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Summary:

The MacBook Air is a bold move forward in mobile computing. It has flash storage, and real need for an optical drive. But Apple’s greatest achievement with the MacBook Air, and the thing that will have the strongest influence on its other notebooks is the price.

macbook-feature

The MacBook Air is a bold move forward in mobile computing. It has flash storage, and no real need for an optical drive. But Apple’s greatest achievement with the MacBook Air, and the thing that will have the strongest influence on its other notebooks, is the price.

Two Sub-$1000 Notebooks

The entry-level 11.6-inch MacBook Air, without upgrades, costs $999. That’s Apple’s second laptop under $1000, including the $999 MacBook. Offering two models that cost less than a grand provides more options for buyers looking for affordability. You no longer have only one choice from Apple if you’re looking for a sub-$1000 notebook.

The MacBook has a better processor and better battery life than the MacBook Air, but it has the same amount of RAM, same graphics card, and uses a traditional HDD instead of flash memory. Aside from a little more speed, and battery life that may or may not actually be better (Apple has new testing methods, announced last week) there isn’t much to recommend the MacBook over the air.

Apple’s entry-level consumer notebook is due for a refresh. In the past, it’s gotten an update in October alongside the rest of the Mac line, but this time around, Steve Jobs clearly wanted the focus to be firmly on the new Air. This Apple ultraportable will own the holiday shopping season.

But a new Apple MacBook is due soon, by spring 2011 at the absolute latest. And when it does arrive, it’ll be Apple’s ticket to a much broader Mac user base.

Apple Learns to Make More for Less

It may seem like Steve Jobs is being sarcastic whenever he issues one of his “We don’t know how to make a good [product x] for [price y]. When we do, we’ll let you know” decrees, but he’s actually revealing exactly how Apple pursued product development. Apple tries to hit lower price points for its products, it just doesn’t cut corners to get there, as do some of its primary competitors.

Apple has little to gain by pitting its two sub-$1000 laptops against each other. Instead, we can see a new, lower price point for the next iteration of the MacBook. Prices on Macs have been steadily dropping, as we’ve seen with the latest MacBook and MacBook Air. At this point, considering the price of components, how far Apple’s gone in terms of refining its manufacturing processes, and how much better of a negotiating position it holds with suppliers, there are few barriers to a $799 MacBook. And a sub-$800 Apple notebook will a huge hit with consumers (not to mention enterprise users) who’ve been priced out of a purchase till now.

Product Cannibalization?

But wait, what about the iPad? The most expensive iPad is $829. Won’t a cheaper MacBook mean fewer iPad sales? The answer is probably not. The sales data in Apple’s latest financials reveals that consumers look at the tablet as a supplemental device, rather than a notebook replacement. If people aren’t getting the iPad instead of a new Mac notebook, then logically, they wouldn’t buy notebook instead of an iPad, either. Especially if iPad prices fall, as some predict.

I don’t know whether Apple really will put in flash storage and take out optical drives in all of its next MacBooks. Maybe a few years from now, yes, but there are probably still a significant number of users out there who aren’t as willing to leave the past behind as prospective Air buyers are. No, the defining feature of Apple’s next MacBook will be its price tag.

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  1. I suspect Apple is going to kill off the MacBook line as we know it sometime in the future in favor of the Air and Pro, the price points are too similar.

    It’d be nice to see a $799 entry model but I don’t know if it’s going to happen.

  2. Khürt Williams Monday, October 25, 2010

    “Aside from a little more speed, and battery life that may or may not actually be better (Apple has new testing methods, announced last week) there isn’t much to recommend the MacBook over the air.”

    I love the MacBook Air but I think your statement is pure hyperbole. The MacBook has a 13″ screen, 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and 250GB of storage, compared to the MacBook Air’s 11″ screen, 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and 65GB of storage. The MacBook is only 1.5 lbs heavier than the Air and last 2HRs longer.

    This is what you should have written:

    “Aside from less weight there isn’t much to recommend the MacBook Air over the MacBook.”

    1. I think you’ll find that the battery life between the MacBook and the 13.3 inch MacBook Air is actually much closer than that.

      And for my part, in a mobile computer, flash memory is much more important than capacity. Storage in a notebook is important, but way more so if it’s your only machine or if you don’t have an external HD.

      I admit the processor leaves something to be desired, but for most people’s mobile needs, the Air is more than up to the task.

    2. Much of what you said could be said about the iPad vs Netbook. You don’t actually see the benefit till you actually use it. The iPad like the Air is not meant to be your primary computing device.

  3. You are aware that Microcenter B&M has been selling both current and previous generations of MB for $800 for the better part of a year, right?

    The $800 MB is already here.

    1. Darrell Etherington varun Monday, October 25, 2010

      One retail outlet offering a deal isn’t the same as Apple standardizing the price across its entire retail network. The average consumer isn’t as much of a bargain hunter as you or I, and the success of Apple Retail shows they mostly just go to the source.

    2. Apple allows Microcenter to cull the stock of both MB and MBP 13″ for 200 instant rebate every year around this time. Still the best place to buy a 15″ or larger is Best Buy because their accidental damage warranty plan is far superior to any other offering. And you can get as much as 15% off iPads/iPods if you open a Target charge account. And yes most average consumers are ignorant to the fact that you can get better deals outside of Apples retail store because the average Apple store customer is either an Apple newbie or tech illiterate. Lets face it what is branded as a Mac genius is typically a high school / college kids part time job whose skill set slightly above the average customer. No one who enters the Apple store is familiar with timbuktu, rebuilding extensions or promises of Copeland during the Apple dark ages or BSCSJ time… The time before the second coming of Steve Jobs, before it was cool to buy Apple :)

  4. There isn’t much to recommend the MacBook over the air, unless you would rather have 250GB of storage verses the 64GB. Why is this point glossed over? With multi-media consumption on the rise, should we settle for less storage or more?

  5. Most people want to see a notebook in person before spending several hundred dollars. Apple Stores have been an essential element of the growing success of Macs.

  6. If Apple drop the MacBook and only offer a MacBook Pro and some deprecated offerings (Air without Flash) I’ll start looking at other platforms. I already feel as though Apple is playing me for chump. I’m not interested in toys (iPads and Apple TV’s) I need and want tools and would feel much happier if the market decided to install Flash or not. However it makes perfect sense to let OS X devices run iOS software. Back in the Nineties Apple had a machine (Performa Directors Edition black Mac) that had a TV card installed, could record and capture video, had a telephone answering machine with voice mailboxes and a Search tool that worked (unlike Spotlight). As a long time Mac user I do not consider most of the improvements we see these days as improvements at all.

    1. If you find it prohibitive to have to install Adobe Flash yourself, you’ll really hate Windows or Linux. They are like I-T The Home Game.

      All that old junk you like from the Performa is in the basic MacBook Air in modern digital versions: FaceTime obliterates an answering machine, Netflix and iTunes obliterate a TV card, and you can make Spotlight work like the classic search just by turning off most of the document types it finds, like email messages and contacts, so that it just shows you your files.

      1. Point by Point, correct me if I’m wrong…
        As I understand it, Flash will not work on new MacBook Air at all, forget about installing?

        FaceTime nothing. It cannot call regular telephone numbers, Skype come a lot closer…
        We don’t have Netflix in New Zealand…
        So Spotlight does a System wide search now? and allows searching on multiple criteria? e.g. Find me all of the documents created by program x, that are under 427 kb and were created before 1-1-2010. Now sort them alphabetically, or by date or by size. Can’t? Didn’t think so!

  7. Gustavo Domínguez Monday, October 25, 2010

    Of course they’re gonna eventually adopt flash drives. People always criticizes when Apple, as usual, drops some old tech –like they didn’t include CD/DVD drives in the MBA, or the floppy disk in the original iMac– It’s gonna be in tech sites all over for a while and next you’re going to see everyone adopting Apple’s move, again, like the optical drives thing.

    1. How long do you think it’ll be before this happens? I don’t see it getting wide traction until probably at least 2013.

      1. Macs optical drives don’t play blueray and I don’t see it coming, ever. I can’t remember the last time I used my notebook optical drive… so, I think it’s just a matter of time for Apple to drop them.

  8. I like the macbook and I have a macbook. I think the macbook pros are nice but the white plastic macbook has a classic mac look to it. I really hope that Apple will continue that classic plastic look with a more powerful processor in the future macbooks.

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