The MacBook to recommend

Apple introduced the new MacBook Air yesterday. I hoped this would clean up their consumer MacBook line but I think they only made it worse.

There are now 3 different models for basically the same price point. The new Air at $1199, the MacBook at $1299 and the nTB MacBook Pro at $1299.
The MacBook adorable maybe deserves a place in the lineup because of it size and weight. But comparing the Air to the nTB Pro it seems like the new Air is more of the adorable in the Air form factor.

Let’s start with the display. The MacBook Air ships with a 13.3-inch retina display, just as the nTB Pro. But digging deeper the nTB Pro’s display is way brighter (500 nits vs 300 nits) and supports the P3 wide color range, while the Air only has sRGB support. Side-by-side, this difference should be noticeable.

The MacBook Air only has support for the 1.6 GHz i5. The nTB Pro comes with a last-generation i5 that’s higher clocked but also runs at 15W. The MacBook Air gets the successor of the 5W chip that was used in the adorable. Also, the integrated graphics seem to be more powerfull in the nTB Pro.
I think we have to wait for the benchmarks to actually compare the two.

The MacBook Air is slightly lighter (2.75 pounds vs 3.02 pounds) but is thicker (!) at 0.61 inch vs the nTB Pro at 0.59 inch. The Air has longer battery life (probably because of the 5W processor).
Both machines have 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports (the adorable still only has 1 USB C 3.1 port).
One main advantage of the Air is the 3rd gen Butterfly keyboard and TouchID vs the 2nd gen keyboard on the nTB Pro.

So what do you think? I feel like the lineup is even worse than before. If Apple had updated the nTB Pro together with the other MacBook Pro’s in the summer it would beat the Air in every aspect. But it is difficult to recommend a machine with an active repair program.
To make matters worse, Apple is still selling the non-retina Air at the attractive $999 price point.

We will get a clearer picture of where the MBA fits in the lineup after some speed-tests. It seems that the low-power 5w Intel chip Apple is using is a new model that might be Atom-based and have tradeoffs in speed to give you that extra battery life. (IIRC the previous consumer laptops used 15w processors.)

The fact that the Air boldly intrudes on the Macbook’s specs, and starts cheaper, and comes with additional features like TouchID - without offering updates to the Macbook itself - suggests Apple might be transitioning to the MBA factor and leaving the Macbooks for those who like that design. You know, the same way they left the iPod Touch in the line-up for a few years, or the iPhone SE, or even the iPad mini (but we’ll see if rumors about its own revamp come true next year). If Apple can get upcoming low-power processors that are sufficiently powerful, then whatever the name, an MBA design/line will probably supplant the current 2-year-old Macbook series.

For the last few years Apple seems to prefer having its offerings in permanent transition mode; at the very least it gives them free consumer A/B testing!

I think everyone is getting confused. The people buying the new Air are not the people who just bought a Pro last year. They’re people who had a Mac for several years and need an upgrade or someone new to Macs.

We should also stop comparing a Pro model to the “general business” model. Everyone acts like the new MBA can’t even open a word doc or watch YouTube videos. The only people who are going to notice any difference are the professionals who need to export LARGE video projects. This FUD was one of the reasons why back in 2006 bought the fully loaded MacBook Pro 17 inch because everyone like now was talking about how slow it is. Turned out that I would have been fine with the base model MacBook back then. Apple doesn’t put out slow computers like many Windows manufacturers do.

I suspect that the MacBook Escape will die a quiet death sometime in the next year, which should leave things a lot clearer at the low end of the lineup.

There’s an excellent article over at 9To5Mac today discussing the rationality of Apple’s laptop models (and Mac mini), if you consider them as attempting to raise the average selling price (ASP) of their products across the board, as they did with the iPhone:

It was actually disappointing to not get at least a minimal update to the MacBook. I truly love the design and portability. A bump up in ram and the new gen 3 keyboard would have even made me happy. Oh well…maybe Apple will still do a quiet spec bump for the rest of the lineup.

What would make you want a spec-bumped Macbook over a new Macbook Air?

That Apple waited years to update the Mac mini, iPad mini, iPod Touch (and other hardware) is a clear sign that they are leading people to buy other products, usually with higher price points, and I think we are seeing that here as well. It’s been over 500 days since the Macbook was refreshed, and the new MBA beats it on several specs … and price. Unless you are especially enamored of the slightly smaller size of one of them (and unless upcoming speed tests show the new MBA to be a poor performer), consider it a vestigial product that should probably be avoided.

I think that’s the relevant part. Lots of people can think of uses for those ports; especially those who for the last three years have bemoaned the single port of the existing Macbooks.

MBA 13" is the same size as the 12" Macbook, and weighs only around three-quarters of a pound more. Shrug.

Anyway, ‘wait for the next refresh’ is a time-honored trope. :laughing: The next unreleased hardware with no released specs will always beat anything out now (just ask all the ‘iPhone killer’ Android makers!)

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I thought it was about buying the right machine when you needed one. :grinning:

The new Air is about an inch wider and half an inch deeper than the existing Macbook. For comparison the new 12.9” iPad Pro is about an inch shorter and a quarter inch narrower than the old model, and most folks who have had their hands on them seem to think that’s a pretty big deal. The new Air also weighs about 35% more and is 17% thicker than the MacBook. That’s going to be a pretty significant difference for a lot of folks.


Spot on! The MB is sleek and light with a gorgeous screen. If someone hasn’t experienced the joy of carrying it around they wouldn’t understand.

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That’s why Apple keeps it in the line-up, and why you’re paying a price- and performance-penalty for the smaller size. Gruber said that he’s been told by someone at Apple Marketing that there are some people - execs and others - who just want the smallest, lightest portable Mac to carry, and it may not be their main machine, and they will pay for the size reduction. And it’s recognized by Apple as a niche, but one they decided to fill. (Maybe only temporarily, the way Apple filled a niche with the Apple Watch Edition models.)

But for the vast majority of customers, a few centimeters and a few ounces has not been the tradeoff they chose with the old Macbook Air vs Macbook - the older, heavier, slower model always sold better, and Phi Schiller referred to it as “the world’s most loved notebook”. And with better screen, speedier processor, TouchID, improved keyboard and larger screen the MBA will continue to be the choice for most people.

Niches are fine. But as far as ‘The MacBook To Recommend’ it seems pretty clear what the best choice is for most people at this price-point.

Jason Snell has a pretty good take on this in his MacBook Air Review:

The introduction of the new MacBook Air hasn’t simplified Apple’s overall product line—there’s still an old model and the MacBook hasn’t been updated and that 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar still feels like a weird outlier product that should have another name. But I think the MacBook Air does simplify the Mac laptop buying process, in that it feels like the best starting point, the center of the Venn Diagram of MacBooks.

If you’re shopping for a Mac laptop, start with the MacBook Air. Want a cheaper model? The old Air is there for as long as it lasts. Want something even smaller and lighter, and are willing to trade some power, port flexibility, and money for it? The MacBook is for you. Want something more powerful, and are willing to take on a slightly heavier and more expensive device? The 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar is for you. Want even more power? The 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros offer numerous opportunities to upgrade specs and spend more money.

If there’s any place where the MacBook Air has regressed (beyond the $200 increase in base price), it’s in its status as a consumer laptop that could have its specs boosted into something resembling a pro laptop. That’s how I used my MacBook Air, and I’m a little disappointed that it’s no longer built for that use case—but for $100 more I can buy a MacBook Pro that still fits that scenario.

Still, Apple has placed the MacBook Air back where it spent the first part of this decade: firmly at the center of the Apple laptop universe. It’s not the cheapest or fastest or lightest laptop, but it’s the lowest-priced Retina Mac and it’s powerful and flexible enough to serve the needs of the broad audience for consumer Macs. The new geographic center of the Mac is once again where it’s been for most of this decade: It’s the MacBook Air.

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That Snell quote indicates, I think, part of Apple’s genius (or sly ingenuity) in moving buyers up the price ladder. The MBA at its (higher) base price it’s fine for most users, it offers more for more $$, and if you want more power Apple sends you to another, pricier model (with its own price tiers).

Agree with you here. I’ve had a lot of Macs and loved most of them, but my 2017 12 inch MB is by a distance my favorite so far. It does everything I want it to do and literally fits in my (admittedly rather large) purse.

I did max out the specs when I bought it last year and have iMacs at work and home. But I find I use the MB more than either of them.