And yet, with the discontinuation of the 12-inch MacBook, the smallest Apple goes is the 13-inch MacBook Air. Is the Air as small as a Mac laptop can get? I don’t think so. And that’s why I think Apple should add an additional laptop to its product line and bring back the 12-inch MacBook.
Let’s get small
First, I’ve got to admit that the MacBook Air is a small laptop. Back in the days of the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air models, I preferred the 11-inch model. Casual observers of the MacBook Air might not realize that it downsized during the transition to the retina-display model, but it did. The Retina MacBook Air is 0.8 inches less wide, 0.6 inches less deep, and about .16 pounds lighter.
In fact, the Retina MacBook Air is only .17 inches wider than the 11-inch Air. That’s not nothing, but it’s much closer to the size of the 11-inch Air than the 13-inch model. It’s deeper, to be sure—0.8 inches, so it’s not quite halfway between the two models in that dimension. In terms of weight, the 2.8-pound Retina MacBook Air is .42 pounds heavier than the 2.38-pound 11-inch Air.
What I’m saying is, users of the old 13-inch MacBook Air have found that the Retina model is a little bit lighter and more compact, which is great. But former 11-inch MacBook Air users like me will find switching to the modern MacBook Air a bit disconcerting. It’s better than the old 13-inch model that we opted against, but it’s not as good as the old model, either.
Fortunately, Apple has already designed a true Retina successor to the 11-inch MacBook Air.
Bring back the MacBook
When it first appeared, many of us thought that the 12-inch Retina MacBook was a preview of the Apple silicon Mac revolution to come, all thin and light and fanless. It wasn’t. Instead, it was powered by slow, low-power Intel processors and was discontinued a couple of years before Apple finally made the move to its own chips.
And yet the MacBook’s dimensions make it clear that there’s still a smaller Mac laptop to be made. The MacBook was nearly a full inch less wide than the Retina MacBook Air, 0.62 inches less deep, and 0.77 pounds lighter. The 12-inch MacBook was even less wide and lighter than the 11-inch Air, although it was a tiny bit deeper.
Let’s be clear, a 2.8-pound laptop is pretty great. But you know what’s better? A two-pound laptop, which is what the MacBook was. There’s a 12-inch MacBook still in use in my house, and every time I pick it up I do a double-take. It’s just... so much less than my M1 MacBook Air. It really takes me back to the 11-inch Air in a way the current model doesn’t.
Some improvement needed
Not convinced yet? Okay, I will admit that despite its delightful size, the 12-inch MacBook was hardly a perfect product. If Apple is to bring it back, it needs to make some changes.
A lot of those changes would just come as a natural part of the upgrade to an M1 processor. The old MacBook was hamstrung by the poor performance of low-power Intel processors that had to run slow in order to keep operating in the laptop’s fanless enclosure. Of course, we know from the M1 MacBook Air that Apple has managed to create a fanless laptop that provides performance the likes of which we’ve only see on high-end Macs before. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that a M1 MacBook would be as speedy and capable as an M1 MacBook Air.
The MacBook also had some serious deficiencies when it came to peripherals. As in, it only had a single USB-C port. Any M1 Mac is going to support Thunderbolt, of course, and I would hope that Apple would find a little bit of room in any new MacBook for a second port, just as there are two ports on both M1 laptops.
Finally, there’s the keyboard. The butterfly keyboard design that debuted on the MacBook and gradually migrated to the entire Mac laptop line was a multi-year disaster for Apple that it’s only recently addressed. Obviously, that keyboard’s not going to work. But Apple has already done the redesign work, twice—first for the Magic Keyboard in modern Mac laptops, and second for the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro. Surely one of those designs would be thin and light enough to be tucked into a new MacBook.
What’s in a name?
To be honest, the worst part of the MacBook is its name. Not that the name MacBook doesn’t have a proud legacy, but that it’s both the name of a specific computer model and the name of an entire product line.
I’d like to add a rider to my proposal that Apple bring back the 12-inch MacBook: Why not just call it the 12-inch MacBook Air? The company already has two sizes of MacBook Pros. There were two sizes of MacBook Air for years, and both models proved popular.
As much as I love my M1 MacBook Air, I would drop it in a heartbeat for a 12-inch model that looked like the Retina MacBook. There’s room in the Mac laptop line for a smaller, lighter MacBook. I promise it won’t take up very much space.