At Apple's spring launch event this past week, it was hard to find that familiar figure among a series of new products. It's been nearly 500 days since the last MacBook Air configuration update. Will MacBook Air, which once held the title of "world's thinnest notebook" and still has potential, encounter another years-long period of silence?
The first generation of MacBook Air, released in January 2008, was one such example of rapid but silent progress in consumer electronics. Looking back today, we don't find the design of the 2008 MacBook Air surprising - yet all we need to do is find a competitor from the same time period that also focused on thinness and portability to immediately understand the reason for the loud cheers when Steve Jobs unsealed the envelope at the launch event.
The laptop market was still in a period of active exploration of product form, and naturally there was no shortage of products with extreme thinness as a selling point. At the same time, the market in 2008 was still not completely free from the "hard industrial aesthetic" brought up by Sony. But then Apple had already shown its "bold" spirit: since the problem with product development was how to cram I/O and optical drives into a smaller body, why not just remove something?
Throughout the laptop market in 2007 and 2008, the single most limiting part of the chassis was often the optical disk drive and its own fixed-size standard interface. But Apple packed a 13.3-inch screen and a full-size 78-key backlit keyboard into an aluminum chassis that was only 4mm thin at its thinnest point. Still, the disc was an important data carrier at the time, and even though Steve Jobs defined the MacBook Air as a wireless machine at launch, there was still a need to find a replacement for the axed optical drive.
Of course, looking back at the first MacBook Air's stature today, it's easy to see the advantages of some of Apple's trim designs for data on the extreme size of the body. And so it was that a laptop with a true notebook body brought the proudest smile to Steve Jobs' face at the MacWorld conference in 2008.
- From fashion favorite to street machine
The first generation of MacBook Air was released in 2008, and it quickly created a buzz. In addition to taking away the crown of "world's thinnest laptop", it also exploded the market for Ultraportables, with manufacturers launching new thin and light products one after another. Apple didn't let this emerging market slip through its fingers, and after a regular performance upgrade in 2009, it brought the new MacBook Air on October 20, 2010.
The biggest highlight of the 2010 MacBook Air is the new body design and craftsmanship compared to its predecessor. Compared to the 2008 model, the new MacBook Air has a more complete aluminum enclosure and a design that leaves plenty of room for side ports around the edges. It's also a significant improvement in the number and completeness of I/Os. And thanks to the pace of updates to Apple's product line, this resolution actually surpassed that of the two starting configurations of the MacBook Pro at the time, making the MacBook Air the highest-resolution Apple notebook in screen resolution for about six months. This, combined with the fact that flash memory technology was used in the new product, made the MacBook Air a highly competitive option in Apple's notebook lineup at the time.
However, in the seven years since then, the MacBook Air has become the product that Apple has forgotten. Aside from occasional performance upgrades, we've seen no clear attitude from Apple toward this veteran.
It's not just Apple's other notebooks that are starting to make significant generational differences with the MacBook Air - especially after Apple made retina displays standard on the MacBook Pro line - it's not only the most important aspect of the screen that is lagging behind its own lineup, but also the most important aspect of the MacBook Air. In addition to its own product line, competitors in the market are catching up with Apple and not sacrificing size for functionality, which has led to the MacBook Air losing its greatest advantage. This combination of pressure from both Apple's internal MacBook Pro and the external market has led to the MacBook Air gradually turning from a fashion symbol to something of little value and meaning, but something that can't be abandoned.
The MacBook Air dilemma was exacerbated by the addition of another lighter, thinner, higher-definition member of the Apple family in 2015: the 12-inch MacBook in the MacBook family. At that time, the MacBook Air would have been difficult to choose for any reason other than extreme budget constraints.
- The trendsetter also needs to catch up with the trend
Fortunately, Apple didn't just abandon the MacBook Air. at a special Apple event on October 30, 2018, Tim Cook smiled as he announced the first complete upgrade to the MacBook Air since 2010.
In addition to a screen with the same resolution as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 2018 MacBook Air finally unifies the design style across the entire MacBook product line and completely removes the backlit Apple logo and USB-A port from the screen, completing the last piece of the puzzle for Apple's laptop design for the next five to 10 years.
But Apple has always been able to pull out some products that catch people off guard, including the latest MacBook Air with the M1 chip, which was released on November 10, 2020 - just over six months after the M1 model was released, Apple made the last performance upgrade in the Intel processor range for the MacBook Air, allowing users to configure it with up to 16 GB of memory and a Gen 10 i7 processor.
The addition of the M1 has helped bring MacBook Air back into the spotlight. Today's MacBook Air is back as a premium option - and the only option - for entry-level MacBooks.
- ARM and Air, finally together
The 2020 MacBook Air's reputation for excellence is inseparable from the addition of the M1. As a paving stone for extending the portability of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro into the MacBook lineup, the only way the benefits of MacBook Air's slimmer body can be realized is when thinness and portability truly coexist with long battery life, and the ARM processor is one of the saviors in this increasingly widespread use scenario.
One of Apple's strategic strengths is its ability to coordinate hardware and software to achieve the effect of "one plus one is better than two" numerous times. Since iPadOS, the operating system that evolved from mobile to desktop, still needs a long time to explore the right usage model, the addition of Apple Silicon finally made the MacBook Air, which had been quiet for too long, the newcomer that no one expected.
Considering that the majority of people's daily work is now inextricably linked to the Internet, the concept of "net laptop" should be updated and reused - and the MacBook Air, paired with the Apple Silicon, may be the ultimate modern office tool.
- The future has great promise
The MacBook Air is the "digital" version of Apple's entire notebook lineup, if you use the familiar iPhone product category as an analogy. The world-record-setting MacBook Air from Steve Jobs, which pushed the limits of product design and manufacturing, has shifted its identity to become a somewhat conservative, but no-fault option.
Like the iPad Air, I wish Apple had given MacBook Air a colorful body: it doesn't need to take on serious performance tasks, it's not overwhelmed by the work it's given, and with a few color combinations, there might be more MacBook Airs in Starbucks and libraries. Given the delicate position of MacBook Air today, the next refresh of the M1 series SoC will probably be a modified version of the M1 that maintains or slightly improves performance, called M1 Eco. I just hope this 500-day wait doesn't turn out to be the beginning of the next seven years of silence.