Now that the glow of WWDC is fading, I was perusing the various editorials and punditry concerning the upcoming Apple products (both software and hardware). I honestly couldn’t say which new OS I’m looking forward to more; iOS 7 brings almost all of the changes I was hoping it would, where Mavericks (despite the silly name) will bring functionality I wasn’t even expecting from OSX. I’m fascinated by the new Mac Pro, but the closest I’ll likely come to it will be ogling it in the store (MacWorld pundits have estimated the diminutive powerhouse to start between $2,500 and $3,000).
Then there was the other key hardware announcement- the new Haswell-powered MacBook Airs. Intel’s new power-sipping chip (boosted by engineering tricks from Cupertino) will offer an astounding 9 hours of battery life for the 11 inch model and 12 hours of life for the 13 inch. While the clock speeds of both will be slightly slower, the new Airs have actually been benchmarked as superior to their predecessors. Of all the Apple laptop varieties the Airs have seemed to have grabbed the most affection; they are far sleeker and more portable than the rest of the standard Pro lineup and far less expensive than the Retina models. While they’ve always been touted as the choice for portability, the Airs in truth don’t trade weight and portability for power and functionality; they are easily able to handle most daily tasks (the previous models have even been shown to handle recent FPS games respectably, although I wouldn’t recommend making one your primary gaming machine). So what is the market niche of the Air?
Think back for a moment to the post Powerbook age. The MacBook Pro wasn’t the sole successor to the Powerbook, it was the more powerful sibling to the polycarbonate MacBook. The Pro allegedly was the upper tier lineup, with its sleek unibody aluminum chassis, where the MacBook was the laptop for the rest of us- not a powerhouse, but still well able to handle most daily tasks without breaking a sweat. The polycarbonate case made the MacBook less expensive, but was still artistically designed when compared to the run of the mill competing laptops. The product lineup was designed to appeal to a broad range of consumers, from students to professionals.
Fast forward to today: Apple’s lineup can be described completely without even mentioning the MacBook name. The Air, Pro, and Retina still offer a wide spectrum of products to appeal to consumers, but they have done so a bit stealthily. The Air, as mentioned earlier, was marketed on its physical build of ultimate thinness and lightness, but it’s now become the true heir to the MacBook. The Air is the most affordable of Apple’s laptops- the new 11 inch model starts at just under $1,000- a similar price target of the original polycarbonate MacBook. It’s physical form adds additional value and marketability, but it’s aimed squarely at those that aren’t ready or able to spend the approximately $1,500 for an entry-level Retina (which offers a very thin and light form as well as it’s fantastic display). It is the least-powerful of the current MacBook lineup (although far from lacking in power), and isn’t marketed to any specific task, just on its physical form. The Air is the primary choice for those that want to upgrade to an Apple laptop for the first time, just as the polycarbonate MacBook was.
Best of all, the redesigned Air isn’t really a completely new product. It already has a vibrant accessory market to meet just about any need, from the obvious to the brilliant. Just as with the iPhone, I wouldn’t recommend anyone take chances with their device when out and about; a case is a must. While the smaller version hasn’t been around as long, there are plenty of 11 inch MacBook Air cases that fit all generations perfectly, from the original model to the recently released Haswell-powered model. The original Air was released in the 13 inch form factor, and has a correspondingly wider array of cases.
Then there’s the functional accessories, like Apple’s own ethernet to Thunderbolt adaptor (the Air has more ports than the original, but still doesn’t have a plethora). Feel like going retro and watching a DVD? You’ll need an external optical drive, and Apple’s own Superdrive matches the aesthetic design of the Air perfectly. Want to truly go portable and have network connectivity anywhere? You’ve got options; from tethering to your iPhone to a cellular-connected wifi hotspot. For the multitaskers you can even use the Air as a desktop replacement, pairing it to Apple’s Thunderbolt display and a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, or using any of a number of innovative docking solutions to pair it with just about any combination of inputs and outputs.
So the opposite of Pro isn’t always con; in this instance it’s Air. Apple’s thinnest laptop is a perfect choice not only for those of you that need portability, it’s the go to choice for those that have a budget in mind. Don’t forget that those that want to shave off even more you have options aplenty, from visiting Apple’s refurbished outlet online (I’ve purchased several products this way and have been very happy) or opting for a new but previous model, to picking up a used Air from one of many reputable outlets. The Air is a surprisingly durable laptop, and there are many people like me that crave the newest and shiniest and will part with their older laptop while it still has years of productivity left to offer. Whatever your need and budget, it’s a good time to be an Apple fan.
- MacBook Air refresh looks set for WWDC, potentially with faster Wi-Fi (9to5mac.com)
- New MacBook Airs offer blistering SSD speeds thanks to direct PCIe connections (9to5mac.com)
- Apple’s Mid-2013 MacBook Air Gets Teardown Treatment (tomshardware.com)