Article updated February 4: article originally posted February 3.
Apple’s MacBook line-up is a sprawling mix of Air and Pros, M3s and M2 Maxs, various screen sizes and multiple designs. It’s far from the clean and simple lines the Apple brand promises.
Update: Sunday February 4: Following four quarters of decline, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman notes Apple’s return to revenue growth in this weekend’s Power On newsletter. He also picks out some worrying trends around the Mac.
While the iPhone launch in September has proven to be a hit, boosting iPhone sales by six percent for the quarter, the new M3-powered MacBooks—launched just a few weeks after the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro family have barely moved the needle:
“Apple refreshed its computer lineup in October with three new MacBook Pro models and a new iMac — powered by speedier M3 chips. That helped sales grow slightly to $7.78 billion, but they still came up short of the $7.9 billion estimate.”
One note of optimism here is the October launch was focused on the MacBook Pro badged laptops. The consumer-focused MacBook Air—which would be expected to sell in larger numbers—was held back for a potential launch in late March 24. That allowed Apple to focus its Apple Silicon inventory on the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max smartphones to gather as many sales as possible…
Apple will be hoping that the release of the M3 MacBook Air later this year will lift its revenue.
Yet there was another way of laying out the various MacBook laptops that would have reduced confusion and perhaps helped consumers better understand the modern MacBook .
Speaking with The Vergecast (via Apple Insider), long-time tech reporter Walt Mossberg talked about then Apple Design Chief Jony Ive wanting to unify the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines into a single behemoth “MacBook” offering, reasoning that the MacBook Pro could be engineered to be just as thin and portable as the MacBook Air.
As we know, that didn’t happen, but the next MacBook Air at this time saw minimal changes, but enough to mark it out as a new product. Apple’s Intel-powered MacBook line-up remained crowded and confused.
It’s a problem that Apple magnified when the launch of Apple Silicon paired the consumer-focused M1 chipset into both a MacBook Air case and a MacBook Pro case. The former was clearly a great pairing, but the latter was little more than the MacBook Air with a fan to help cooling; the true MacBook Pro models would arrive six months later with a new design, a choice of 14-inch and 16-inch displays, and the professionally focused M1 Pro and M1 Max Apple Silicon chipset.
The M1 MacBook Pro was stranded.. too expensive compared to the MacBook Air and too underpowered compared to the other MacBook Pro laptops. There was a thin argument that you wanted both the Air and Pro brands on show in the move to Apple Silicon, but Apple continued with its Frankenstein MacBook Pro in both the M2 and M3 generations.
This brings me back to Ive’s focus on a smaller portfolio offering value at each segment, following the Apple tradition of a good/better/best offering for the iPhone, the iPad, the Mac, and the MacBook. If Ive were to have his way and merge the Air and the Pro into a singular MacBook category, how would the Apple Silicon family have looked?
You’d have the entry-level model that delivers for the consumers—which would more than likely be the MacBook with M3, the mid-tier MacBook with M3 Pro, and a top-tier MacBook with M3 Max. Throw in the choice of a 14-inch or 16-inch display, and you have a simplified range which everyone understands and is confident they have the best model for their needs.
Instead, Apple has a confusing mess of Airs and Pros, with different markets targeted by similar machines, mismatched steps in both performance and design and a portfolio that feels designed to upsell you to the next model.
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