What if the next MacBook Air were lighter than an iPad?

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.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

84 Comments
  • If Apple wants to go this way, then let's have an 11 inch MacBook Pro.
  • Um, no.
  • Great post Serenity and I completely agree. My only caution is I hope this isn't a case of marketing looking for a way to upsell people to a MacBook Pro. I hope this is a well thought out product and not just a way to get people to spend more money.
  • Right, because Apple is going to spend millions on R&D, millions on manufacturing, and millions on marketing, just to create a red herring.
  • You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means. Seriously though, the original poster has a valid point. Right now people are using macbook airs to do a surprisingly large amount of tasks. For some it is their only computer. In many cases, the only reason to get a retina pro 13, was for the retina screen. By purposely gimping the MacBook Air, they could be artificially providing a solid niche for the retina 13, one that might have vanished with the air going retina. I hope the lack of ports is wrong. One port that lets me either charge the device, OR plug in a peripheral, sucks. Losing the SD slot I can live with, but going to one USB port isn't acceptable. Sent from the iMore App
  • Perhaps. But everything else I said is correct.
  • Would you want a device with a single port? I would think that 2 would be the minimum. I'm currently selling my MacBook Air but that is because I bought the low end model and now find that 128 GB storage isn't enough; well that and I want the retina screen :) I would hate to think that you have to use external adapters such as USB hubs just to charge your device while USB tethering your device. Things would get even more complicated if you wanted to hook up an external display. Sent from the iMore App
  • Actually he is using the term Red Herring perfectly. Me thinks you don't know what it means. A Red Herring is a distraction from something else.
  • I think it's too early to remove so many connections. Especially with such a small device, which means relatively small storage. Even if they put iPad grade NAND storage in it rather than SATA/PCI-E based storage. This will still result in limited storage. I had never even heard of USB-C let alone seen an external drive. People will need a better solution for storage expansion. Unless Apple has something else in mind.
    .
    What if this is Apple's answer to the ChromeBook? (Which is killing new purchases of iPads in schools) What if OSX.11 has better cloud integration - user accounts, file storage & domain authentication? Sent from the iMore App
  • "What if this is Apple's answer to the ChromeBook?" What if we wait until the price is announced?
  • No. Chromebooks are cheaper if this was priced anywhere to compete with Chrome books it would be priced around 300-400 which Apple will never do. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Good point! Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't know about "answer to the Chromebook" because the Chromebook's chief quality is it's cheapness. This model would LITERALLY be Apple's first "netbook" as well, except one of the chief features of those was cheapness also. It seems that 15 YEARS AFTER THE FACT, Apple has finally come up with a tiny, thin netbook, except with more power, and definitely NOT "cheap." Basically it's an expensive and "chic" netbook for the top 10% of society.
  • Yeah, I'm not thinking netbook here. Apple doesn't care about the Chromebook market, and you can easily buy a last-model Air if you want a cheap and light Apple laptop. The new Air in this form would be a business-traveler-priced machine, just as the original Air was.
  • What spec is your current MacBook Air? Does it have enough power/ usability for you to use as your main or only computer? apart from needing a larger display when working on big projects, could you live with just one computer of this size(or the prototype in the article from 9to5mac) ?I'm not counting iPads or iPhones as computers in this. I use a 13" air as my main computer but I have a big display and keyboard and mouse at my office and at home that I use it with. Sometimes I feel I would be better bringing a mac mini on my daily commute! Sent from the iMore App
  • Chrome books have become more that just netbooks for grandma to check her facebook and Gmail. They are being used in schools and enterprise, paired with superior domain-based benefits. Laptop got stolen at CES? -$500, log into this one, everything is exactly how you had it on your old one in a matter of a few minutes vs a day or two getting a new windows machine restored and + countless time/$ saved if you hadn't backed up your files.
    .
    Or for schools, there's a laptop on every desk (or a few per room), it doesn't leave that desk (room). Students log in wherever they are and access their files from their cloud account.
    .
    What if this has something to do with Apple teaming up with IBM? If they offered a business / academic domain solution, it would be a big foot in that door. Most businesses won't buy Apple bc each machine is expensive and difficult to admin. What if they are trying to change that?
    .
    I'm not putting any money on this its just an idea based on the trend in sales of those markets, combined with a rumor & picture of vaporware. Sent from the iMore App
  • While I'm not sure how it works on OS X Yosemitte, Windows 8/8.1 (and soon Windows 10) does an INCREDIBLE job of cloud backup. You log in with your Microsoft account, and everything is just there, right where you left it. The sync between machines is incredible too. If Microsoft could just somehow find a way to also restore desktop applications when signing in like this, it'd be perfect. So the argument that Chromebooks are better than Windows because you can sign in and have your stuff follow you via the cloud isn't the strongest one. You could argue people prefer the UI on Chromebooks, but Windows cloud restoration is just as powerful thanks to OneDrive.
  • Our experiences are very different. Sure, windows tries to get settings to sync, but it causes more problems than benefits for me. It seems to me from your comment that you are more familiar with the personal use of Windows 8. For enterprise use, yes, windows can be setup as a domain-based solution, just like you want your applications to be on each computer, that can be done with windows, but it takes a while to setup. You can issue a computer and once the person logs in their applications can be auto-installed, or have them pre-installed on the computer, then give that person access.
    .
    Apple on the other hand, to my knowledge, has little or no solution for this. I'm just dreaming that this device could pair with the IBM partnership, thus might be a peek at their solution.
    Obviously, everyone else thinks this is completely impossible. Oh well. Sent from the iMore App
  • 3rd post, 3rd dumb comment. Chromebooks? Apple has NEVER tried to compete in the low-cost market for any product. Apple doesn't give a sh-t about Chromebooks, HP Stream, etc.
  • This thing is vaporwre at this point, no reason to be insulting bc someone speculated without consulting you first.
    .
    I would assume they give a sh!t about losing school sales to Google. A kid using a ChromeBook at school is a kid not asking their parents for an apple computer, and not using it in college, and not using it in their profession. Steve Jobs also said they would never rent music, yet they bought Beats Music. They also said no would would want bigger phones, yet the 6/6+ outsold every other phone this holiday season. You don't know what they are doing any more than I do. Sent from the iMore App
  • Ya I do. Ahahahahah!!!!
  • Yo son. Then why aren't you making the big bucks spilling Apple's secrets? If you legit new stuff running a website that was accurate about Apple mews would pull in a noticeable chunk of revenue. Especially if you made the first page of Google search. Which you would if you were accurate. Posted from the amazing whatever device I can afford because I'm a broke college kid.
  • The thing that's pushing me off my Air are the number of ports. I really like the fact that it has an SD card reader and a couple of USB ports. I think Apple wants to make it thinner but I don't know that anyone is avoiding the Air now due to thickness. It's already thinner than most anything out there.
  • Yeah, all of that kept me away from a Macbook Air too but Apple has slowly reduced the number of ports on the Pro line as well. Sometimes I'm hurting with just 2 USB ports but, I haven't been able to justify sinking a lot of money into Thunderbolt peripherals, especially if you have to work interchangeably with people using Windows PC's. I have been using a Macbook Pro for years but just bought my first Thunderbolt cable so I can use Target display mode on the family iMac when I'm working at home and need more screen real-estate.
  • Apple will happily sell you a $30 adapter dongle to suit your connectivity needs. Sent from the iMore App
  • "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." Exactly. You want ports? You want Retina? Big CPU power?
    Buy a MacBook Pro. You just want to run Safari, Mail, Pages, Numbers, Twitter, and Messages?
    Buy a MacBook Air.
    Or an iPad Air 2.
  • This. Exactly this. Apple is making devices aimed at particular segments of its audience, and - having worked at an Apple Store - I think they're aiming in the right place. I can't tell you just how blurry that line was/is between an iPad and MBA for students and business travelers. Such a device, for the intended buyer, and not one trying to force an MBA into a Pro's footprint, will be perfect... and I bet the number of ports won't be an issue. (closer they can get to 15+ hours of battery life, the easier they'll have selling that concept) Sent from the iMore App
  • Jeezus Krist, is everyone here on drugs? There's a "blurry line between the MacBook Air and an iPad Air?" Are you kidding me? One is a computer, and one is a tablet. One has a real keyboard, one doesn't. One runs a real desktop OS with tons of software. The other runs apps. I have/use both products, but they are very different, in all ways.
  • We're on Continuity drugs to blur that line. Are all of your post negative and insulting? Go take a bubble bath, light some candles, relax. No one here is attacking you. Sent from the iMore App
  • Nobody here is making sense either.
  • They're making perfect sense. Grab a keyboard case for th ipad air 2, and chances are there is a app to do most of what you would do on a Macbook Air. Posted from the amazing whatever device I can afford because I'm a broke college kid.
  • You're probably correct. This article, I think, has a reasonable take on the positioning of the 12" (r)MBA, which is, for the most part, in line with what you're saying. The key line is this; "What they did here is rethink the Air from a post-PC standpoint." http://www.verschoren.com/blog/2015/1/7/macbook-air-12
  • I understand what you are saying but my question still is: How do you charge the damn thing?! I know a dock to plug in all the things would take a lot of pressure off people when they do need to connect, and they will but right now I just can't see soaking up enough power from a USB port to recharge this thing and keep it going for 12 or more hours without it taking forever to charge. The iPad is an example of that. As great as it is at lasting all day and having the ability to charge faster than an iPhone (iPhone 6 Plus not withstanding) it still takes a good portion of the night for me to charge my iPad Air 2 at night because physics and technology limits. I wonder if this thing is not further down the pipeline that we think. Moreover, if you are plugged into a dock through the USB port that is connected to say a SD card reader, a flash drive, and/or an external hard drive there is going to be even less power flowing into the MacBook. I'd love to be wrong but unless Apple has figured out some battery/charging magic that the rest of the people who specialize in building such things haven't I just can't see it... yet. Thoughts?
  • Not getting that either. Can't see Apple turning it into an iOS device as far as charging goes (we're going to plug our laptops into our laptops to charge?) Ditching Mag Safe doesn't sound right to me. Even if thy build a charger for it using USB, one port seems to make it useless. If I'm charting my laptop I can't plug anything in. Doesn't sound right. I can see them ditching TB and leaving it for the MBP and desktops (kinda like how FW was) but this laptop seems too much of a compromise.
  • Valid questions, but unless you are exaggerating quite a bit, "taking a good portion of the night" to charge your iPad indicates you have a problem with your iPad. It should take a couple of hours tops.
  • Good point. I know my iPad 4 used to take forever to charge. I will have to see how this Air 2 takes by running it all the way down first. I'll get back to you. I would still be willing to bet that it is more than 2 hours.
  • The iPad 4 battery is a 42.5 WHr battery and came with a 10 Watt charger (I think). It would take ~4.5 hrs to charge from zero. The iPad Air 2 battery is a 27.3 WHr battery and comes with a 12 Watt charger. Smaller battery with slightly larger charger means it would take about ~2.5 hrs to charge from zero. For this rumored MacBook, it'll likely have a 30 to 40 WHr battery. How fast it chargers will depend on how much power the charger will output. The USB 3.1 port can take up to 100 W, so it won't be limited by the port, but by how much output power the charger will have.
  • Type-C uses the USB 3.1 standard, which provides up to 100W/20V of power — the current MacBook Air uses a 45W charger. As such, should be simple to charge with a Type-C plug into the wall, and it shouldn't take hours upon hours.
  • I was looking for this answer:)
  • Someone did their homework! Sent from the iMore App
  • if we are talking about some kind of device that only uses 1 port, and with an iPad pro 'supposedly' coming out soon, doesn't this news bend towards a new 12 inch iPad pro being released, (and indeed a new product line with bigger tablets/pc's), which when you pull out the keyboard, the os changes from iOS to OS X. or am i just dreaming.
  • I considered that and made a comment about it in another post a few months back. I just found it too coincidental that a 12" iPad "Pro" is in the pipeline and this close in size to this mythical Macbook Air.
  • Haha it will use a bigger variation of the contactless magnetic charger from the Apple Watch! Sent from the iMore App
  • It could also be the mythical ARM laptop although it might be too early given the engineering involved in such a thing. In *that* case, it might have a battery that lasts several days.
  • For me, and my 48 yo eyes, minimum screen size for a laptop has to be 13 inches....
  • Unless you must have the extra few hours of battery life, or the $200 in your pocket, buying a 13" MacBook Air makes no sense with the much nicer (and nearly as thin) 13" rMacBook Pro available. The Air should be redefined as a truly entry level MacBook that has the benefit of being ultraportable due to it not needing all the Pro bells and whistles. If you need more power and ports, get a Pro.
  • Finally, a comment with some clarity.
  • What clarity? What Patriot wrote is exactly how Apple has marketed the Air from the beginning. I agree the $ difference is hard to swallow considering the technical specs, but the portability & battery life is a big selling point for many people. Sent from the iMore App
  • There is no appreciable difference in portability between the 13" Air and rMBP. You're talking about a few millimeters of thickness and the Pro actually has a smaller footprint. Battery life is 33% better with the Air so if you need that than fine, but for the relatively small increase in price you get twice the RAM, better processor, better graphics, and a MUCH better display. The Air is too close in price to the Pro for the specs it offers. They need to get it closer to $799 or $899 with this new model or differentiate more from the 13" Pro.
  • If you only use it for Internet you don't need a USB port and the battery is fine. But for the times when you do more like playing games or such you need at least one USB port ( mouse) plus maybe an external cd rom drive. Plus the power won't last a 12 hours while gaming so you'll also need a charging port. And you might wanna charge your phone. And will you have to buy another iPhone charger for the new c type ports? Sent from the iMore App
  • A 12" ultra-portable is not built for playing games.
  • Finally we agree. This thing is certainly not intended for gaming in the slightest. Sent from the iMore App
  • Glad we could come to an understanding :-)
  • This will be my last non-iPad computer. EVER.
  • It always boils down to your wants vs your needs. I have been wanting an updated Thunderbolt Display, but need one now, so I got it. For my needs, works great. Reference the new possible MacBook Air, not sure if this is a good step by Apple. It would be nice if Apple would do a survey on what we want out of the Air. I hope they are not in the mode of, " it looks good on paper" to me that is the worse five words in any language. Sometimes just because of pure luck, something works, but never do something just because " it looks good on paper." Research your customer base, and see if our wants, vs our needs can be brought together as one with a new device. We will be happy, and you will sell tons of the new device.
  • Not that I disagree, but have you ever seen that episode of the Simpsons where Homer designs a car?! Sent from the iMore App
  • Create something more like a Microsoft Surface instead of a Google Chromebook. I want a highly portable system/tablet that runs my desktop software, not my phone software. Knock down the graphics capabilities, processor and screen size from a MacBook Pro. With the space/battery savings, you should have a pretty lightweight and compact system that can meet if not exceed your functionality and portability needs.
  • "want a highly portable system/tablet that runs my desktop software, not my phone software." This 12" MBA will be highly portable and run your desktop software, assuming it's running OSX, so what are you talking about? The SP3 is nothing more than a glorified ultrabook posing as a tablet.
  • At least SP3 can be used as a tablet, this MBA 12" is just a screen with a keyboard attached. On the bright side it'll be probably cheaper since it would be barely comparable to other notebooks in functionality (but not really cheap since it's Apple, people already forgot that their first gen MBA was simply a glorified netbook with an astonishing price tag).
  • Right, because the Surface has been a runaway hit.
  • Surface pro 3 has been pretty good. I think if it had broadwell to reduce heat, it would have been even better. Personally, I still prefer OSX, but the pro 3 is a good machine. Shame Microsoft isn't as good at optimizing for touch and high resolution displays as apple. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's seems to me with continuity, hand off and the thinning of the iPad Air and MacBook Air, Apple's 12" could be a MacBook running OSX with an iPad as display when attached. When detached from the keyboard/MacBook it switches to an an iPad running IOS. Each would have its own processor and battery.
  • While I live everything about my MacBook Air.
    Apple needs to concentrate on fixing the WIFI issues with Yosemite. Sent from the iMore App
  • Im still not sure how the one port is going to work for most people. Yes they want light, although I have never heard anyone complain the current air is "too heavy, or too thick" Just think apple is once again so focused on making it super thin, and implementing some proprietary things you will have to buy extra to make the computer run like previous airs or pros had out of the box.
  • I use a 2014 MBA as my main computer. Sent from the iMore App
  • Me too. Sent from the iMore App
  • Cool story, bro.
  • IPad Air Plus Sent from the iMore App
  • yeah it is nice Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • How exactly would this be able to do the following;
    " 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. "
    Unless it were Thunderbolt? None of those things can be enabled by usb type c (well, maybe power, but not replicate all the ports and provide Retina video - heck, even the latest Mac Pro can't drive a 27" Retina display yet).
    This maybe something like the laptop Apple will have, but there is no way they will do away with Thunderbolt for USB type-c and still provide all the power functionality you speak of... Thunderbolt is a variation on the PCI bus, enabling all those features you want. USB, even type c, is simply not.
  • This would be reminiscent of what Apple has done with the latest iPad Air and Mini where the Mini had got too close to the expensive model so other than adding TouchID they left the Mini to stagnate to create daylight between the models.
    I'm no power user but my 2012 MacBook Air does all that I want. I maxed out the specs with the i7 processor and when you look at the benchmarks even the current dual core 13 inch MacBook Pros aren't orders of magnitude faster than my Air is. My Air is my only computer and needs to cover all bases. The idea of some single port crazy lightweight thing doesn't appeal at all and my next computer would have to be a MacBook Pro; I've usually got something or other in both of my USB ports. Perhaps if you need something lighter than a current MacBook Air then your money would be better spent on a gym membership!
  • Your article and the terms you used made think whether this new Air and the often rumored iPad pro may indeed be the same device. With minimal bezel the screen already has the iPad look. If I want to fantasize further, could this be a possible concept design for an Air/iPad hybrid model?
  • Only sensible explanation, with this Macbook they'll force people to go full tablet. Fanless Surface Pro 4 here I come.
  • "Let's make it as useful as the iPad", it's progress for the sake of progress but that's basically their slow exit strategy from the notebook and desktop market. They're afraid to turn iPad into a Macbook but they are not afraid to turn Macbook into an iPad.
  • Do we have any reason to believe that the screen is going back to something closer to 4:3 proportions? That's what the mock ups look like to me. (but honestly, who knows?) On the one hand, I'd love a Mac with a screen shaped more to my liking… on the other hand, those are the proportions of an iPad, which makes me wonder if this is an iOS device.
  • By the way that is a 16:10 aspect ration like the other Macs. Which in my opinion is better
  • Exactly my thinking... This might run iOS. Thai might be the iPad Pro. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple's simple future - device that doesn't weight much + a bag of peripherals to make it compatible or connect stuff. God forbid they make something all-in-one out of the box because you have to buy everything separately. That's the fun, Apple user is a collector at heart :)
  • There's no need for an iPad Pro then. Like, what would be the point unless it actually ran OS X or a variant of iOS that could do more? I would be interested in how Apple plans to make people adopt this, unless it came in at a very competitive price, like the Mac Mini. We know that won't happen though. It will probably be very costly with the coating of Apple sugar to market it to people who don't really need it.
  • What if the 12 inch "MacBook Air" renders and the "iPad Pro" are actually the same device? A 12" screen with an attached keyboard and single port that runs iOS. Sent from the iMore App
  • If you look at those renders the 12 inch MacBook Air is the same height as the 11 inch MacBook Air but just a little bit wide. It also has a full size keyboard and a Retina Display! It's thinner and most likely lighter. I don't see what you are complaining about (except for the lack of ports, that is kind of stupid) If I weren't a user who uses the MacBook Pro I would probably use this.
  • now, just to get this straight, the USB-C plug would be the only port on that Mac? What about if I need to charge my computer (through USB-C) and at the same time want to look at some files from my USB stick...? Not possible?
  • Where the village is, how many trees are still there, which Statues, number of statues. So on the whole, your island must look just like my (see screenshot below), it's running so similar to mine.
    http://www.pre-hackedgames.net/boom-beach-hack-unlimited-gems/
  • if MacBook air will be lighter then iPad then New iPad will be more lighter than the previous one. No company can beat innovativeness and quality provided by Apple and in few months only Apple is going to launch latest version of iPad. It will be the best iPad then ever.