March 2, 2024

Forget The New MacBook, Apple Has Something Much Better

Updated August 1st: article originally posted July 29th.

Apple’s recent launch of the 15-inch MacBook Air finally offered its supporters a consumer-focused laptop with a larger display. It was a noticeable gap in the Mac portfolio. Apple expected significant sales, but the market has spoken, and Apple’s ambitious targets have been missed.

Digitimes reports that demand for the 15-inch MacBook Air is lower than expected, and Apple has been forced to reduce shipments; July’s numbers have dropped fifty per cent compared to Apple’s original order.

Update: Sunday July 30th: With Apple’s offerings not picking up many new features, there’s not a lot of features to tempt consumers to update. Looking further ahead, Apple has some fascinating ideas that would no doubt drive more sales. The latest, reported this weekend, shows Apple taking a modular approach to the MacBook.

This would allow a future Mac user to decide on their screen, keyboard, hinge, and trackpad in a future purchase. These fixtures are not fixed at the point of purchase, as memory and storage are in today’s Apple Store, but attach magnetically allowing easy replacement and different use-case scenarios, such as running your MacBook as a tablet.

Much like bringing a 15-inch display to the MacBook Air years after the competition, Apple’s plans for a detachable form factor comes years after many Windows laptop manufacturers – notably Microsoft and its Surface Pro range – have not only offered this form factor in their portfolios, but continued to iterative and improve the functionality.

Apple’s update to the 15-inch MacBook Air, and the upcoming teak to the 13-inch MacBook Air, are far less ambitious than the competition.

Update: Tuesday August 1st: Apple is also exploring technologies that have long been standard in Windows laptops, with details on its cellular connectivity published in a patent titled “Apple Patent reveals their work on iPhone Communication designed for High-Speed Rail Networks in China & around the Globe.” It discusses improving 5G connectivity on high-speed trains. Naturally, it covers the devices that could use this, and both PCs and laptops are listed.

Offering a cellular connection is a common optional feature on Windows laptops. Apple bringing this to macOS would add significant value for consumers, especially those looking to purchase a portable Mac such as the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. Yet this common optional feature is one that Apple has stubbornly refused for many years.

Given that context, is it any wonder that “just making the screen a little bit bigger” has not been the roaring success that Apple expected? And if so, is the next generation of MacBooks going to finally join the PC market and offer the best connectivity possible?

The larger MacBook Air was launched at this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference. While the attention was put on the larger 15-inch screen, many noted at the time that the rest of the laptop was identical to the 13-inch MacBook Air, as if the two laptops had been intended to launch together instead of 12 months apart.

When Apple released the iPhone 6 Plus – the first large-screened iPhone – it was a massive success. Many were waiting for Apple to launch a large-format iPhone following the rise of larger Android smartphones in the preceding years, and both shipments and sales reflected that.

If Apple were planning a similar explosion with the first large-screened MacBook Air, it would be disappointed.

Should this lack of a smash hit come as a surprise? Tim Cook and his team are decades behind the Windows laptop market in offering consumers a 15-inch screen. For all the patience that Apple’s fans appear to have, the power and flexibility of Apple Silicon (which debuted three years ago in 2020) no doubt pushed them to upgrade their laptops to one of the slick 13-inch models rather than wait what turned out to be three years for a larger MacBook Air.

Looking towards that upcoming wave of MacBook Air laptops, Apple is set to make the same mistake by releasing a 13-inch M3-powered MacBook Air while leaving the 15-inch Air with the older M2 chipset.

Apple will be expecting those first movers to be looking for a new laptop shortly, and presumably, the M1-powered MacBook Air owners will make up a large proportion of that audience. But why would they choose the most recent and largest M2 MacBook Air when it will be superseded by the M3 MacBook Air in a few months?

Now read the latest Mac, iPhone, and AirPods headlines in Forbes’ weekly Apple digest…

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