Apple products aren't typically cheap (aka the "Apple Tax"). The best Macbook, regardless of model, is usually more expensive than if you got a Windows laptop with identical specs, and Apple doesn't sell a laptop under $1,000. If our friends at Windows Central have taught me anything, there are some great Windows laptops for under $1,000 you can buy. That begs the question: should Apple make a low-cost MacBook to compete in the budget laptop market? I don't think so.
Even though Apple has become much better at offering a range of prices among its product lineups (think iPhone SE) the MacBook has always been a bit of a different beast. Plus, Apple already has a competent product for filling the low-cost computing market — the iPad.
Rather than seeing Apple produce a low-cost MacBook, I'd rather see the iPad get a little better and fill that niche. And while there will always be some people that will scream at you for suggesting a tablet can take over for a laptop, I think with a few tweaks, the iPad Air 4 is more than capable of doing so.
Cheaper MacBook = cheaper materials
First things first, we have to remember that Apple puts as much thought into the design of its products as it does the internals. The MacBook lineup has stuck with the same metal body-design (although with some modifications) for years — it's iconic. There's no doubt in my mind if Apple wanted to make a low-cost MacBook, they would have to cut corners to make it happen. One of those corners could very well be the materials used.
I don't want to see a MacBook in a plastic chassis again, and I think I can safely say Apple doesn't either. The anodized aluminum is part of the classic Apple look and brand — there's no need for it to go. Plus, I also don't want Apple to start skimping on internal components like storage or the battery. The base MacBook Air with M1 already only has 256GB of storage onboard.
Adding features to iPadOS is easier than retooling macOS for the iPad
Some of you may be reading this and wondering why I haven't suggested that Apple put macOS on an iPad, and use that as its budget offering. That's because I don't think there's anything simple about that process, and iPadOS is already primed and ready for adding new features and refinement.
In our iPadOS 14 review, we talk about how much we think iPadOS has improved as a platform by making many improvements over the previous iteration of the software. There's no doubt in my mind that Apple will continue to push iPadOS further and further, making it a platform that can easily grow into something unique that caters to the niche we are talking about. Imagine the back and forth that Apple has with developers and consumers alike on features for iPadOS being put to use to make the iPad into a legit laptop replacement device — it would be a force to be reckoned with.
The one major hurdle? iPad accessories aren't cheap
Now, it's time to address the elephant in the room: iPad accessories.
Let's face it, if you want a laptop experience, a keyboard is essential. I have always bought some kind of keyboard case for any iPad I have ever owned because it's essential to get a lot of work done. It just makes life easier. The problem? Apple's own keyboards are great but quite expensive.
If you get the base iPad Air 4 for $599, the cheapest keyboard Apple will sell you is $179, which pushes the price up to $778. At that price point, the iPad Air 4 loses a little muster to the competition. While there are some decent low-cost third-party options when it comes to the best iPad Air 4 keyboard cases, Apple truly does make the best.
My proposed solution is for Apple to lower the price of their iPad accessories, like the Smart Keyboard Folio, to entice people to buy it alongside their iPad. We know Apple makes a killing on accessories, and it certainly could afford to shave a few dollars off the price if it sells more units to compensate. Heck, Apple could make a cheaper version of the smart folio keyboard that's just an attached keyboard, with absolutely no bells and whistles, and I bet you a lot of people would buy it.
Could you imagine a world where for $600-$700, you could get an iPad Air 4 with a keyboard and maybe even a trackpad, too? That's the low-cost MacBook we've been waiting to see.
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Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way.
Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.