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.“
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.”
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.
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.