The breakthrough laptop, the MacBook Air, has a fifteen-year history.
When describing the MacBook Air’s compact design at Apple’s Macworld 2008 keynote, Steve Jobs said, “It fits inside one of these [manila] envelopes, it’s that little,” and those words still have meaning in 2023. Even today, 15 years later, there is still no significant Windows-based alternative to Apple’s best-selling Mac laptop in that price range, and the MacBook Air continues to dominate the ultra-portable notebook market.
The world of personal computers has transformed in the ten years since Apple originally introduced the MacBook Air, but the competition is still manufacturing laptops that aren’t as thin and light as Apple’s. As the MacBook Air celebrates its 15th birthday this week, we examine its influence on the PC market, the growing competition from Windows and the iPad, and the prospects for the Mac.
The Air defies accepted laptop design principles –
When co-founder of Apple Steve Jobs revealed the world’s thinnest laptop at the time, it wasn’t an ordinary moment. The PC industry, which had not expecting anything quite as tiny and light from Cupertino, was rocked by the introduction of the MacBook Air. The Air was three quarters of an inch thick, incredibly light, and distinct from the most popular ultra-compact computers available on the market at the time. It could fit inside an envelope.
The MacBook Air wasn’t the first portable computer, to be sure.
Sony and Hewlett-Packard (HP) were already producing ultra-portable laptops, but they were unable to shrink back their size or even match Apple’s technology, which allowed it to mass produce high-end, incredibly tiny notebooks.
The HP Sojourn OmniBook, which had a metallic shell and was only half an inch thick, was first introduced in 1998. However, Apple intended to compete with the best premium ultra-light laptops, the Sony Vaio TZ series, which had a tapered, 3-pound design comparable to the Air. Apple designed a notebook with a wedge shape, where the TZ series’ narrowest section was also its thickest. Apple was able to create a laptop that was not only svelte and powerful but also cost hundreds of dollars less than the competition thanks to Sony’s reluctance to innovate. The MacBook Air, which is well-liked by businesspeople and travellers alike, allowed Apple to compete in the market for high-end ultraportable notebooks, which was Sony’s biggest victim.
Apple, though, wasn’t just interested in the market for super expensive notebooks –
The MacBook Air was Apple’s long-term attempt to mainstream the whole market for light laptops, which had previously been restricted to high-end buyers. In the laptop market, the introduction of the Air was viewed as a breath of new air.
Around this time, the PC market was changing, and Asus’s diminutive, cheap, plasticky laptops were all the rage. Every major PC manufacturer was counting on low-powered computers to boost sales and reach out to first-time computer users, particularly students, since the so-called “Netbook” category was rising. Apple, though, went in a different way than the others.
The Air was positioned in the middle, not directly competing with Lenovo’s ThinkPad business notebook or Asus’ Eee PC lineup. The Air was a luxury laptop with a metal and aluminium chassis, a screen that was 13.3 inches and had LED backlighting, a full-size keyboard that was also backlit, and a glass trackpad that was comfortable to use. The Air sparked attention among “aspiration” buyers who were uncomfortable settling for inexpensive notebooks or spending $3,000 on an ultraportable system.
At initially, there was conflicting feedback, but later revisions took the criticism into account –
The first-generation MacBook Air received praise for its look but harsh criticism for being less useful. It had a pricey $1,799 starting price, a little amount of storage, no internal optical drive, just one USB-A connection, and a non-replaceable battery.
The inconceivable was done by Apple in 2011 when they unveiled an 11-inch MacBook Air model with a $999 price tag. As sales increased and more models were introduced, the laptop, which had previously been confined to niche product status, began to upend the ultra-portable market. Even though Lenovo, Dell, HP, Asus, and Acer all now sell ultra-portable Windows notebooks, none of them has yet succeeded in creating a product that can truly compete with the MacBook Air.
Cupertino has done a lot of things right over the years with the Air, which is Apple’s most well-liked Mac and the best-selling 13-inch notebook in the world. Apple created new ways to make the Air accessible in addition to improving its manufacturing process to maintain making the ultra-portable laptop with a premium unibody aluminium design at scale.
One of the industries that perhaps has the most impact on MacBook Air sales is education. In contrast to other PC manufacturers, Apple didn’t skimp on technology or design in order to offer a student-friendly price point for the Air. Instead, Apple continued to advertise earlier models of the Air while also providing student discounts, which helped the notebook gain traction in emerging areas like India and ultimately contributed to its future growth. Students and regular users alike continue to be drawn to the Air because it does not hang (a typical issue with Windows laptops), lasts longer on a single charge, runs macOS, and has access to Apple-made software. Instead than just another laptop, Apple positioned the Air as a tool for creativity.
Apple’s own iPad is a competitor to the Air –
One of Apple’s most popular and long-running devices is the MacBook Air, which still enjoys a strong fanbase. The recent release of the updated Air with the M2 CPU proves that it is still a significant product with both monetary and personal significance.
While Apple has not yet reached the point where it might wish to stop selling the Air, CEO Tim Cook is making a lot of effort to make the iPad the preferred “computer” over the MacBook. In recent years, Apple has expanded the iPad range to include versions at various price points, improved the software environment, enabled support for the Apple Pencil, and included a physical mouse and keyboard.
The iPad’s more recent iterations operate more like a conventional computer, which is a significant improvement over the tablet Apple introduced a decade ago. Although it may take some time for the iPad to fully transform into a MacBook — the iPadOS is still not a macOS replacement — Apple hopes to make its tablet more powerful and laptop-like in ten years.
What will happen to the MacBook Air is the question. Cupertino wants to increase the user base and draw more customers into the Apple ecosystem because the market share of Macs is only 6% of the PC market. The iPad is Apple’s entry-level computer device, not the MacBook Air. Even if Apple later decides to incorporate a touchscreen into the MacBook Air, it will be this gadget that serves as a hybrid between a tablet and a laptop.
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