idea, though not one that played well with an audience that was looking for ultra light. You could only get the product from Dell directly, so most people never saw it in person, and pictures simply did not do the laptop justice. In fact, for all the products in this class, pictures generally don’t convey just how special they are.
The Adamo was (and is) incredible, but it just didn’t turn out to be a MacBook Air killer because it wasn’t incredible enough. To beat the Air, someone needed to push the amazing bar hard. And, go figure, Dell evidently did.
Dell Adamo 9.99 Design Concept
Public details of this design concept are scarce at this time. However, I’ve seen the prototype, and it has the potential of being a MacBook Air killer. The 9.99 is unlike any notebook you have ever seen. It isn’t just substantially thinner than the MacBook Air (the 9.99 represents its thickness in millimeters) it is a rethinking of just how a notebook should be put together. Closed or open, it is more like art than any notebook I have ever seen, including the original Adamo.
When I first saw it, I honestly questioned how they got it to work, as the dimensions simply don’t look possible – as if someone decided to think what a notebook would look like 20 years from now, and then built it. In fact, I’m not even sure this is really a notebook, but something entirely different, a blend of art and functionality that takes us in a brand new direction with homage to the past, but a sharp break into an amazing new future. I wonder if the 9.99 even can be built with today’s technology. But oh man, if it can, wouldn’t it be amazing?
Wrapping Up: Prepare to be Amazed
Over the next few weeks, you will start to see a number of incredible products from a variety of vendors as we approach the Windows 7 launch. There is no product that I’ve seen that comes anywhere close to being as amazing as the Adamo 9.99 design concept. I look forward to Dell releasing more pictures of this concept, because it will take your breath away. In fact, I’m sure when you see the 9.99 prototype, the only initial sound will be your jaw hitting the floor. This is the way to build a cool product, this is the way to take risks and build excitement, and if this is the kind of thing Dell is potentially thinking of actually building I can only imagine where their imaginations will take us next. The 9.99 is a dream, I can hardly wait to see if Dell can make it a reality.