The New MacBook Air: Apple Competes With Itself

2018 MacBook Air.

A new, low-cost, non-Retina MacBook of some kind has been envisioned and dreamed about by the community. Whatever Apple’s plans are, the new 2018 MacBook Air isn’t it. And that’s okay.

[Apple Intros New MacBook Air with Retina Display]

2018 MacBook Air
2018 MacBook Air. Image credit: Apple.

The reason it’s okay is because 1) Apple understands its MacBook Air customers very well, 2) Apple likes to compete with itself, and 3) We may yet see a lower cost Apple notebook for education.

Playing Leapfrog with MacBook Air

Let’s recap.

In 2015, Apple launched the new 12-inch MacBook. In colors. With a single USB-C port. The new Butterfly keyboard. And a 12-inch Retina display. Except for the slightly-too-small display, it seemed primed to put the 2014 MacBook Air out to pasture. And without serious upgrades over the past few years, it certainly seemed as if the MBA would be allowed to slowly, gracefully die off.

Either that or price-reduced and sold into the education market. The problem there is that no amount of economies of scale are going to allow the legacy MBA (or even 12-inch MacBook) to compete with US$300 PC notebooks and Chromebooks. So scratch that.

Then a funny thing happened.

Apple came to realize, I surmise, that the MacBook Air has been a highly favored Mac. Maybe not with students. But with authors, creators, teachers, and other mobile professionals. Tim Cook even used the word, as I recall, “beloved” during the Oct 30 New York event. And so rather than scale down for education, Apple decided to beef up the MBA in the ways, according to Cook, that matter most to the many loyal users.

2018 MacBook Air features.
A serious upgrade. Image credit: Apple.

This fits in with Apple’s now evident pattern of beefing up its Macs, performance and security, and raising prices to match.

Whatever Mac Apple has planned for the education market, we haven’t seen it yet. Except for iPads. Hanging its hat on iPads alone in education would be a mistake, but that’s also a topic for another day. What’s clear is that Apple will sell a boatload of the new MacBook Airs.

And the MacBook?

And what about the Macbook? It almost seems as if Apple has two competing teams, leapfrogging each other. Where will the MacBook go from here? Will it again leapfrog and surpass the MBA? Or will it, now an aging technology, be retired as a failed experiment?

One thing is clear. Apple is effectively competing with itself here. The customers benefit greatly—even as we pundits have terrible time seeing the big notebook picture as it evolves, year by year.

11 thoughts on “The New MacBook Air: Apple Competes With Itself

  • “A new, low-cost, non-Retina MacBook of some kind has been envisioned and dreamed about by the community.”

    That was the strangest opening for an article about the new MacBook Air that I’ve seen anywhere!

    Was it mis-written? Was it a semi-clever, tongue-in-cheek crack?

    I know of no one, no tech pundits or Mac users in general, who has longed for a “low-cost, non-Retina MacBook”! That’s simply bizarre. They’ve longed for a lower cost 12″ MacBook, as the current one is too pricey, but they love its weight, form factor, and sharp, crisp Retina Display,

    As to the MacBook Air, what the lede should have been was this:

    “A new, low-cost, Retina MacBook Air has been envisioned and dreamed about by the community.”

    That’s the reality. People have complained about the now comparatively low-res screen and the massive bezels on the vintage MacBook Air. But they love the ports, like the keyboard (especially compared to those on the MacBooks and MacBook Pros), liked the price point, and greatly appreciated the long battery life.

    In any case, was wondering what in the world you meant by the opening — and, if you could point to your own writing or anyone else’s, stating that they wanted a “new, low-cost, non-Retina MacBook”.

    That’s a unicorn if I ever heard of one!


    P.S. I italicized and bolded some text and received a cryptic error message “Some of field value is invalid”. What’s that about? I had to delete the bold and italics. In addition, while the comment box shows paragraph breaks, when I save the comment it mashes it altogether in one run-on paragraph!

  • Well folks, just buy yourself an iPad Pro, will ya?
    We are on borrowed time with this level/type of computer anyway.

    Im an iPad Pro only guy for at home. Being a hobby photographer reveals that iOS can be challenging. The photographic workflow is however my most intense/complex use case. Other than an occasional outburst of fury I’m generally doing ok though.
    I use a fairly powerful Dell laptop (%&§+**#&%) for work — connected to two nice, if not good enough, 25“ displays . I clearly can’t do on my iPad what I am doing with that setup. But honestly — that „computer type“ advantage is dwindling fast and manifests itself in a few, very specific use cases. If I have to use the laptop on its own, I fnd it actually too small and cumbersome to use. Apple knows exactly what they are doing—and as a product manager in a high tech industry, it’s fun to watch….
    I boxed my old (gracefully aged) Mac mini, Cinema Display and Wacom Tablet just under a year ago and never looked back. Other than the occasional cringe of course. and I was sad how little enthusiasm I felt today about the (my once besotted) Mac mini refresh…..

    PS: selection of Text is still a proper pain in the royal bottom on iOS. Ugh.

      1. I agree 100% – this is exactly how I felt. The Mac lineup is the powerful, but matter-of-fact computing line. I personally think that the Mac mini upgrade shows this as well (I used to be a Mini guy). After four years of drought we get a speedbump. A good one, but still just a speedbump. Other than the space gray color there was no real excitement included – and the concept renderings out on the interwebs were quite exciting indeed.

    1. Yes, you summed it up nicely and you ended it perfectly: Selecting text. The reason I use a laptop (12″ MacBook) is I write and I need a trackpad for selecting text. The iPad currently is unable to do this and it makes it a pain to use for writers, well some, at least.

  • This new rMBA is a MBA in name only, not in spirit. This new MBA utilizes a 5W Y-series 1.6Ghz dual-core CPU. The old MBA used a more powerful 15W U-series dual-core CPU which could be had from 1.8Ghz to 2.2Ghz, depending on how you configured it. The rMBA is really nothing more than a 13″ rMB.

    The true successor, in spirit at least, to the MBA is the 13″ MBP without Touch Bar. That machine uses the 15W U-series 2.3Ghz dual-core CPU and Intel 640 Iris Graphis, so a much faster CPU & GPU.

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