Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

The IT channel’s evolution since the dot-com crash has led to a sophistication in how to address customer needs that was unheard of a decade ago.

Again and again in discussions with solution providers, the conversation centers around how to identify customer needs, prepare a plan to address them and implement the plan. And all of that has to take place with the ever-present requirement of keeping the cost of implementation down and saving money in the long run through increased efficiency and productivity.

The customer, you see, has gotten way too smart to be smitten with gee-wiz technology that “you’ve just gotta have!” Launching a product simply because it is cool, regardless of how limited its functions may be, no longer flies.

Or does it?

We’ll soon find out, as Apple puts the full force of its marketing apparatus behind promoting the MacBook Air, a laptop so thin you can slide it into a manila envelope. Weighing in at three pounds and sporting the slick looks we have come to expect from Apple, the notebook made a big splash in the headlines last week after CEO Steve Jobs introduced it to the public.

“MacBook Air is ultrathin, ultraportable, and ultra unlike anything else,” Apple boasts on its Web site. “With MacBook Air, mobile computing suddenly has a new standard.”

It is a beautiful machine, and the simplicity of its name is nothing short of genius: Air.

The word implies portability and lightness. And, yes, it implies an essential quality critical to one’s very survival—air. To breathe.

But how essential is the Air, really? My sense is not very. Yes, the portability and lightness have undeniable appeal, but how many people are going to replace their existing notebooks for the Air?

Considering the “bigger is better” mentality of many notebook buyers who want 15-inch or bigger displays, the Air is, well, a little thin in that regard. And since it doesn’t have an optical drive and only one USB port, its functionality and appeal as a stand-alone machine are limited.

In addition, Apple should have given up on its love affair with the aluminum chassis, which looks cool but is problematic. Of course, if you enjoy a static shock every time you sit down to use it in a carpeted room, you won’t mind it. And though the MacBook Pros are better in this regard, the old PowerBooks heat up so much that using the laptop as an actual laptop becomes a very uncomfortable proposition. Perhaps the Air won’t have this problem, but a non-metal chassis might have been better.

The Air will have competition soon enough, as Toshiba prepares to launch an ultra-thin notebook that, unlike the Apple, will have an internal optical drive and three USB ports.

Still, you can be sure that Apple will do all it can to persuade every last user they can’t live without Air. But even though Apple fanatics may rush to buy the thing, it is highly unlikely the company will create the kind of “I gotta have it” excitement that it managed with the iPod and the iPhone. Especially as the economy takes a dive and buyers become more budget-conscious.

To the channel, it matters little anyway. For one thing, solution providers are more interested these days in addressing customer needs than wowing them with new gizmos, and in any case, channel partners get treated by Apple as forgotten stepchildren.

In the IT channel, even more so than in the market at large, the Air will be more of a curiosity than anything else. Despite its amazing success in recent years, this time Apple’s marketing prowess may amount to little more than hot air.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He is at ppereira@­