On March 9, 2015, we saw the beginning of the end of the MacBook Air. It’s death is at the hands of a new computer called the MacBook. Irony is strong here; the MacBook Air was thought to have killed off the MacBook line back in 2011, when the white polycarbonate MacBook ceased to exist. While the polycarbonate MacBook and the new MacBook are 6 years and technologies apart, the MacBook name is back for it’s revenge. Of course, why would one think that the MacBook Air has to cease? The MacBook and MacBook Air names co-existed before.
Let’s go back to 2008, when the first MacBook Air came out. The standard for laptops at the time was a whole slew of ports as well as being roughly one inch thick (plus or minus about 2 tenths of an inch) all the way across. Ultra-Portables at the time had a very slow processor, no full-size keyboard and a junky exterior. It had no admirable design or functionality. The 13 inch Apple portable at the time, too, was clunky and long in the tooth since it’s design had derived from the opaque white iBook series started in 2001.
Then on January 15, 2008, Steve Jobs showed off the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air had a radically new design, a design that the laptop world had never really seen before. It’s design bested the 13 inch Mac portables of the time, which had a plastic, one-inch thick design. It was incredibly thin and got it’s first advertising campaign as the computer that could fit in a manila envelope. It was a very strange world indeed (I’m looking at you Yael Naim).
It is now 2015, and the MacBook Air is getting long in the tooth in terms of design and otherwise. While a great design, a new MacBook Air from Apple no longer wows anybody as Apple has been using the current design since 2010. Five years with the current design and 7 years with the overall design has been great for Apple but it has also been beaten down by competitors, whose offerings are thinner and have better screens. Then in March of 2015, Apple unveiled the new MacBook, which has a retina display and whose design is even more stunning than the MacBook Air with a new color scheme and even less thickness. The new MacBook is arguably in the same spot the MacBook Air was in 7 years ago. The MacBook Air sported a great design that made the heavy one inch thick MacBooks feel like excess weight. The MacBook Air was then, according to Apple, the thinnest notebook in the world (That remains to be debated). Now, with the design of the new MacBook, the MacBook Air feels outdated, especially around the bezels and with it’s weight. The new MacBook, though not officially said by Apple this time around, is quite possibly one of the thinnest notebooks in the world, with the MacBook Air being considered “thicker” end of the ultra-portable line. Sound familiar? The MacBook Air’s design eventually led to the demise of the MacBook, which was sold up until 2011. Now, the new MacBook threatens the security of the MacBook Air as Apple’s consumer portable. Apple phases out old designs over time. New designs replace old ones, with new names replacing old ones. The iBook and it’s design was phased out by the MacBook, the old MacBook line and it’s design by the MacBook Air. Perhaps the MacBook Air has met it’s eventual match.
The MacBook Air and new MacBook both had shortcomings in their first introductions. At the time, while faster than many Windows ultra-portable counterparts, the MacBook Air had nothing against the MacBooks and MacBook Pros. The processor was a slow 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, which is painfully slow compared to the 2.1 and 2.4 GHz processors in the lower priced MacBooks that were released shortly after the Air. Similarly, the 2015 MacBook is rated at a 1.1 GHz Core M processor while the MacBook Air is 1.6 GHz i5. A main complaint about the new MacBook is that it is way too slow in comparison to the MacBook Air. There is a striking similarity here. Both had shortcomings in it’s speed but just as the MacBook Air grew speedier over time and slowly knocked the MacBook from it’s portable throne, the new MacBook will also get better and threaten the MacBook Air’s reign.
Another complaint about both computers is that they both had a serious lack of ports. At the time of it’s announcement, the MacBook Air came with one USB port. I’m gonna stop right there because one USB port is rather ridiculous, even in 2008. At minimum, computers should have came with at least two USB ports. This was a serious mark against the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air also had a mini-DVI port and a headphone jack. Even still, the MacBook Air suffered because of this lack of ports. It wasn’t until a redesign in 2010 that this incredible error was addressed. A lack of ports on the MacBook Air was a result of the design, a compromise that was attacked in the reviews of the laptop. Fortunately, as I stated, this did get better. If a lack of ports sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The new MacBook fares even worse off than the MacBook Air. The new MacBook has one USB-C port and a headphone jack. That’s it. The port is the jack of all connections but the master of none. There exists another problem for the laptop. Unlike the one regular USB port in the original MacBook Air, USB-C is an up-and-coming standard that is not yet fully implemented. In fact, I would argue that, in some ways, the USB-C is a step down since Apple no longer uses MagSafe for it’s new MacBook, a trend I sure hope does not follow into the other notebooks. The new MacBook has been even more strongly attacked for this lack of ports than the MacBook Air has because of this. However, just like the MacBook Air’s limited amount of ports, lack of disk drive and HDD caught on, so will Apple’s push into wireless technologies. People got accustomed to the MacBook Air’s lack of optical drive, ports that were and are on the Pro and flash storage, and people will eventually get used to the MacBook’s lack of ports and reliance on bluetooth technology. The MacBook, like the MacBook Air at the time of it’s release, is ahead of it’s time and it’ll take time for it to catch up. Once it does, the MacBook Air may have a replacement.
Finally, the original pricing point is also similar. The MacBook Air started at $1799 at the time of it’s release. The MacBook at the time sold for $1099 for the baseline model and went up to $1499. The MacBook Air today starts at $899 and goes up to $1199, while the new MacBook is sold for $1299 up to $1599. While Apple isn’t going to the astronomical $1799 and $700 price difference, there is still quite the difference between the MacBook Air and the new MacBook, despite the obvious drawbacks that the new MacBook has, just like the Air had it’s drawbacks in 2008. There is a $300-$600 difference in the Air to the new MacBook, with cutbacks that make the Air still more appealing than the flashy (gold) MacBook. Similarly, the polycarbonate MacBook still sold until 2011 because it took time for the baseline price of the Air to come down to acceptable levels. It is clear now that the MacBook Air has become the entry model notebook from Apple and that the new MacBook is the premium consumer laptop with a premium price point to show for it. If history repeats itself, the new MacBook will slowly go down in price as prices required for the material needed to make it goes down. Eventually, this will knock the MacBook Air from it’s throne.
As the new MacBook gets better, cheaper and it’s technologies are adopted more wide-scale, the MacBook will increasingly become Apple’s primary consumer notebook. Eventually, the MacBook will become Apple’s only consumer notebook once again. Just like the MacBook line trio was temporary from 2008-2011, the trio of MacBooks now available will also be temporary. This time, though, the Air name will be getting the boot.
Thanks for reading,