The real win at MacWorld this week wasn’t Apple’s super thin new MacBook Air. Rather, the sweepstakes winner is the 802.11 pre (n) wireless specification, which is the basis for Apple’s wireless backup, remote software installation and other data transmission schemes used on Apple’s new products.
Apple gets major points in my technology ledger for its adoption and endorsement of 802.11 n. Right off the top, 802.11n provides Apple or any other computer maker more than mere bandwidth, the technology also has greater signal saturation and range than existing 802.11 technologies. Apple is the first computer maker to do more than just incorporate 802.11 n into its portables. It has made a wholesale adoption of the technology to improve its consumer computing experience.
Using the new wireless standard to overcome the major shortcomings imposed by the MacBook Air’s form factor is the type of engineering that’s at once unusual for Apple but also the type of elegant workaround that marked Apple and its third-party developer community in the early days of the Macintosh. Apple correctly assumes that users of the MacBook Air are likely to also have older Macintoshes with integrated CD drives. By allowing users of the new MacBook Air to remotely install applications and back up data using wireless technology softens some of the edges associated with acquiring bleeding edge technology. The catch with this approach however is this: while 802.11 n is downwardly compatible with the older a and g spec, if users want or need n’s extended range and greater bandwidth, the computer loading the application should also be equipped with an 802.11 n compatible wireless transceiver.
In daily use, it’s unlikely many users of the MacBook Air will benefit from the 802.11 n standard’s increased bandwidth or range, since few corporations of hot spots have upgraded their access points yet. But around the home or on the road where 802.11 n is available, it makes cloud-based computing enjoyable and worthwhile.
And although Apple doesn’t own and didn’t invent the new wireless standard it’s adoption of 802.11 n is, I believe, a very important milestone. Now the world needs to catch up. —Jim Forbes 01/18/2008