I write about tech, so a lot of people ask me for recommendations — about what phone to buy, or whether it's time upgrade their laptop. But if there's one question I've gotten more than any other over the past few years, it's this: "When is Apple going to upgrade the MacBook Air?" So many writers, academics, and students simply default to the Air, and they have been desperate for the outdated laptop to get a new design.
This week, at an event in Brooklyn, New York, Apple finally announced a new model with an upgraded screen and better specs. But one thing customers loved about the Air — its comparatively affordable price — is now missing. Instead, when it comes to machines priced below $1,000, Apple's new iPads are taking the spotlight. It may seem like a strange move, but if you read the tea leaves, it becomes clear that Apple believes the iPad can replace the modern mainstream laptop.
Most tech experts have considered the MacBook Air their go-to laptop for years, and for good reason: For about $1,000, it was a great bargain. It was durable yet light, it turned on instantly, and its battery lasted forever. In short, it was the platonic ideal of the bulletproof notebook computer, and its price put it in the sweet spot of Apple's lineup.
But at $1,199, the new Air is only $100 cheaper than the thinner and lighter MacBook and the more powerful MacBook Pro. Suddenly, the Air is no longer the obvious choice. Instead, it seems Apple wants consumers to make the iPad their go-to computer. The new iPad Pros have a handful of updated features, including squared off edges and a better smart keyboard case. They've also ditched the home button.
But the biggest clue into what Apple's up to is in the pricing: The new iPad Pros start at $800 and come to about $1,000 with the keyboard. In other words, they have taken the MacBook Air's place in Apple's pricing scheme.
Another clue can be found on Apple's website. The iPad Pro page states that the new devices will "make you rethink what iPad is capable of." Then, in smaller letters, it adds: "And what a computer is capable of." The company wants to change the rudimentary definition of a computer. Why settle for a device with just a screen and a keyboard when you can have a device with a touchscreen and sensors and a digital pencil?
Need more proof? In the past, computer loyalists have cited the iPad's inability to handle Photoshop as a key reason why the tablet wasn't suitable for "real work." Well, Adobe came on stage at this week's Apple event to demonstrate Photoshop on the new iPads. Plus, the new iPads have USB-C, which will allow users to plug in cameras and other devices, essentially transforming the iPad into a mobile photo or video editing studio, a capability that was once strictly limited to Macs.
So yes, Apple is trying to make an adaptable tablet the core of its computing lineup. But it isn't there yet. Despite many improvements, iOS still lags Macs in functionality, and for people with established workflows or specific needs, the Mac is still the way to go. But Apple knows a certain, vocal segment of its customer base still wants traditional computers. That's why it released the new Air and a new Mac Mini, and also why it previously released high-end devices like the iMac Pro and MacBook Pro.
For the millions of others who might have once automatically purchased a MacBook Air, the choice between that and an iPad is now much less clear. What is clear, though, is that Apple might be well on its way to killing the laptop.