We live in a wonderful era for Apple laptops. The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros provide desktop power and stunning HDR displays. The new M2 MacBook Air has now joined the family, with a similar striking design and the Air’s trademark smaller size and weight.
After a dark period where Apple struggled with flawed laptop keyboards, a painful transition to USB-C, and an increasingly frustrating relationship with Intel, things haven’t looked this bright in quite some time. That’s why, as Apple looks on proudly at the new line of laptops that it has fashioned over the past couple of years, I have only one request: More, please.
Laptops are the best
Let’s start with the facts. For decades, the overall percentage of new Macs sold that are laptops kept going up. The last time Apple specifically broke out desktop and laptop Mac sales figures, laptops were well over two-thirds of Mac sales and headed upward toward three-quarters. For the majority of the Mac’s existence, the most common Mac has been a laptop.
As Apple pointed out in its WWDC 2022 keynote, the MacBook Air is Apple’s best-selling laptop. And its second-best is the similarly-specced 13-inch MacBook Pro. Is it any surprise that the two most affordable MacBooks are the most popular?
But consider the lack of choice in Apple’s laptop line. If you don’t want to buy a $1,999-plus MacBook Pro, you can choose from the M2 Air, 2020’s M1 Air, or the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro. That’s three 13-inch laptops that are really not very different, right down to their similar weights and sizes. They are three iterations of the same concept.
This is the Mac’s most important category. Where’s the choice?
All laptops great and small
That’s why I’m encouraged by reports that Apple is considering not one but two new laptops that would appeal to the people who populate the sub-$1,999 Mac laptop market.
Let’s start with the big one, and I mean that literally. A few reports have suggested that Apple is planning to release a 15-inch laptop as soon as early next year. This laptop is described by some as a “15-inch MacBook Air,” but I wouldn’t get too hung up on the names supplied by sources in Apple’s hardware supply chain.
A laptop big enough to hold a 15-inch screen sure doesn’t seem like an Air though, does it? While the MacBook Air brand has been successful for Apple, it doesn’t feel like it’s portable enough to be applied to a bigger and heavier laptop. There are a couple of obvious alternatives, though: it could just be called the MacBook, or perhaps (if Apple wants to extend this new sub-brand) the MacBook Studio.
Whatever it’s called, you can see the appeal: more screen for less! Imagine a product that is able to fit comfortably between the 13-inch MacBook Pro (starting price: $1,299) and the 14-inch MacBook Pro (starting price: $1,999), giving people who would like a bigger screen an option that doesn’t require leaping up to the high-end MacBook Pro models. With that $700 gap in price between the 13- and 14-inch MacBook Pro models, there’s plenty of room for a larger laptop.
The other rumored model is a laptop even smaller than the 13-inch MacBook Air. If you think the current MacBook Air is small enough, well… that’s where you’re right. For most people, the 13-inch laptop is the sweet spot. But some of us–and I do count myself among this number–wouldn’t mind it if our laptops were even smaller and lighter than the current Air.
As I wrote early last year, while the 13-inch MacBook Air is smaller than it’s ever been, it simply doesn’t compare to the ultimate compact Mac laptop, the 12-inch MacBook. That MacBook was nearly a full inch less wide than the Air, and while the M2 MacBook Air weighs 2.7 pounds, the 12-inch MacBook weighed two point zero pounds.
You can see where the M2 MacBook Air could be shaved down to make a smaller model. The sides of the keyboard were previously home to speaker grilles, but the speakers got moved to the back of the keyboard area. Pull in the laptop so that it’s the width of the keyboard, reduce the trackpad’s height a little, and use the thin bezels (with notch) design of the M2 Air’s display, and you’ve got a thinner, lighter Air. I used to use an 11-inch MacBook Air, and I’d love to see a new laptop that can fill that role.
The old ways are best?
There’s one laptop in Apple’s current MacBook lineup that doesn’t get enough notice. Which is funny, because I suspect it might be among Apple’s best-selling laptops of the next year: the M1 MacBook Air.
Yep, 2020’s laptop, the M1 Air, is still kicking around in Apple’s product lineup–mostly because it starts at $999, and Apple’s not willing to cut into the margins of the M2 Air enough to get it down to that key starting price.
In most years, I’d roll my eyes at the suggestion that Apple was keeping an old Mac model around just to hit a lower price point. Like the M2 MacBook Pro, the M1 MacBook Air has Apple’s last-generation design, no MagSafe, and a lesser display. It’s old tech being sold alongside new tech. It’s a little cringe-worthy, right?
But in this case… I’m going to say no. This is one of the happier side effects of the arrival of Apple silicon: the leap from Intel processors is so great that even the M1 MacBook Air is a spectacular improvement over the older laptops from which most people will be upgrading. If you’re coming from, say, a 2018 MacBook Air, you’re going to get a computer that is many times faster, with spectacularly better battery life.
Would I rather that the M1 Air had been discontinued and the M2 Air slotted in at the same prices? Well, yes, of course, I would. But I understand why Apple couldn’t do that–and I’m glad that people can still get a great Mac laptop for $999. Or, if they choose, they can get an even better MacBook Air starting at $1199.
MacBook choice is good. Let’s see more of it, please, Apple.