I get it. You’re excited and/or angry about the $3,500 headset Apple might sell you next year if you’re in the right country. It’s worth getting excited about. But in terms of real-world, right-now impact, the surprise winner of the WWDC 2023 keynote is… wait for it… the Mac!
I would never have imagined it beforehand, but it’s true: Apple’s Mac announcements on Monday were huge news, despite being overshadowed by shiny future products and platforms that won’t let anyone do anything until 2024.
MacBook Air +2
While I’m acting all contrarian-like, let me double down. The most important Mac announcement on Monday wasn’t the upgraded Mac Studio or the Mac Pro, the final piece of the Apple silicon puzzle. It was the humble MacBook Air.
As Apple enjoys pointing out, the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air is a hit. Apple says it’s the best-selling laptop around, and even if you accept that Apple’s competitors are selling 30 different models while Apple sells only a handful, it’s still a real accomplishment. The MacBook Air’s combination of power and affordability is pretty much unmatched.
This leads us to Apple’s biggest laptop weakness, at least until this week: If you wanted a larger screen than that 13-inch display, you’d have to pay $800 more for the 14-inch MacBook Pro. And if you wanted an appreciably larger display, you’d be paying $1,300 more for the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is an incredibly powerful computer with a best-in-the-world display, but even its dedicated fans would probably admit that buying one is overkill if all you really want is a little bit bigger display.
Now here comes the new 15-inch MacBook Air, bringing more pixels to the party for a mere $200 premium over the 13-inch model. (And let’s not forget the 16-inch MacBook Pro also weighs 1.4 pounds more than the 15-inch Air, so not only will your credit card feel better, but so will your back.) I guess you could argue that by offering the 15-inch Air, Apple is going to lose some sales from people so desperate for more screen real estate that they were willing to buy a MacBook Pro, but I think it’s far more likely that Apple was losing sales to 15-inch PC laptops, or selling 13-inch MacBook Airs to people who were unhappy about having to compromise on the size of the screen.
If you read closely between the lines of Apple’s announcement on Monday, you can see that Apple is positively salivating about the prospect of entering a large 15-inch laptop market currently occupied by a lot of Windows PCs. Apple is suddenly relevant in that category, and it would like to kindly point out that macOS works really well with that iPhone in your pocket. I’d imagine that Apple will soon be trumpeting how many PC switchers it captured via the 15-inch MacBook Air.
But that’s not all the MacBook Air goodness! In what might be the surprise move of the year, Apple cut the price of the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air from $1,199 to $1,099. Last year, I think we were all a bit disappointed that Apple couldn’t manage to release the M2 Air at the same price as the previous M1 model. This year, things look a lot better. (And the M2 13-inch model is now $999 in education, a key price point.)
Let’s reflect on this move for a moment. In an era of inflation, Apple took its most popular Mac and cut its price by $100. I sure didn’t have that on my bingo card.
A new era of pro Macs
Rather than dropping a load of confetti and celebrating the end of the Intel Mac era with the announcement of the M2 Mac Pro, I’m going to be a lil’ stinker again: I’m more excited by the announcement of the M2 Mac Studio.
First off, after the iMac Pro came and went as a single model, I admit to being skittish about the potential future of the Mac Studio. It hadn’t yet received an M2 update, so was it going to, ever? And would Apple perceive it as standing in the way of the Mac Pro, leading the company to hold it back in order to keep the Mac Pro firmly established as the top of the Mac product line?
None of that happened. The new Mac Studio doesn’t just come in an M2 Max base model that, for my money, might be the best balance of power and price in the entire Mac product line. It also comes in an M2 Ultra model–the very same chip that powers the new Mac Pro.
To be clear, the new Mac Pro shares the title of Fastest Mac Around with the M2 Ultra Mac Studio. They are joint champions. There is nothing about the Mac Studio that’s compromised to allow the Mac Pro to eke out a victory. Both Macs have enough cooling to let them run at full speed, unthrottled, all of the time. The king isn’t dead, but the crown has to be shared from now on.
This is not to say that the Mac Pro won’t have its adherents. If you’re someone who needs more ports, more internal storage, PCI cards, and the like–and there are a lot of people in pro audio and video who do–then the Mac Pro will be a better (albeit more expensive) choice. But the Mac Pro audience keeps getting increasingly esoteric, and all the other factors that affect computer performance–memory, CPU, and GPU–are identical in both systems.
So all hail the mighty Mac Studio, sharing the throne with that new Mac Pro. And three cheers for the new 15-inch MacBook Air and its now-more-affordable 13-inch sibling. Everyone else in the world is talking about the Apple Vision Pro and the promise of 2024, but all these new Macs will be here next week. I can’t wait.