Even if I get that new MacBook Air, I won't be carrying it around in a manila envelope, Steve Jobs's keynote demonstration notwithstanding (in fact, there's now a fleece-lined vinyl one, called the AirMail, already in production). Laptop users need a place for a power adapter, cables, and all that other mundane gear we lug around. And while I want a bag with plenty of protective padding and comfortable straps, it should have enough style that I won't be mistaken for a SWAT team member.
Fortunately, Macworld Expo had no shortage of laptop bags this year, ranging from the fashion-conscious to the eco-sensitive to the user-friendly. Here's a quick roundup of a few I found particularly impressive. You can see even more bags from Macworld in the accompanying slideshow. Also be sure to read Jeff Carlson's article "Buying a Laptop Bag" (2004-04-05) for lots of sage advice about how to choose the right bag for your needs. (Hmmm, sage would be a pretty good color for a laptop bag, now that I think about it.)
Great All-round Bags -- The thoughtfully designed and attractive fabric bags from Brenthaven, in briefcase, messenger, and backpack styles, are made even more tempting by their reputation for durability. Brenthaven is constantly updating their line; the nicely sized sling backpack (in the slideshow) won't be available until May 2008. Both Brenthaven and rival bagmaker Targus (also renowned for durability) are touting their use of environmentally conscious materials and manufacturing processes.
Classic Business Bags -- Clark & Mayfield was back at the show this year with an even greater variety of high-end leather and fabric bags aimed at the businesswoman who carries a laptop. This line now includes a rolling bag and leather laptop briefcases for men. While other companies are aiming at this market, no one does it with such a classic look, featuring designs and workmanship that evoke Coach and Gucci.
Gear Bags -- The folks at Naneu got their start making camera bags, and their laptop bags show that experience, with loads of padding and plenty of external securable pockets for small accessories. These laptop bags and briefcases are the answer if you want to tote along bulky accessories such as power supplies and small cameras.
Special-feature Bags -- Heading for the Playa? Planning to kayak into the wilds? In addition to iPod and camera boxes, Otterbox makes a waterproof, crushproof laptop case with an internal structure that adjusts to fit your computer precisely. For the off-grid traveler, Voltaic Systems offers a variety of packs and messenger bags equipped with solar panels (capable of producing up to 14.7 watts of power), a battery pack, and adaptors for your gadgets. And for the audio-obsessed, there's the Boom Bag, a rolling office bag with two speakers, a sub-woofer, and cables - just add an iPod.
Trendy Bags -- Clearly aimed at women who cringe at the thought of schlepping a rectangular black computer case, the luscious Italian leather bags from Urban Junket are great big stylish purses - that just happen to have a secure place for a laptop. Urban Junket also offers the Campomaggi urban gear bag line for men.
From Sacks to Saks -- Where fashion trends go, laptop bags follow. The early portable computers appeared during the "dress for success" 1980s. People toted hefty briefcase-style bags, which came in an underwhelming choice of stiff black leather or stiff black synthetic canvas. (And you needed those tough materials because some of the early laptops weighed more than 10 pounds.) As laptops lightened up, so did the bag designs. That meant ballistic nylon briefcases (in colors) and backpacks with padded laptop compartments. Today's laptop bags continue to shadow fashion trends, from hip, scruffy messenger bags to outsized leather purses. And bags have evolved to address niches: for travel (rolling luggage with laptop compartments), for photography (laptop/camera bags), and for extreme sports (water-proof and crush-proof cases). The current buzzword is "green," hence the eco-conscious laptop Targus and Brenthaven bags made with recycled and/or recyclable materials.
What's ahead for Macworld 2009? Certainly more of the "green" bags from other manufacturers - plus we might see solar panel-equipped bags move into the mainstream. And, of course, something that's bound to be called the "AirBag."