Productivity...Tomorrow

The 11" MacBook Air - A Productivity Powerhouse

The perfect computer for nearly anything

Having great tools to help you be productive is one of the best ways I know of to combat procrastination. At the top my list would no doubt be my 11” MacBook Air.

I’ve owned many computers throughout the years, starting with the brand new Apple IIE my Dad brought home when I was a kid. Revealing the beige colored box from it’s packaging introduced me to what would eventually be my life’s work. It was the machine I first started programming on, using PLOT, HLIN and VLIN to create images on screen (like a killer baseball field). I used PrintShop and an annoyingly loud dot matrix printer to do some of my first graphic design work. It was amazing for it’s time. Fast forward to today, it’s remarkable how far we’ve come.

I didn’t venture back into the Apple computer camp again until just a few years ago. I was allowed to get a Mac for work. As a designer, OSX really appealed to me and I wanted to start learning how to make iOS apps as well. At the time I had an iPad which was super portable. I thought, why not get the biggest MacBook Pro they make? I wasn’t planning on lugging it around with me anyway because I had the iPad. While that was good in theory, in practice, I DID end up wanting to bring it with me, and that laptop was a beast.

The Appeal Of The Air

In 2013 when the new MacBook Air’s came out with the Haswell chipset promising killer battery life, I was ready to ditch the bulk and go light. A beefed up i7 11” MacBook Air was about $1400 and I was sure I could sell my 17” for about $1000. This new machine would be so light and small I would have no problem bringing it around with me everywhere. The possibility of programming anywhere was the real draw for me.

Portability

While the 11” MacBook Air is no longer the smallest MacBook they make, it’s still the smallest computer with the “real horsepower” I need to do what I do. I now barely ever leave the apartment without it. I purchased a really nice bag to carry it in, the Muzetto Outback Canvas that my Wife insists on calling my “man purse”. It’s perfect for a walk to the local coffee shop for a two hour work session.

Battery Life

Apple touts the 11” Air as having 9 hours of battery life. I’m usually doing something that requires a little more power than just browsing the web, like Photoshop or .Net Development, I consistently get about 7 hours or so on a charge which I’m very happy with. With a charger at home and at work, I really never have to bring a charger with me. I did get an extra one to keep in my car should I need it in an emergency.

.Net Development

Much of my day job is doing Windows development. When researching whether the 11” would be feasible for that purpose, I was able to find a few posts from Windows developers who prefer a Mac. Most of them used either Parallels or Fusion with the occasional mention of just using Bootcamp.

I have found the 11” with VMWare Fusion installed to be just about perfect. The machine is plenty fast to get what I need done and working on the Mac just makes me enjoy my work even more. If you think you need to use Windows hardware to make Windows applications, you’d be wrong. The 11” Air is a perfectly capable development machine for Windows. I used to use Parallels for my Windows install, but their limited licensing to just one computer pushed me over into the VMWare camp.

Web & Graphic Design

Photoshop, Indesign & Illustrator are apps I use everyday, and they run great on this tiny little machine. When I need more screen real estate I just hook up an external monitor and go at it. The only negative in this area is screen color. The color gamut of the 11” screen is not very good. Many times when using an external monitor and comparing, you can tell the colors look pretty washed out. All the other positives of this computer make up for this one negative. If you want to be able to design on the go, this is your machine.

Development Using XCode

So far XCode has been the biggest wrench in using such a small screen. It really requires an extra monitor when doing much of anything with Storyboards. The number and size of window panes just makes it hard to even see a whole iPhone screen at one time. It’s when using XCode that I’ve felt the small size of the monitor the most.

With that said, I am fairly new to XCode and iPhone development. I’m sure there are some keyboard shortcuts I should learn to wrangle those windows with speed to help in the effort. I have no problem taking the blame on that one. Even with the cramped space, it’s still possible to get work done in XCode on the Air. My first iOS app Bunco Calc was created completely on my MacBook Air.

Comparison To The 13”

Don’t hide it. I know you are pondering the question. It’s the question that lead you here, “Should I get the 13 inch over the 11 inch.” I unfortunately can’t truly advise you in this area, because I’m biased. I already picked my poison. I faced that same decision that you are and the weight and size of the 13 inch was just too great. Sure I would appreciate the extra screen real estate, but it would come at too great a cost to it’s best asset, portability.

Docked At Work

While I’ve used this machine for a while now on the go, it was until about 3 months ago that I moved to using it full time at work. I ditched my 3 monitor PC setup for the MacBook with one additional monitor. It’s heavenly… I can easily use all my favorite Mac apps like nvAlt and Omnifocus along with my keyboard shortcuts to help me get my work done throughout the day. I can use the 3 finger gesture to slide over to Windows (which more than one of my PC loving coworkers questioned how I did it). When I’m ready to leave, I just unplug and slide it in my bag for it’s trip home. The simplicity of it is beautiful.

But What About The New MacBook?

I know, I know. That sexy new slim computer is just begging you to purchase it, but realize that under that is barely more than an iPad with a built in keyboard. I’m sure that computer works for many people, but for any designer/developer I think you need to look elsewhere. I really hope next year I can get a similar machine to my Air with an added Retina screen displaying that crystal clear image we all want. The new MacBook is just too slow and the 13” MacBook Pro is still to large and heavy, so the wait continues…

Advantages

  1. Unbelievably portable
  2. Powerful enough for all types of development and creative applications
  3. Great battery life

Disadvantages

  1. Limited color gamut
  2. Difficult to use XCode with such a small screen

The 11” MacBook Air is truly my most favorite computer I’ve ever owned. From the ability to do any of my creative and work tasks from almost anywhere, to the all day battery life I receive, it’s simply just a perfect machine. When you can use the speed and power of a large desktop computer in such a small perfect package, how could you not be interested in this machine.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I own Apple Stock, but only purchased it recently.

Photo of Bob Butterworth

Hello, I'm Bobby; a web developer, designer and serial procrastinator from the suburbs of Chicago, IL.

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