How Should Apple Update the MacBook Air?

BY Evan Selleck

Published 23 Aug 2018

Early 2015 MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is one of Apple’s most successful products to date, serving as the entry-point and a stable workhorse for a lot of people all over the planet.

But in 2018 it also serves as a cruel reminder of what once was. The MacBook Air is still rocking old ports that a lot of people still consider to be the standard, even as USB-C works in that direction. It still has Apple’s non-butterfly keyboard, a feature that some MacBook/MacBook Pro owners out there in the wild wish they could get back. But, perhaps worst of all, it is also still without Apple’s Retina display feature.

“Just replace the display in the MacBook Air with a Retina one and call it good”. That’s a sentiment I’ve heard more times than I can count now, and not just this year, either. This has been one of the most oft-requested feature changes for the MacBook Air for quite some time now, and it looks like 2018 may finally be the year that Apple makes the change.

But, is that really all Apple should do?

There is a lot of speculation about Apple’s plans with its new “low-cost notebook” that’s rumored to be replacing the current MacBook Air as we know it. Which makes sense, because there seems to be some confusion as to what, exactly, Apple is planning here. And that, too, shouldn’t be a surprise considering none of these reports are actually official. We won’t know what Apple is planning until (probably) the second week of September, when the company will officially unveil what it has been working on.

But, before we get there, and in light of a write-up from John Gruber over at Daring Fireball, I wanted to get some feedback from all of you.

Gruber published his thoughts on this low-cost Apple notebook earlier this week. It’s a nice read, especially when you get to the end and he admits that his position on the matter changed in the time it took him to start and finish the piece. The piece includes valid points on nomenclature, and how Apple might be muddying up the waters if it launches another MacBook Air that isn’t as light or thin as the MacBook.

But in the end, Gruber comes down with this:

“So if all these reports are true and Apple is coming out with a new entry-level portable with a 13.3-inch display and reduced bezels, the footprint of the device should shrink a bit too. That’s why the current 13.3-inch MacBook Pro has a smaller footprint than the current 13.3-inch MacBook Air (11.97 × 8.36 inches vs. 12.8 × 8.94 inches). So maybe it’s something obviously distinguishable from the current MacBook Air, even while the lid is closed — sort of a middle ground between the MacBook Pro and 12-inch MacBook. Something that keeps the Air’s traditional teardrop-shaped profile, but noticeably thicker and larger than a 12-inch MacBook. If that’s the case, I’d also expect modernized ports (USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 only?), and a modernized keyboard (alas) and Force Touch trackpad. Then, rather than repudiating the last three years of Apple’s MacBook design trends, this new entry-level MacBook would embody them.”

I agree with him in several areas, but mostly in the fact that ever since the 12-inch MacBook was introduced, I was pretty sure Apple would eventually excise the MacBook Air offering altogether and drop the MacBook pricing to $999. That would put the MacBook at the entry-level price point and then have the MacBook Pro up there at the other end of the spectrum. Two options, which feels like a nice lineup.

But these rumors regarding the new low-cost notebook don’t seem to point in that direction. It definitely sounds like we’re going to have the 12-inch MacBook, something in the middle, and then the MacBook Pro lineup to round things out.

I don’t really have any doubts that Apple is going to offer up a new MacBook Air (or whatever they decide to call it), and by that I mean new ports, a new butterfly keyboard, the Force Touch trackpad. And the Retina display, of course. Would I be okay if Apple decided to just offer the MacBook Air like it is now but with a Retina display and smaller bezels? Absolutely. In fact, that sounds truly magical and I’d be a happy camper. But I would be genuinely surprised if Apple held onto the past that much when it’s obviously working so diligently to march ahead.

But, where do you stand on this? What do you think Apple is going to launch sometime in September or October? Are you hoping the MacBook Air retains what makes it great now and just adds a Retina display to make it even better? Or are you hoping for more sweeping changes?