iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad — all the non-OS X products in Apple’s stable have been revved and the product line is clean and clear. For example, there is no product overlap between an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus — or even between those and the previous iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Also there is no overlap between iPad models or between Apple Watch models. Within each of these product lines if you have a specific need or want, the choice of which product is right for you is fairly straightforward. That is unless you are in the market for an OS X powered notebook.
This is where things get messy and rather quickly. Usually bigger size means more money. But not with Apple’s notebooks. There is the entry model MacBook Air that leads the pac for price conscious consumers starting under $1,000 USD. But both standard 13" MacBook Air models are at least $100 less expensive than the smaller, entry level 12" MacBook. The MacBook offers more state-of-the-art technology than the Air’s (new keyboard, Force Touch trackpad, retina display, USB-C and multiple colors), but in consumer’s minds 12" is less than 13" so shouldn’t it cost less? Making matters worse, if a customer asks which one is more powerful, confusion can quickly ensue. The MacBook and MacBook Air use different chips, thus the MacBook Air is more powerful, and has powerful upgrade options, than the lightweight MacBook.
But the confusion doesn't end there. Let’s now throw on top of the mix the MacBook Pro models. These are to be the powerhouse of the notebook lineup, but are they? For a $5 difference one can configure an almost identical MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Both models have the same:
- 8GB RAM
- 512GB PCIe-based flash storage
- Intel 6000 GPU
- Backlit keyboards
- MBA: 2.2GHz (3.2 turbo-boost) dual-core i7 vs MBP: 2.9GHz (3.3 turbo-boost) dual-core i5
- 13" displays - MBA: no-retina vs MBP: with retina
- MacBook Air about 1 pound lighter.
It can get very confusing, very quickly. So do you want a better display or a lighter, sleeker looking notebook? It requires significantly more research before discovering the real decision making factors between models. Again, no such confusion exists between iPhones, iPads or Apple Watch. Therefore next month at Apple’s yet-to-be-announced special event in October, expect this mess to be cleaned up considerably.
One direction Apple could pursue is to eliminate the 13" MacBook Air from the line-up and replace it with a 14" MacBook. The only reason to keep the 11" in the lineup is for the sub-$1,000 USD starting price. However Apple might get radical for the Tim Cook era (an era that allows for product overlap, unlike Jobs) and eliminate the entire Air line altogether. This would leave just two sized MacBooks (12", 14") and two size MacBook Pros (13", 15"). If Apple does eliminate the MacBook Air line and you are looking for a sub-$1,000 USD notebook, Apple may direct you to consider the new iPad Pro with keyboard — especially with 2GB of RAM and iOS 9 for split screen use. Apple may have tipped their hand at September’s special event, as what will happen next month, with the iPad Pro becoming Apple’s sub-$1,000 USD entry level “notebook”.
Whatever Apple decides to do, expect the MacBook Air to enter the sunset phase of its life-cycle. It has been a great platform, but the MacBook and MacBook Pro have superior technology, and now there is little room for this first über-mobile, fully featured notebook in Apple’s line-up.
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