Apple’s branding of the MacBook is a hot mess, and I hope they clean it up. Let me explain.
For the last several years, Apple has bifurcated its laptop sales into two brands: The MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It differentiated them by offering the MacBook Air as being less expensive, having lighter weight, and sporting all-day battery life. The MacBook Pro offered a superior screen, faster performance and more expansion options.
That changed in March of 2015, when the company resurrected the MacBook brand, dormant since the discontinuation of the polycarbonate-clad MacBook in 2010. In its previous incarnation, the MacBook was positioned as Apple’s entry-level model, a step down from the MacBook Air, but a system better suited for students and others looking for a value-priced, reasonably durable Mac laptop.
The 2015 MacBook flips that on its head. The new MacBook is positioned as the laptop of tomorrow. It sports twice the memory and twice the storage capacity of the Air, with a (smaller) Retina display like the MacBook Pro. It’s also a showcase for new technology like a different keyboard mechanism and Force Touch trackpad.
By making it even lighter and thinner than other Mac laptops, Apple also eliminated every external interface except a USB-C connector (shared by data and power) and a headphone jack. Otherwise, the assumption is that whatever you need to do can be done wirelessly either using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
The MacBook is also the first Mac laptop to follow Apple’s aesthetic direction for iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches: It’s available in different finishes like Space Gray, Silver and Gold.
All of this adds up to a very enigmatic product in Apple’s Mac line. The MacBook stands alone from the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. When looking at them side-by-side, buyers unfamiliar with the Mac line are often confused — why is the thinnest, lightest MacBook not a MacBook Air. After all, doesn’t “Air” mean it should be light?
So what’s the right answer? I don’t know. My expectation is that over time the lines between the products will blur as Apple incorporates more of the MacBook’s design and aesthetic into its other products. Maybe there won’t be a meaningful difference. Or maybe the MacBook Air will go away entirely. But right now, the MacBook sticks out like a sore thumb.