Someone gave me a cold for CES this year — how nice of them! — so I've been getting up obnoxiously early this week. Today, I thought I'd use some of that time to muse on Tuesday's Retina MacBook Air rumor from 9to5Mac. Senior editor Mark Gurman's source purports that the next MacBook Air will merge the 11- and 13-inch models into a single ultrathin 12-inch model with — get this — a single lonely USB-C port.
Now, before I go any further, I'm going to note that Gurman wrote and mocked up the machine based on an internal prototype, so it's entirely possible that Apple's next MacBook Air will look nothing like this. But if it did, well... it'd sure be an interesting in-between for folks who don't want to work on an iPad, huh?
The current MacBook Air is doing too much
First off: I hate the idea of a one-port 12-inch MacBook Air. I rely on my 11-inch Air's portability, and I love that it can do just about anything I need — write, edit a movie, fix a photo, you name it. It's slightly slower than my iMac, sure, but it's so conveniently portable that it's my favorite machine to take on trips.
But here's the thing: Most people don't buy a small laptop for it to be a powerhouse. They just want a small laptop. And increasingly, Apple's Air-series has inched closer and closer power-wise to the MacBook Pros, while the Pros have dramatically reduced their weight and thickness. The major differences between the Air and Pro right now are battery life, graphics, and Retina display — and none of those items have anything to do with the original marketing for "Air."
I love my power-stuffed 11-inch. I wouldn't want anything else. But I'm also willing to accept that I'm in the minority, and I'm breaking Apple's product lines.
Reimagining the MacBook Air as the lightest laptop ever
So here's my crazy thought for the morning: What if this is Apple's way to distinguish the Air from the Pro, once and for all? With the 11-inch Air's footprint, a slightly higher-resolution display, and almost no ports, the Air could once again become the lightest machine in Apple's lineup (and probably on the market).
If Apple could get it as light or lighter than an iPad Air, it becomes an alternate option for business travelers looking to take a work machine on the go without having to weigh themselves down or make do on iOS. (That's not saying iOS isn't great for some pros, but I know plenty of people who still drag huge laptops on trips because they don't feel like they can accomplish what they need on a tablet.)
Gurman's mockup, to me, feels like an iPad or iPhone-style device. Two ports — a headphone jack and an all-access cable for charging, accessories, and the like. Wireless Bluetooth LE connections for other accessories. Incredible battery life — 12 to 14 hours — which takes away the need for a laptop to be tethered to a MagSafe or any other kind of wall connection. And light and thin as can be.
But because it's a Mac, it can do what a Mac can do. It runs OS X. And when you're not on the go, it can dock to a monitor — say, a Retina 27-inch Cinema Display — that offers all the ports you'd find on an iMac. Something tells me that'd be a pretty compelling machine for a lot of business and air travelers.
Air pros and cons
There's a lot enticing about such a machine to me, honestly. I love the idea of an ultralight machine, amazing battery life, and docking to an iMac screen. But I do a lot of processor-intensive work, and I suspect Apple really doesn't want those people buying the Air line; they'd rather we go the MacBook Pro route. A machine like this could redefine the line between Air and Pro, and separate its users once and for all.
Only the company knows for sure, and I'm sure they're bound to do a lot more tweaking before any variation of the next-generation Air goes to market. In the meantime, we'll just have to wait and see.