- Plenty of media outlets are running reports of a potential discontinuation of MacBook Air line-up.
- But such a move doesn't make any business sense; it would be a bad move by Apple Inc..
- Take these reports with a grain of salt.
It’s that time of the year when Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) releases new products. And so, technology forums are rife with speculative reports suggesting that the MacBook Air line of laptops will be discontinued this year. The general premise is that the laptop series hasn’t received a major hardware update in one and a half years and that Apple might ultimately axe the line-up completely before the end of this year, and release an underpowered, similarly priced MacBook as its replacement. But is this a feasible option? Let’s take a closer look.
A really bad idea?
Let me start by saying that the MacBook Air comes with a range of i5 chips that are powerful enough to run a myriad range of applications without any problems. Granted that these laptops house ultra low voltage chips geared towards extending battery life and reducing power draw, but they are powerful enough to run resource intensive tasks like video rendering or 3D animations on an occasional basis. The performance won’t match that of MacBook Pros, but the Airs get the job done on a budget.
The problem here is that Apple can’t really replace MacBook Airs with underpowered MacBooks. The latter’s entire line-up houses underpowered Intel Core-M chips that are about 20% slower than equivalent ULV i5 chips found in MacBook Air, as evident in the chart below. And mind you, these MacBooks are far more expensive than their relatively cheaper MacBook Air counterparts. So Apple doesn’t really have any room to introduce MacBook models that can compete with its Air line-up in terms of performance-per-dollar.
(Source: CPUBenchmark.net; Compiled by author)
If Apple indeed axes the i5-based MacBook Air line-up and introduces underpowered Core-M-based MacBooks as its replacement, a lot of users like myself would be deeply disappointed. Users might not necessarily put up with Apple anymore. A few might pay extra to get MacBook Pros but there’s a good chance that a large number of users could move to an entirely different brand instead of compromising with a slow Core-M powered machine.
The thing is people who can afford MacBook Pros or MacBooks, probably already have those machines. But MacBook Air’s current user-base of students or enterprise clients that have a tight budget, may not necessarily have that kind of spare cash lying around to spend extra on MacBook Pros, or compromise on performance and go for MacBooks, just because the MacBook Air is being discontinued. I’m of the opinion that a large chunk of Apple’s existing user base would be forced to look at other brands if this were the case. The discontinuation could seriously impinge Apple’s macOS user base.
Shooting itself in the foot?
More to the point, the discontinuation of the MacBook Air could promote the growth of Apple’s competitors. Microsoft, for instance, is already marketing its Surface Pro line-up as a laptop-replacement that can do more than laptops. Its Surface Pro line-up is powered by both Core-M and Core i5 chips so it can potentially go toe to toe with modern machines in terms of performance.
If the MacBook Air is discontinued, Apple won’t have any suitable competitor for Microsoft’s Surface Pro line-up. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, its MacBook line-up is already very weak in terms of performance compared to equivalent i5 powered chips. And MacBook Pros are 20-30% more expensive than MacBook Airs. So I’m of the opinion that Apple MacBook users would flock to Surface Pro series in case the discontinuation of their laptop line-up takes place.
This would be a double whammy for Apple. Not only would its user base of budget consumers erode, but the bulk of this market would go over to Microsoft. The discontinuation of the MacBook Air line-up would give a clear path for Microsoft to tap this abandoned market. So Apple would pretty much be handing over the market to Microsoft with this move.
It’s not like Apple can equip its MacBooks with i3 or i5 chips either. These laptops were designed to be fan-less in order to reduce their power draw. But i3/i5 chips emit enough heat to require some kind of a cooling. Apple would have to redesign its MacBook chassis in order to accommodate for a cooling fan, which doesn’t really make sense. Why go through all that effort after all?
What to make of it
The point that I’ve tried to make so far in the article is that it doesn’t make a sound business move on Apple’s part to discontinue the MacBook Air line-up. Not updating a laptop model for a few months, doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple would simply chop-off the entire laptop line-up.
For what it's worth, we saw similar speculative reports about the discontinuation of Mac Mini a few years ago when Apple didn’t update it for a few quarters. But that wasn’t the case and Apple ultimately updated its Mac Mini line-up at a later stage. I suspect that the same might be applicable here.
So I recommend that readers take these rumors and speculative reports with a grain of salt. Apple could probably be waiting for Intel to release 10nm-based Cannon Lake chips next year, in order to release a more power-efficient version of the MacBook Air.