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The MacBook is Lifeless, Changed by a Cheaper, Slower MacBook Air – jj

The MacBook is Lifeless, Changed by a Cheaper, Slower MacBook Air


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MacBook Air in three colorsThe MacBook Air sat in a strange position in Apple’s lineup. When it was initially introduced, it sat somewhere between the iPad and the consumer level MacBook. It was a beacon of portability, for those who favored a light and portable laptop above all else. They were popular with product and project managers at my company, who were running between meeting rooms with their laptops more often than sitting at their desks. For the most part though, people preferred the 13″ MacBook, as, at the time, it could do more. Over time, the MacBook would get smaller and thinner, pushing minimalism to its limits, and the MacBook Air languished without an update, somehow carving out a more “pro” area, between the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he dramatically simplified Apple’s product lineup. He believed it should be simple, so consumers know exactly what they want. There were four boxes that all products should fit in and be alone in, like the modern example below.

Consumer Pro
Portable MacBook MacBook Pro
Desktop iMac Mac Pro

Now, this is an oversimplification. The Mac Mini fits in the consumer and pro areas, depending on the configuration and how it’s used. I’ve set up Mac Minis as build machines before at work. But it definitely has a market, completely separate from the iMac and Mac Pro. But what about the MacBook Air? Is it different enough from the MacBook? Not really. Not since Apple updated it with a retina display and USB-C.

That’s why Apple got rid of the MacBook and replaced it with the MacBook Air. They also reduced the price of the MacBook Air, to match the pricing of the MacBook. But at what cost?

Apple’s New Portable Lineup

MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13", and MacBook Pro 15", Apple's MacBook LineupThe MacBook wasn’t very popular. It was thin, but underpowered and had only one USB-C port. Still, it was Apple’s cheapest portable Mac at $999. The MacBook Air is now $1099, to bring it closer to the MacBook’s pricing. Students can buy it for $999 though, making it Apple’s only sub $1,000 portable, if you’re a student. Students can also get a free pair of Beats Studio 3 wireless headphones with the purchase of a Mac for school, which is a fantastic deal on some pretty great headphones.

Beyond that, Apple also added a True Tone display to the MacBook Air. Now it’ll change display brightness and warmth depending on your surroundings. This is a popular feature on the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro, and will be given a warm welcome on the MacBook Air.

Finally, Apple also updated the processors, making the MacBook Air faster and more efficient.

A Slower MacBook Air?

Benchmark showing slower MacBook Air drive test

Benchmark screenshot via Consomac

Wait, it’s faster now, right? Well, not exactly. Processor technology has been steadily improving, but the differences in each processor generation has slowed. The thing is, processors have always been faster than storage. We have memory, RAM, in our devices for storing things in a rapidly readable format. This is because hard drives and solid state drives are just too slow to keep up with a processor or a user. So, we have RAM, which is a fast, but temporary kind of storage.

Storage often ends up a bottleneck in your computing. Whether it’s starting up an app, booting up your computer, rendering video, loading an area in a game, or just saving documents, it’s something that can make your computer feel slower. That’s why fast storage has been a priority on many platforms. But the MacBook Air took a step backwards in this regard.

The new MacBook Air features a new Solid State Drive (SSD, or Flash) that is about 1% faster at writing data than the previous model. However, it’s 35% slower at reading data. That means loading applications, large documents, RAW images, or other items will be slower now than before. Maybe you won’t often notice, but if you had a 2018 MacBook Air, you might feel as though the new MacBook Air is more sluggish than the old model in some situations.

That being said, it’s still an impressive 1.3GB/s read speed, which is still quite fast, but not as fast as the up to 2GB/s speeds of the previous MacBook Air. Although, in comparison, the 2018 MacBook Pro can read and write at about 2.6GB/s.

Why ‘Air?’

The MacBook Air in rose gold from aboveApple will likely continue to call the MacBook Air the MacBook Air until the next update. Then, Apple will likely go back to having a MacBook and a MacBook Pro. They’ve used the “Air” designation for consumer-level products that weren’t up to the “Pro” category, but fell somewhere above or below the baseline consumer product. It has introduced a lot of confusion to Apple’s lineups, and they should likely get rid of the name altogether.

However, in order to keep from even more consumer confusion, Apple will likely continue to call the MacBook Air the “Air” until a large enough update that permits a rebranding.

With the faster processor and lower price, even with the lower read speeds, the MacBook Air is better positioned for consumers and students than ever before.

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