The MacBook Air
is, basically, the most popular laptop Apple (or anyone) has ever sold. It’s also the most recognizable. Its tapered, wedge-shaped design made it unmistakable in coffee shops, college classrooms, airplanes, and anywhere else people are found using lightweight, yet capable laptops. We have two of them in our house.
This year, Apple made a new one, and it’s very different from the old one. To say that it’s been redesigned is an understatement. Gone is the tapered front, along with the oversized bezel at the top of the display. From a design perspective, the new MacBook Air looks quite a bit like the most recent MacBook Pro
That’s not entirely a bad thing. The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros are amazing
. They are beautifully-designed laptops that look and perform exactly as a professional laptop should.
The MacBook Air, on the other hand, was meant to look and be sleek and lightweight. Its design was part optical illusion, part function. The new one is certainly thin, and it manages to be even lighter, but it doesn’t look like an “Air.”
I’m not suggesting that the wedge-shaped design is what makes an Air an Air. Generally, Air means thin, lightweight, and lots of battery life. The wedge-shaped design has always been the visual cue that the laptop you’re looking at fits those criteria.
We have, in our home, a 14-inch MacBook Pro and an M1 MacBook Air. Both are fantastic machines. But, there is no chance you would confuse one for the other. Their design language is very different, and that’s a good thing.
That’s not true of the new version. I’d bet most people would mistake it for a MacBook Pro if you didn’t tell them it was an Air. Then, when you tell them, I’d be willing to bet a lot of them would be a little confused.
Look, I think there’s a good chance this laptop will be amazing. About the previous version, powered by the two-year-old M1, I wrote that its performance was so good it was just showing off.
I haven’t had a chance to review an M2 MacBook Air, but I expect it to be noticeably better, even if it isn’t by the same monumental leap the M1 made over its Intel predecessors. That’s not the point.
The MacBook Air is easily one of the most iconic Macs that Apple has ever sold. It’s certainly its most popular. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it is the industrial design standard by which every laptop from the last 10 years is measured. Walk into a Best Buy and pick up any laptop that isn’t specifically designed for gaming, and it was inspired–at least, in part–by the MacBook Air.
Sure, the new display–which now features the notch from the Pro–is a big improvement. It’s literally bigger, for one. It’s also brighter. The new Air also comes in new colors, which is, well, fine. There’s a difference, however, between improving a design over time, and abandoning what made it iconic in the first place.
My point is that sometimes it’s tempting to mistake new for better. Sometimes it’s easy to think that making something new means it has to be different. I get it. If something stays the same for too long, it’s hard not to think of it as stale or old.
Certainly, the M2 means that Apple could make different decisions about the product it powers. It’s more efficient and powerful than what it replaces, meaning that Apple isn’t constrained by the design decisions it made in the past. It means Apple can completely redesign a product based on what is possible with the new chip.
I’m sure Apple also knows that new designs sell. That’s true with the iPhone–people want the newest model because it looks new. I’m sure it’s also true with Macs. New means trendy and cool. If you buy the new design, everyone will be able to tell because it looks different. It looks new.
I will say, however, that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In this case, if you buy the new MacBook Air, everyone will be able to tell you bought something new. Just don’t be surprised if they won’t be able to tell it’s a MacBook Air.