A new attendee to Macworld—the annual confab that used to be dedicated to all things Macintosh—might be confused by the fact that the show, jointly held with iWorld, was much more about the apps and hardware surrounding iDevices—from the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch—than it was about the eponymously named laptop and desktop computers.
Still, in the midst of all the iDevice covers, keyboards, and apps—from entertainment to productivity—there were a few gems that caught our attention when it comes to streaming media production.
One new product showcased at Macworld 2012 in San Francisco last week has potential to be a single-stop connector for all your big-screen MacBook Air needs. At least for Core2 Duo machines.
Enter the infiniWing LandingZone
Kitae Kwon, CEO of infiniWing, Inc., proudly showed off the 11" version of his LandingZone product at Macworld 2012.
"You can see that the depressions in the main bar align with the feet of the MacBook Air," Kwon said, pointing to the dimple-like cut-outs on the LandingZone dock as he placed an 11" MacBook Air in position for the dock to work.
Then he flicked the connector bar's oversized handle, driving the USB and other connectors on either side of the MacBook Air into their respective slots.
LandingZone, which will be available in a few weeks for $199.00 in two sizes—11" or 13" designs—mimics all the connectors of a last-generation Core2Duo MacBook Air. Read on to find out about current model MacBook Air devices, which have Thunderbolt connectors instead of mini DisplayPort connectors.
Why Should I Care?
So what's the big deal about the LandingZone? It provides more USB ports than a MacBook Air natively has, offers integrated Ethernet, and doesn't cover up some of the slots that other MacBook Air solutions are less tolerant of.
"We made sure we didn't cover over the headphone jack on the left side of the Air," said Kwon, "or the SD card slot on the right side."
LandingZone has two USB hubs—well, more specifically, one USB pass-through connector and one USB hub. The pass-through USB sits at the extreme left of the LandingZone connector bar, next to the Kensington locking mechanism.
Located at the back of the unit, below where the rear of the MacBook Air rests, the four-port USB hub sports three USB connectors and a 10/100 Ethernet port. For those MacBook Air users that push a significant amount of content across a network, the Ethernet port is a missing link that didn't fit with the Air's ultra-thin laptop status. Until now, the only option was to use the USB-to-Ethernet dongle that Apple sells for approximately $39 (although better deals are available on Amazon).
The other connector on the back of the LandingZone is a mini DisplayPort connector, the same type that's on the back-right corner of both the 11" and 13" Core2 Duo MacBook Air models. The rear-right corner of the LandingZone has the exact same mini DisplayPort connector, allowing a large monitor to be driven by the diminutive laptop.
"To disconnect from a Cinema Display, just close your laptop," said Kwon, "and open the LandingZone's handle. Once the MacBook Air is disconnected, open its display and—just a few seconds later—everything on the big screen will appear on the Air's screen."
In our testing at the booth, we found we didn't even need to close the MacBook Air's lid for this to occur—often in about 1.5 seconds instead of the 6-8 seconds it takes for the Air to wake up after the lid is closed—but we also realize it may be a moot point since many users will close the lid of the MacBook Air to focus on a single large screen instead of working between the small screen and the external monitor.
For current MacBook Air devices, which replace the mini DisplayPort with a Thunderbolt connector, Kwon was non-committal on the release schedule for a Thunderbolt-equipped version. Since Thunerbolt is a 10 gigabit (Gbps) bi-directional signal path, the ability to add gigabit ethernet is assured—something that would make little sense on the current USB-based Ethernet, which tops out at a theoretical 480 megabits per second (Mbps).
Ars Technica, however, reports that infiniWing says it's waiting for confirmation of a licensing agreement from Intel, and Kwon did mention to me that the Thunderbolt version would cost a bit more. Hopefully not too much more, since the $199 price point is appealing to a wider range of consumers.
The most ingenious piece of engineering, in my view, is the way the LandingZone integrates the newer metal-encased MagSafe adapter in to the LandingZone's left-hand connector bar: a slot allows a user to slip their MagSafe adapter in at a 90-degree angle, aligning it perfectly with the MagSafe receiver on the MacBook Air, once the Air is dropped into place.
One other, often overlooked connector also sits between the USB ports and mini DisplayPort on the rear of the LandingZone: an external DC power connector. This connector, Kwon explained, is for USB power in case the power load on the three USB ports / Ethernet connector is higher than what the single USB port on the MacBook Air's right side can supply.
Well thought-out design and functionality. In fact, when an Air is aligned with the connectors on either end of the LandingZone, the connections are solid and within very close tolerances, highlighting the fact that InfiniWing spent a good deal of time measuring twice and cutting once—or just doing a number of CAD drawings and prototypes.
For professional producers, this product would be very helpful to have in three locations: a live production studio, a nonlinear editing suite, and a field production unit.