The new 15-inch MacBook Air will need more than size to succeed
Hopefully, it won't simply be a carbon copy.
It's been nearly four years since Apple last introduced a 15-inch MacBook. That product, the MacBook Pro (2019), was only offered for six months. Rumors suggest Apple will again explore a 15-inch device in the shape of the now-very-likely-to-appear 15-inch MacBook Air. So does size matter? And more specifically, does size matter to the average MacBook Air buyer?
Where things stand
The best Mac on the market, the five-star M2 MacBook Air, burst onto the scene in 2022. It features an all-new look, replacing the wedge design found on previous models and the return of MagSafe charging, in essence freeing up an additional Thunderbolt port from charging duties. Beyond this, it is a similar proposition to the previous model, launched in 2020 — an entry-point into Apple's computing ecosystem, but one that retains a premium feel by virtue of Apple's exemplary industrial design. As entry points go, it's pricey, but it's also a lust-worthy one.
The rumor mill suggests the upcoming 15-inch MacBook Air could be identical to the M2 MacBook Air except for the display size. This design decision would match what Apple's doing with the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models — more choice at varying price points based on device size in an attempt to carve off every possible potential user need and introducing the opportunity to 'upsell' those hovering between a cheaper and more expensive model. And yet, I hope the rumors are incorrect and that the 15-inch MacBook Air is much more than just a supersized version of the current model.
Although there were significant advancements made between the M1 and M2 MacBook Air models, some things remained the same. Both models, for example, only offer up to 2TB of storage and include an 8-core CPU (even though Apple silicon itself saw a generational jump). And despite the larger display, both models' pixel counts are about the same.
It needs to be different
So what should Apple do to differentiate the 15-inch MacBook Air from the current MacBook Air? What, if anything beyond screen real estate, would justify blowing up the size of Apple's most portable laptop — keeping in mind that the inherent portability of the Air is one of its key draws and reasons to exist in the first place?
Let's start with the number of ports. Offering only two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports on a larger laptop doesn't make much sense, so this number should be increased. This could mean, for example, adding another Thunderbolt 4 port or an HDMI port or SDXC card, like the larger MacBook Pro models). Adding a higher-quality speaker system with Spatial audio would also be a positive development given the larger size of the chassis, as would a larger trackpad.
Apple made an unfortunate move of limiting storage to a maximum of 2TB on the latest MacBook Air. However, the company could increase this to somewhere between 2TB and 8TB on the newer model, which could match the options found on the larger MacBook Pros.
Adding a better display on the 15-inch MacBook Air would also be nice, but that's not likely to happen. While we'd all love to see Apple perhaps match the Liquid Retina XDR found on the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models, the increased costs would make this prohibitive.
And this leads to a Catch-22: Ultimately, Apple needs to release a 15-inch MacBook Air that is more "Air" than "Pro" in terms of both price and features. Unfortunately, this won't be easy to do because there's less wiggle room when more models are involved. If Apple makes this model too much like a MacBook Pro, sales of those higher-priced models could suffer. Make it too much like the existing MacBook Air (except for a larger screen), and buyers might decide it's worth throwing more money into the purchase and get a MacBook Pro.
In other words, Apple risks creating a MacBook no-man's-land where there are too many devices, all battling for the same dime. And given the marketing, manufacturing, and design costs, it's hard to imagine the company sustaining all those devices.
The end of the line?
This brings up another question: Is Apple planning to cut one of the existing MacBook models, such as the 13-inch MacBook Pro? Perhaps, once the latest model (released in 2022) goes through its release cycle.
Without incorporating changes beyond a larger display, I can't see how a 15-inch MacBook Air would adequately fit into the overall MacBook lineup. That lineup would be even more confusing for buyers who must weigh features and costs. In doing so, Apple could be creating a confused, potentially unsustainable MacBook land space, which is not good for anyone.
We'll know soon enough. Apple will likely announce the new 15-inch MacBook Air before June's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Stay tuned.
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Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.