Ten years ago, Steve Jobs hopped on stage at Macworld 2008 and did another one of his seemingly impossible magic tricks: He undid the string on a manila envelope, pulled out the MacBook Air, and forever changed laptops forever.
On Monday, the MacBook Air turned 10 (time flies!), and while it’s incredible how much the thin, light and tapered computer has influenced all laptops, it also serves as a lesson on how Apple can make its family of MacBooks great again.
The MacBook Air wasn’t an instant hit at first. Sure, it was the thinnest and lightest laptop the world had ever seen, but it was ultimately such an underpowered machine that it was better to just buy a bigger, bulkier MacBook or MacBook Pro instead.
The original MacBook Air was saddled with an underpowered Intel processor with weak integrated graphics and had a slow 4,200 RPM hard drive (fun fact: they were the same ones used in iPods, but far too slow for a laptop). Battery life was pretty poor and everyone hated that it only had a single USB port, Micro DVI port, and headphone jack. Also, the mono speaker sucked. Apple sold this beautiful compromise with a whopping $1,800 starting price.
It wasn’t until 2010 when Apple redesigned the MacBook Air and dropped the price that it would morph into a machine that would take over coffee shops, college campuses and dorm rooms, and pretty much become the definition of cool for a whole generation of millennial hipsters.
And there lies the great lesson.
The redesigned Air became an iconic and beloved laptop because Apple listened to the criticisms of the original, went back to the drawing board, and addressed virtually every single on of them:
Faster processors? Check.
Faster storage by switching to solid-state drives? Check.
Two USB ports instead of one? Check.
An SD card slot for easy transferring of photos? Check.
Much longer battery life? Check.
Stereo speakers? Check.
And then Apple kept improving it year after year. The USB 2.0 ports were replaced with 3.0 ports. The crummy VGA-resolution web camera swapped for a 720p HD one. The Mini DisplayPort became a Thunderbolt. The SSD storage read/write speeds got faster. And battery life just kept shooting through the roof.
This rapid iteration was what transformed the Air from an underpowered and overpriced slab of aluminum into everyone’s favorite notebook.
And yet it seems like Apple has forgotten all about this iterative transformation.
Three years after the launch of the 12-inch MacBook, a machine that was expected to be the Air’s eventual replacement, and the laptop seems to have barely improved.
All of the criticisms of the 2015 MacBook (of which I own and use daily) still apply to the latest third-generation models, and that’s really depressing.
The Intel Core processors are still slow and sluggish, the webcam’s still an upsetting 480p resolution, the keyboard is still bloody flat, and there’s still only a single USB-C port (it’s also not Thunderbolt 3), and it’s still pretty expensive.
Just as was the case with the original Air, you’re better off buying a 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar instead of the MacBook.
These days, the MacBook Air might as well be dead. It’s a shadow of its former self. The laptop hasn’t seen a meaningful update in years. The Air’s days are numbered, and it’s a miracle that Apple still sells it (to hit that magical $999 price point, duh!).
As we celebrate the Air’s 10th birthday, I’m calling on Apple to show the MacBook the same love it did with the Air back in 2010. Beef up its processor. Give it a second USB-C port. Upgrade the web camera so that our FaceTime videos don’t look so pixelated. Figure out how to fix the flat keyboard (other laptops in this class size have keys with more travel, why can’t the MacBook?). Really make it MacBook Air-worthy successor.
And while you’re at it fixing the MacBook, Apple, you might as well throw the SD card back into the MacBook Pro. God knows photographers and YouTubers will love it.
In other words: Make MacBooks Great Again.
It’s never too late to admit when you’ve screwed up (we’re willing to forget the Touch Bar ever happened!) and correct course. The payoff would be huge, too. Just think about all the people who have turned to a Surface Laptop or Razer Blade simply because the MacBooks don’t have what they need. If Apple really wants to show that it puts users first, it’d do the company good to remember the original Air’s great lesson: listen to the criticism and then fix them.