MacBook Air may increase risk of laptop loss

While the form factor of Apple’s MacBook Air caught the industry’s attention this week, experts say Canada’s many Windows shops might not want them, and those that do might encounter another year full of dangerous data breaches and IT manager headaches.

According to Eddie Chan, an analyst with the Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada, of Apple portable computers that were shipped in 2006, fewer than one per cent made it into the large business (500-plus seats) space. First-quarter through third-quarter results from 2007 show the number sinking even lower, with only 0.4 per cent representing enterprise purchases. “The market is pretty much non-existent,” said Chan. “It’s a PC world.”

The MacBook Air—coming in at 0.16 to 0.76 inches thick—could still win some hearts, but its size-related selling point could also bring trouble in the long run.

According to IDC Canada analyst Dave Senf, one of the top security concerns for Canadian businesses is the loss of laptops and mobile devices. In spite of this, however, best practices are still shoddy. Said Senf: “Employers need more training and policies in place.”

The lack of frequent and in-depth training and the slimness of the laptop could make for many losses, while the price-point would make it an attractive target for thieves, said Ben Haidri, vice-president of corporate development for Vancouver-based Absolute Software. Absolute makes tracking software for lost and stolen computers. He said Absolute has partnered with Apple to include its product as an add-on to the MacBook Airs.

Increasing the danger here, said Haidri, is the fact that “the technology hasn’t caught up to the solution.” As Chan points out, laptops can’t be wiped remotely if lost. “Penetration of wireless WAN connectivity in notebooks is still small, and the number of embedded notebooks low,” he said. “And WiMAX is still nascent.”

The MacBook Air also doesn’t have Ethernet, which can be a strike against it for the traveling worker in a bad wireless spot, or, said Haidri, a sign of the company’s commitment to wireless with the product.

“It’s a better wireless experience, being designed to be used that way, along with working with Intel to make it work as well as possible in that way. There’s more robust wireless, so it’s a very good mobile device,” he said, pointing out that this hard core wireless focus, especially in tandem with the tiny form factor, sets it apart from other hardware vendors in the market.

In addition to the lack of Ethernet, Jobs also chucked out the optical drive, and the ability to change out the battery. These features are all often important to on-the-road business people dealing with bad wireless connections or going straight from the plan to a business meeting on battery power, making it a bad fit with the road warrior, Chan said.

The price is another negative—at US$1799 to US$3098 to start—for an enterprise user, this could mean a lifecycle that doesn’t jive with such a non-robust machine. Said Chan: “It’s a compromise in terms of mobility.” (Small businesses, whose users are more like consumers, might adopt the machine more readily.)

Said Chan: “It’s not really going to fly in the enterprise. The odd exec might ask to have one and then get hooked into the infrastructure, but that’s it.”

Haidri, who agreed that the Apple brand has gained little traction in the general enterprise, has higher hopes than Chan. Said Haidri: “There will be a lot of attention to this, so some (in the enterprise) might see that lot of attention and want to put it in the mix.”

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