Apple did not say a lot about the MacBook Air, but it spoke volumes

By , Oct 28, 2016

macbook air keynote hello again

Going into Apple’s “Hello Again” keynote on Thursday, speculation was rife with regard to how many new machines and product lines Apple would lift the veil on. The MacBook Pro seemed the safest bet, rightly so as it would turn out, but talk of a MacBook Air refresh or MacBook larger than 12-inch persisted until the very moment Tim Cook took the stage.

Fast forward the 80-minute short event and some of the MacBook Air hopeful watching, especially those on older machines clamouring for an overdue upgrade, will have found themselves slumped down in frustration on their sofa. Phil Schiller had just performed the precarious (and telling) balancing act of dismantling the MacBook Air’s right to exist live on stage, but bizarrely enough not without praising its virtues at the same time and throwing a lifeline to its large user base.

Irrespective of the kind words spoken and regardless of the promise to keep around the model Apple once used to proudly parade with the aid of an envelope, what really mattered was what Schiller didn’t directly say: the future of the MacBook Air looks bleak. Could there be a reason to buy one now anyway?

A moment of hope for the MacBook Air, followed by a thrashing

Late in the MacBook Pro announcement and only for a split second, Phil Schiller really had my attention spike. Talking about what they had in store for customers that usually did not go for the Pro line, many listeners must have thought the refreshed MacBook Air pitch was about to ensue. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Instead, here is a word for word run-down of what followed:

“Now, we do have other customers who choose other products in our line, like MacBook Air, and they choose them for how thin and light they are, and we’re going to continue to offer the MacBook Air 13-inch in our line, but we challenged our team to take this new design, this 13-inch MacBook Pro, and [see if we] could then make a model that would be really exciting for customers who would traditionally pick the MacBook Air. So we’re making a model of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with traditional function keys and two thunderbolt ports, and we think that a lot of potential MacBook Air customers are going to be excited about this product too.

macbook pro v macbook air keynote
For all intents and purposes, the takeaway from this alone would be unequivocal enough. Are we claiming the MacBook Air is finished? No, we would never. But look at this shiny new product next to it. Bait and switch par excellence. In order to drive the message home, Schiller indulged in an extensive comparison between the two lines, praising the new MacBook Pro’s superiority in every conceivable dimension.

“MacBook Air is beloved for its incredible thin and light design. But [guess what], the MacBook Pro is 12% thinner, 13% smaller in volume and weighs the same three pounds.”

The presentation ended with the Vice President of Marketing mapping out the future-proof product line-up. Echoing the tone of a proud father, he concluded it was the most advanced notebook formation they had ever put out. As if not enough shade had been thrown already, there was no mentioning or depiction of the good old MacBook Air on the slide completing the segment.

“The 12-inch MacBook started us on this path, it created the pioneering technologies that we have adapted and evolved for the MacBook Pro, and it really makes sense together as you consider this line, 12-inch, 13-inch, 15-inch [..] from the most extreme portable Notebook we have ever made to the most powerful Notebook we have ever made, we think this is the most forward-looking, advanced notebook line we have ever had.”

macbook line up keynote

The omission of 11-inch in this set confirmed early rumours that Apple would altogether discontinue public sales of its smallest MacBook Air. While certainly not a good omen for the overall condition of the Air series, the fact that now even the bigger brother seems no longer deserving of a place in the “forward-looking” line-up (in spite of still being sold) could well be construed as the final nail in the coffin for the entire MacBook Air Series.

Could now be a good time to be in the market for a MacBook Air?

Speaking of still selling the 13-inch MacBook Air: Time and time again Apple have proven they don’t do sentimental (iPod anniversary, anyone?), so for them to keep the Air around for now suggests at least one unique selling point still sticking out like a sore thumb: the $999 price tag. The MacBook Pro without Touch Bar starts at a cool $1499, posing a price difference perhaps significant enough for some to overlook the Air’s ageing appearance. Besides, Apple’s more mature products don’t turn into duds over night just because a potential successor has seen the light of day. Having said all that, the Retina screen alone, or lack thereof on the MacBook Air, just makes it so hard to recommend picking one up in 2016.

Something a little more outside the box but worthwhile weighing up is this: Apple has not ceased selling officially-refurbished 11-inch MacBook Airs online. Not only are those going to be absolute unicorns in a short while, but they are also great writing machines, handy and unique to a point that makes me wish Apple had not discontinued them. If you fancy the notion of snatching a MacBook Air in this day and age, maybe make it an 11-inch model while they last.

macbook air 11 inch

If we take stock of the situation, there is little denying that Apple must have made the executive decision to gradually phase out the MacBook Air product line. Contrary to other products in their history, this time they are going for the slow death, a death basically induced by abandoned marketing and subsequently demand. Parallels to the fate of the iPod can be drawn.

There might be the faintest chance that Apple are going to revive the MacBook Air in a year or two, provided they accomplish to equip the ultra thin screen with a Retina resolution and adopt a modern design language. For what it’s worth though, this sounds suspiciously much like the current MacBook’s proposition, and that is what makes me believe we are witnessing the MacBook Air being left behind by Apple.

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  • ravinigga

    She I first saw the 11 inch air its was (its weird to say it) cute.
    And so light. But I think the pro 13 inch is more powerful than the 13 air.

    • burge

      Any MacBook Pro is more powerful than the air. It’s the MacBook that doesn’t have better specs than the Air. The only good thing about the MacBook is the display.

      When I replace my Air it will be for the MacBook as I think the pro even without the touch bar is not worth it.

      • Jack Wong

        But the MacBook has 1 USB C port only.

        Moreover, 8GB is the max ram for that… I don’t see much different than my 2013 Air 8GB 512GB SSD, other than the retina display.

      • burge

        You haven’t read what I’ve put have you.

    • Stefano

      That was deep.

  • Sohail Wahab

    I love all the pro products like the iPad Pro, MacBook Pro, except the pro sized iPhone. Cause the camera is ugly. The battery is awesome on the plus models of iPhones

  • Jake1047s

    Why do you want the air? After using my 15in retina I could never go to an air. I mean the new 13in pro is the same size just way better? So im confused why the air matters any more? Its expensive and not that great, the pros are expensive and great

    • Steffen Reich

      I actually have an 11″ Air in my household and it definitely grew on me, so more than anything I am gutted Apple decided to pull the plug on that one. I would not pounce for a 13″ Air for the reasons you outlined – however I do know of people who have a 13″ Air and don’t want to go Pro now, neither do they like a 12″ MacBook. They could be a little miffed now.

    • Mark S

      I love my 13″ air. I don’t NEED a pro. Waste of money. If the air isn’t great that’s apple’s fault for not upgrading it.

    • I got an air instead of a Pro back in the day. The lower specs didn’t impact me at all and the lower resolution only meant a cheaper computer. Not to mention the better battery life was better which was a plus too.

      I understand Apple’s reasoning though, if your pro series is now thinner and lighter than the Air… Why bother? But sometimes you don’t need all that pro power and just want a Mac at the cheapest price you can get it.

      • Jack Wong

        Yea… I have been waiting for a Retina Air but Apple would rather rebrand the MacBook… with max. 8GB ram only -.-;

        Now I have to consider Pro since Air is going to get fade out and MacBook is limited to 8GB…

        The 13″ MBP that I want will cost me 2.2k, it will be the most expensive laptop to me…

      • Yeah I’m in the same boat. Upgrading my old laptop is something that I’d like to do, but wow that price tag is a hurdle. I’m not sure I’m ready to commit that kind of money just yet. Guess I might see if I can get another year of use out of this computer and see where the lineup goes or what the prices on refurbished models are.

      • Jack Wong

        True… I guess… I will stick with this 2013 Mid Air for another year or so, 2.2k is really a lot for just a laptop when I only need it for work purpose.

        But I will replace the battery since it can only hold 70% of full capacity after 3 years.

  • mrteddywestside

    i’m going to have to make my 11″ Air last forever now. :'( Only Macbook in the line up with a 16:9 screen (bit OCD about black bars when I’m watching me stories).

  • iByron

    The problem is there’s no longer a sub-$1000 MacBook once the 13″ Air goes away. The smaller MacBooks start at $1299 and they’re underpowered. Perhaps Apple is thinking the iPad Pro will fill that sub-$1000 niche, but unless iOS and macOS merge — and Tim Cook has said that’s not going to happen — the iPad Pro won’t cut it. I love my iOS tablets, but working on them is just not the same as working on a macOS notebook/desktop.

    There are still a lot of people who want that desktop experience on the go — often just as an extension of their desktop — and who want it at a good price. The MacBook Air is a great workhorse and meets that need more than admirably. The Pro line pricing is fine when your company is making the purchase (my likely scenario), but not so much when you’re making it for yourself or for your college-bound teenager. I hope Apple pushes something into that space once the Air is finally kaput.