Trying to predict the future of technology is a risky endeavor at best, and never more so when attempting to do it with one of the most secretive companies in the field.
But never let it be said I don’t ‘fess up when my predictions don’t pan out. Two years ago, I reckoned that the MacBook Air and Pro ranges would have merged by now. When the MacBook Air was first launched, it made a lot of compromises to fit into that slim casing. But over the years, the Air got more powerful and the Pro started to make similar compromises in pursuit of a sleeker form-factor. Both went SSD, both went non-upgradable RAM, neither had an optical drive, neither had an Ethernet port.
It seemed to me then that the differences between the two ranges would continue to dwindle until there was really nothing to separate them. But as things turned out, Apple had one surprise in store for me …
The MacBook Air wasn’t the end of the company’s ambitions when it came to making a laptop as slim as humanly possible. It of course launched an even sleeker model, the 12-inch MacBook.
The new MacBook represented an even greater compromise. A less powerful Core M processor. A single port. A keyboard that scarcely moves. No ability (yet, at least) to drive a Thunderbolt display. A non-HD camera. Though it did gain a Retina display.
So it’s clear that, while I may have been correct that the Air and Pro ranges were converging, Apple isn’t planning on having just a single MacBook range. What, then, does it have in mind?
One thing I think we can be sure of: it doesn’t intend to have three MacBook ranges indefinitely. The current line-up is messy for two reasons. First because you have a machine whose spec sits beneath the MacBook Air in many respects, yet has a better display and a higher price-tag. Second, it makes no sense nomenclature-wise that the MacBook Air be chunkier than the MacBook.
That second point is the biggest clue to Apple’s intentions, in my view. The only possible way it makes sense for Apple to label it just MacBook (rather than MacBook Ultra or similar) is if it knows that the MacBook Air range is on the way out. That we will, in the not too distant future, have just two ranges: the MacBook and the MacBook Pro.
This morning’s report of new MacBook Air models next year might seem to suggest that the change isn’t coming next year, but I wouldn’t set too much store by that. Leaving aside the sketchy source, it’s entirely possible that the facts are correct but the label is wrong. Remember that everyone assumed the Retina MacBook would be labelled as a MacBook Air until Apple announced the name.
That possibility would make sense of the fact that the rumor references 13- and 15-inch models, but not an 11-inch one: that slot has already been filled by the 12-inch MacBook. The report gives no details, just says the new machines will be thinner, lighter and have substantial component changes. Make a MacBook Air thinner, lighter and with internal changes and you’ve got … a MacBook in two more sizes.
So whether the latest report is right or wrong, I think there’s little doubt that the MacBook Air label is living on borrowed time. At some point – be it 2016 or 2017 – we’re going to have an ultraportable range called the MacBook, and a revamped beefier range retaining the MacBook Pro label.
This approach would also re-establish a clear differentiation between the two ranges. I mentioned the diminishing differences in spec between them at present, and I wrote about my own practical demonstration of this when my 11-inch MacBook Air did a remarkable job of standing in for my MacBook Pro. If Apple isn’t converging the two ranges, it needs to more clearly delineate them – and reducing the capabilities of the MacBook Air down to the level of the MacBook achieves that.
So, we end up with the MacBook range in, let’s say, 12-, 13- and 15-inch models – and the MacBook Pro in its existing 13- and 15-inch forms. And maybe even 17-inch … ok, probably not, but I still haven’t given up hope.
The MacBook is the lightweight range, both physically and performance-wise, with its mobile processor and single port. The MacBook Pro is the heavyweight, with desktop-class processor and powerful discrete graphics card.
Both will, though, likely have one thing in common: that USB-C port. I’m sure the new MacBook Pros will have more than one of them, but now Intel has integrated Thunderbolt 3 into the port, it becomes even more powerful. As I suggested earlier, leaving behind legacy ports and requiring adapters for existing devices will be a pain-point in the short-term, but provide a far neater solution in the longer-term, as peripherals get replaced with ones that use the new standard.
Am I right? That the MacBook Air range will be replaced with the MacBook range? Take our poll, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.