Although the MacBook Air has become the baseline model for all MacBooks, especially with the advent of the new ultra-powerful M1 chip, that wasn’t always the case. In its original incarnation, the very first MacBook Air was seen as a premium, “executive” laptop due to its extremely thin and light design, and now it looks like Apple may be poised to return to that era.
The unveiling of the original MacBook Air back in 2008 was actually one of Steve Jobs’ most iconic moments — perhaps second only to the unveiling of the original iPhone. The legendary Apple co-founder came on stage with a manila envelope and shocked the assembled crowd at Macworld 2008 when he opened it up to slide out the very first MacBook Air — the thinner and lightest laptop ever made up to that point.
In fact, as we recently heard, Apple had actually contracted Intel to design an exceptional chip for this exact purpose, and while the design was done with the utmost secrecy — even Intel’s engineers had no idea what they were building it for — Intel was able to use the expertise that it gained from designing the slim and powerful MacBook Air chip to turn around and sell similar designs to Apple’s rivals.
So, it wasn’t long before the MacBook Air had lost its crown, and perhaps inevitably became less of a luxury product for those who needed the smallest and most powerful MacBook possible, and evolved instead into Apple’s entry-level MacBook, supplanting the original standard 13-inch MacBook and even the short-lived 12-inch version, which always had a weird place in the lineup to begin with.
A Premium MacBook Air?
According to Mark Gurman at Bloomberg, however, it looks like Apple may be looking to at least partially restore the MacBook Air to its former glory, with plans for a “premium” version that will not only be thinner and lighter than any MacBook that we’ve yet seen, but will still somehow manage to restore the MagSafe power connector and possibly even add in an SD card slot as well.
Gurman describes the move as “an example of Apple’s renewed focus on Mac loyalists,” many of whom haven’t been big fans of the shift to exclusively using USB-C ports, along with other Apple innovations like the Touch Bar.
Of course, the MacBook Air has never included a Touch Bar in the first place — for the longest time that was exclusively higher-end MacBook Pro territory — but this should be taken as more evidence that even if the Touch Bar lives on in some of Apple’s MacBooks, it won’t be coming to the MacBook Air.
The new model will also include a next-generation version of the ultra-powerful M1 chip, which will likely be key to slimming the higher-end MacBook Air down even more, although it will be interesting to see how Apple will work out adding ports while reducing the thickness, as even the current M1 MacBook Pro barely has enough room for anything much taller than a USB-C port.
In fact, it’s probably safe to say that we won’t see a return of larger ports like USB-A or HDMI. Since MagSafe is proprietary, however, Apple is free to redesign that to make it as slim as it needs to, and the addition of MagSafe should help to reduce the need for more USB-C ports, since on the current MacBook lineup at least one of those always has to be used for a power connection.
In addition to bringing back the classic MagSafe benefits of an easily detachable cable that won’t take your MacBook to the floor when somebody trips over it, the newer version of MagSafe Apple is working on is also expected to deliver faster charging speeds than are currently possible over USB-C.
According to Gurman, this new MacBook Air will still be a 13-inch model, although Apple may shrink the bezel around the screen. A higher-end 15-inch MacBook Air is being considered, but sources indicate that if that happens at all, it’s still at least a couple of years away.
Apple is also said to be looking at introducing a 5G-capable MacBook, effectively bringing back an idea that was on the table over ten years ago but failed to gain traction within the company, particularly in light of the iPad’s debut. However, that still remains in the very early stages at this point, as does the matter of bringing Face ID to the MacBook lineup, and it doesn’t look like either feature will be arriving anytime soon.
It’s not yet clear exactly where this more premium MacBook Air will fit within Apple’s product lineup, but it doesn’t look like Apple plans to return the “Air” name to ascendancy; it will still be used for the entry-level models, so it’s possible that this higher-end version will simply overlap with the MacBook Pro lineup, rather than attempting to eclipse it.