Apple Has Probably Killed the ‘Air’ Brand

I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that Apple will never release a new 1 product with the ‘Air’ branding again.

For starters, the words ‘Light’ and ‘Professional’ are no longer a dichotomy, though they were when the original MacBook Air was launched in 2008. For Apple to achieve the the title of ‘World’s Thinnest Notebook’ they had to compromise on performance and expansion slots. It was a very niche and expensive product, only for people with the primary priority of portability. In 2016 – where nearly all products from Apple and competitors are thin and light – Apple’s distinction of ‘Air’ is redundant.

It’s also obvious that buyers of the MacBook Air no longer have weight as their primary priority, otherwise they’d buy the 12” MacBook, or a thinner Windows laptop like the HP Spectre. Most people are buying it either because it’s a cheap Mac, for the slanted keyboard 2, or because it’s halfway between the 12” MacBook and the MacBook Pro in terms of performance/portability. 3

Though the launch of the iPad Pro 9.7” a few weeks ago was the last nail in the coffin for the ‘Air’ branding, it has exactly the same weight & dimensions as the Air 2, but Apple renamed it to the ‘Pro’. But why did they bother with the ‘Air’ branding in 2013 if the ‘Air’ brand had been redundant for so many years? And if they knew they’d release the Air-less 12” MacBook less than 2 years later? I have a probable explanation:

Way back in September 2014 I reported that Apple was planning a new 12” ‘MacBook Air’ with a USB Type-C port and multiple colour options, but a few months later I heard that Apple would actually market it as an entirely new brand – which turned out to be true. It’s possible that within that timeframe Apple realized that ‘Air’ historically signals compromise to the customer. By removing the ‘Air’ brand, Apple can contrast their MacBook lineup as Good vs Better (MacBook vs MacBook Pro) rather than “Meh” 4 vs Good (MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro).

Although Apple have been rumoured to launch new MacBook Air’s this year, I’ve been given strong indication from a source that’s not going to happen. It’s more likely that Apple will launch new MacBook Pro’s that are thinner (at thickest point) and lighter than the current MacBook Air models. Therefore, the 2016 13″ MacBook Pro will be the equivalent of the Retina MacBook Air that everyone was waiting for.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Or via Twitter:

  1. “New” meaning redesigned, I expect Apple to continue selling the MacBook Air and wouldn’t bet against CPU upgrades.
  2. Some people find the MacBook Air’s keyboard easier to type on because it’s slanted.
  3. I’d counter argue that the current MacBook Air is only 14% lighter than the MacBook Pro, a negligible difference for the Retina Display and performance increase.
  4. I know the MacBook Air is arguably better than the MacBook, I’m referring to the ‘Air’ brand rather than the product itself.
  • bbock

    The problem with this analysis is that the MacBook Air is actually faster than the MacBook. The MacBook is “meh” as you put it. The cool things were the thinness and light weight. We’d seen the Retina display before. The camera is not good and the speed of the processor is bad. The USB-C is interesting and would have been a plus if they’d added another and/or included the stupid adapter for all the other USB devices already on the market.

    • Jack March


      I actually meant it as a brand, not a product, but that wasn’t too clear in the post. ‘Air’ kind of implies the product has been stripped down/is slow (Remember Windows 7 Starter Edition?), it adds nothing of value in 2016. The product name ‘MacBook’ is “Good” because it implies it’s just a regular laptop, compared to the ‘Air’ brand that signals compromise at face value.

      • DarthDisney

        Good lord, you are stretching for this post.

    • felipecn

      As the original 2008 MacBook Air was ‘meh’ without an optical drive, a low-power Core 2 Duo, iPod Classic HDD (4200RPM was sloooooooow and SSD were expensive then) and – shock! – a lone USB port. Things change.
      This is about the product lines, not the product itself.

  • Tony L’Ombroso

    I’d say that we won’t see a new redesign of the MacBook Air… because the new Macbook is exactly that already.

    “Light” and “professional” are still a dichotomy – new Macbook is shy on ports, expansion, and CPU compared to the rest of the line-up just like the original MacBook Air was in its age.

    And the “Air” brand is dying not because this dichotomy disappeared – rather because lightness is no more a stand-out feature in consumer electronics like it was few years ago.

    Anything consumer-grade is already very thin and light nowadays.

    So there’s no need to differentiate on that in the naming, not like there was when the optical-less, low power MBA debuted alongside the old MacBook.

    Which was kept in the line-up for a while more just because it was the $1000 entry point.

    Just like the MBA now.

  • Scott Adams

    Interesting analysis. The rebranding of the iPad to the iPad Air never made sense to me. The whole point of tablets is to be lightweight and unencumbered.

    I think the simpler answer for making the change — rather than the Air name becoming identified as the Meh product tier — is that (1) it just isn’t as communicative of anything anymore in the laptop space and (2) they made a mistake with regards to the iPad Air moniker that they wanted to correct sooner rather than later.

    When Apple moved the iMac from the CRT version to the thinner flat screen version, they just called it iMac. It was the next evolution of the iMac. The MacBook Air was not the next evolution of the existing MacBook or MacBook Pro. It was its own thing. The original intent was for it to be a prestige device and push a revolutionary design strategy. A branding distinct from existing product lines was useful. Launch a new MacBook with basically the same unique selling propositions as the MacBook Air and ‘Air’ becomes meaningless.

    Assessing the iPad in this light, what ended up being called the Air was really just the next evolutionary step of the iPad. It didn’t have a product strategy distinct from what was already on the market from Apple. If they introduced an iPad Air that used (for example) flexible glass and case materials, thin-film batteries, color e-ink, etc., then that could be a distinct class of iPad. Instead it was just a cheap marketing tactic for a slightly thinner, lighter tablet to glom on to customer awareness of the laptop Air. They screwed it up and (maybe not so coincidentally) the iPad has been stagnant-to-down ever since.

    I also think they might want the Apple brand itself to be associated with the qualities currently assigned to just the ‘Air’ nameplate. Meaning, all Apple products will shoot for a sort of magical, technology-defying form and function, and then coincidentally they also make high end versions of a couple products for the professional market.

  • Ken Berger

    The last few generations of Macbook Air’s are the best portable Mac’s and for most people the Retina screens do not offer a better experience that offsets their weight, power draw and processing – the 13 inch air with i7 is faster at most things including photoshop than an i5 15inch MacBook Pro. Pushing that many pixels around is still processor/GPU consuming. What apple needs most is bigger SSD’s and more RAM in all their laptops.

  • zombietimeshare

    I would prefer a blast from the past. A 17′ MacBook Pro where the user can upgrade the RAM and HD/SSD—and replace the battery.