It was back in January 2008, when Apple stunned everyone with what was undoubtedly the world’s thinnest and the coolest laptop at that time. The then CEO of Apple, the Late Steve Jobs, pulled out the MacBook Air from inside a manila envelope during the keynote speech, and that remains an everlasting memory in our minds. It measured 0.76-inch at its thickest point and 0.16-inch at the thinnest. “We’ve built the world’s thinnest notebook—without sacrificing a full-size keyboard or a full-size 13-inch display,” Steve Jobs had said at the time. Over the years, the Apple MacBook Air has been a hot selling MacBook, also because it got significantly more affordable off late. As we head into the October 30 event, there is great expectation that the MacBook Air will get a long overdue update. But so is the iPad Pro line-up.
Staying still has helped the MacBook Air get the popularity it has. That has been a double edged sword, however. While Apple was able to sell this at lower prices (as low as Rs50,000 in India for the 128GB storage variant, depending on deals and offers) because it largely remained the same, but in the computing space, the lack of upgrades in terms of significant performance improvements were gathering some criticism.
But what could Apple do with the redesign. One school of thought suggests that Apple could avoid a wholesale redesign of the MacBook Air, which means the now around 10-year old design will continue. There might be subtle updates, but that is pretty much it. What it ticks off is the combination of an ultra-slim unibody aluminium design, a solid metal build and great battery life. The other school of thought is that there could be larger design changes, perhaps inspired by the MacBook. The temptation must have been strong over the years, particularly when Microsoft has been busy expanding the Surface line-up of devices, and computing device manufacturers such as Dell and HP have made convertibles (those that can be alternated between a laptop mode and a sort of tablet mode) cool with the business and home users.
At the moment, the MacBook Air still is stuck to a fairly old Intel processor. The display resolution isn’t anywhere close to what the 4K-generation wants.
While the MacBook Air may finally get a generous dose of modernity, there is the small matter of the iPad Pro line-up—the iPad Pro 10.5 and the iPad Pro 12.9, when paired with Smart Keyboards, have always been positioned as full-fledged computing devices in their own right. The iPad Pro is a fantastic tablet when you need it to be, and a fairly good laptop experience when paired with the keyboard. In many ways, the iPad Pro line-up as well as the updated MacBook Air, if at all, will take up the same space in Apple’s computing device line-up.
That complication aside, this could actually be the ideal timing for Apple to give the MacBook Air some new computing prowess. The Intel Amber Lake and Whiskey Lake chips (called as U-series or Y-series chips) for laptops are now readily available, and claim to offer as long as 16-hours of battery life, as well as faster connectivity capabilities and more power as well. All this, simply pairs beautifully with what the MacBook Air stood for, all this while.
It is easier said than done for one computing platform to replace another. The Apple iPad Pro line-up which runs iOS may be able to replicate a lot of tasks that the macOS in a MacBook can do, but not all. Which makes the MacBook Air all the more critical to have in the line-up. Also, at present, the lowest entry point into the current MacBook line-up is the baby MacBook (which is priced upwards of Rs1,04,800), at a price that isn’t much different than the MacBook Pro 13.