The new iPad app switcher in iOS 11

I've wanted to replace my 11-inch MacBook Air (mid-2011) for a while now.

But the need became a little more urgent since I packed up my desk at Macworld and had to give back ... well, all the newer laptops. Luckily, the timing was fortunate, with WWDC just around the corner.

I had my fingers crossed the MacBook Air would get a processor update, hopefully to a Kaby Lake chipset, even though I was afraid it wouldn't. And indeed, it wasn't to be. Instead I think we saw the death of the MacBook Air—at the hands of iOS 11 and its new features for the iPad.

Why I'm into the Air

Even though I've spent plenty of time with all the newest MacBooks and MacBook Pros, I keep coming back to my trusty MacBook Air. Sure, the screen isn't Retina, but I still love this laptop because I've tried and failed to get used to the low-travel keys on the post-2016 laptops. Not needing a dock or dongle to connect USB devices is nice, too, and the later MacBook Air models have decent battery life.

OK, it's true, the MacBook Air did get the briefest of mentions onstage at WWDC, because Apple bumped the MacBook Air's processor speeds a little bit. It now starts with a 1.8GHz Core i5 processor, up from 1.6GHz, and upgradeable to a 2.2GHz Core i7.

But those are still fifth-gen Intel chips, the Broadwell series, first introduced in 2015 and two generations back from the Kaby Lake chips. And it just seems like a shame to pay $1,000 and up for such old technology, even though it'd be a huge improvement from the mid-2011 Sandy Bridge laptop I'm using right now.

Enter iOS 11

Still, as the presentation moved on, I had a new surge of hope. With iOS 11, I might be able to avoid upgrading this laptop for a little bit longer. See, when I gave back my work-issued MacBook Pro, the iPad Pro I'd been using at home went back too. This was, to put it mildly, a great concern for my iPad-loving 5-year-old son, so not 12 hours later I was at the Apple Store picking up a 128GB iPad—the new affordable one, because, after all, he's 5.

I've tried to use it for work, with some success, although the multitasking features in iOS 10 still feel awkward. (But I do love being able to use any Bluetooth keyboard I want.) iOS 11 should help a lot, if not remove the friction entirely.

First of all, Files. Integrating Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive is huge, and I give Apple a lot of credit in recognizing we don't all live in iCloud all of the time. The Dock looks great too, and dropping files onto app icons to open them is more natural than having to use the Share button and Open With feature.

The Spaces feature in the new app switcher is another Mac-like feature we desperately needed in iOS. Sometimes I find myself jumping between three apps, for example, and in iOS 11, I could keep two of them locked together in one space, and jump easily between that pairing and the third app running full screen. As a dedicated MacBook Air fan, I'm already very comfortable using Spaces in macOS to keep my windows organized, so I'm excited that multitasking in iOS 11 will make better sense.

Drag and Drop will be a game-changer too, and I'm pleased that it supports so many things (files, photos, text, URLs). Even just dragging text instead of copying and pasting it is intriguing—maybe iOS 11 will get users imagining a touchscreen Mac in a whole new way.

A happy ending?

Confession: I'm still not totally sure what to do. My MacBook Air is getting slow, and its battery barely made it through streaming the keynote. I could settle for a refurbished MacBook Air to save a few bucks, stretch for a 13-inch MacBook Pro with the keyboard I dislike, or even take a closer look at the newly refreshed iMacs.

But first I'm going to take some time with iOS 11 and see if the answer to my dilemma is an iPad, not a Mac.