A rumored new MacBook Air design looks set to see the biggest shakeup to the look of Apple’s cutest laptop since it was launched in 2008.
If the reports are true, it strikes me as a doubly clever move by Apple: a new look that will appeal to many, and encourage them to update, while being actively off-putting to others, effectively pushing them to buy a MacBook Pro even if they don’t need the power …
Apple’s separation of business & consumer laptops
Early Apple laptops were expensive, and mostly pitched to business and professional users. This started in 1989 with the Macintosh Portable (though “luggable” would have been a more accurate term), before we got the PowerBook series. The first of these was the PowerBook 100 in 1991, and the last of them the PowerBook G4 (aluminium), sold between 2001 and 2006.
The first Apple laptop specifically aimed at consumers was the iBook, launched in 1999 as the iBook G3. The design was clearly inspired by the iMac G3, and despite looking rather toy-like now, it successfully turned a laptop into a fashionable item.
Seen here alongside the PowerBook G3 aimed at professional users, it couldn’t be clearer that the two machines were aimed at completely different markets:
That separation continued, with the later more subdued white iBook sitting alongside the PowerBook – followed by the MacBook Pro and MacBook.
Apple did briefly revive the plain MacBook name for a cute (and premium-priced) 12-inch model, but mostly since then it’s been the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.
Today’s design position
The wedge-shaped design was always the key design differentiator between the Air and the Pro, but with the laptops open, viewed from either front or rear, there isn’t a great deal to distinguish them. In the latest iterations, the Air is labelled beneath the screen, while the Pro isn’t, but both have the same aluminum casing and black bezels.
There isn’t that much visual differentiation between the two machines to the casual observer. That’s great if you want a professional-looking machine without paying for professional-level performance you don’t need, but not necessarily quite so good for Apple’s bottom-line. The MacBook Air has always been the Default Mac, and a rumored 15-inch model could make that the case even for those who like larger screens for everyday tasks.
Additionally, some color option aside, there hasn’t been much to distinguish different generations of MacBook Air. Those who care about looking cool in their local coffee shop can do so with a pretty old model.
Potential impact of a new MacBook Air design
We’re expecting a big design change in the upcoming models: They are said to come in a range of colors, echoing those of the latest iMacs. This is expected to include white bezels in place of black.
This could do a lot to persuade existing MacBook Air owners to upgrade. For the first time since the Air was launched, they can get a completely new look. Not just space gray or gold, but some totally new pastel shades.
Many will upgrade because they love one of the new colors, while the cool kids will do so to be seen to be using the latest model rather than an older one.
Between the fantastic battery life of M1 (and M2) chips, and the new design, the new machines are going to fly off the shelves.
But there’s an additional factor, which I think could also boost Apple’s bottom line: those white bezels.
Many don’t care. White or black, it’s all the same to them. But there’s a significant minority of people who do care, either because they find white bezels distracting, or simply because they don’t like the aesthetics. Some of those people will be willing to pay the premium for a base-model MacBook Pro even if they don’t need the additional power. More money in Apple’s coffers.
There’s a potential additional factor: mainstream business users. The Air may give them all the power they need to run their spreadsheets and show their PowerPoint presentations, but they may be reluctant to show up to a client meeting with a green laptop. They may be willing to spend the extra to have a more subdued-looking MacBook Pro. However, the iMac precedent suggests that they will have the option of buying a standard-looking silver model.
While most reports have suggested we’ll have to wait until next year to find out Apple’s plans, Mark Gurman has suggested that we could see the new MacBook Air launched at WWDC in June.
What’s your view? If you have an existing MacBook Air, are you planning to upgrade when the new design is available? And are you one of those who would buy a Pro over an Air just for the black bezels? Please let us know in the comments.
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