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New MacBook Air still stymies repairs, upgrades

Gregg Keizer | June 14, 2013
Price cuts of 14% since early June 2012 narrow the difference between notebooks and tablets, may be Apple's attempt to slow cannibalization.

Apple's newest MacBook Air, nearly identical to its predecessor, is not any easier to repair, iFixit said this week after tearing apart one of the just-released ultra-light notebooks.

iFixit, a popular electronics do-it-yourself website, gave the new MacBook Air a repair score of 4 out of a possible 10, the same as the model released last summer. Although many parts are easily replaceable after the back cover comes off, iFixit said, the low score resulted, in part, because Apple uses proprietary components.

The SSD (solid-state drive) in the new Air is smaller, and thus not compatible with third-party alternatives created for previous generations, including last year's.

"The most striking thing about the updated 13-in. Air is the lack of major internal revisions. In fact, the newest Air generation is almost identical to the previous one, save for a handful of minor changes: a smaller SSD module, an updated AirPort card, a Samsung flash controller, and a new heat sink clamp," said Miroslav Djuric of iFixit in an email.

On Monday Apple refreshed the MacBook Air line by equipping all four configurations -- two in the 11-in. screen size, two 13-in. -- with Intel's latest Core processor, code-named Haswell, which features a more powerful integrated graphics chipset.

Apple also cut prices $100, or between 7% and 8%, of the two 13-in. MacBook Airs so that the stock models now sell for $1,099 and $1,299. At the same time, it bumped up the price of the upper-end 11-in. Air by $100, or 9%, to account for a doubling of the laptop's flash-based storage from 128GB to 256GB.

Historically, the Cupertino, Calif. company rarely lowers Mac prices, preferring instead to keep those stable but swap newer, faster processors for older CPUs, add more memory or increase storage. But this week's price cuts were the second in just over a year: At last year's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple lowered prices of three of the four Air models by $100.

Since early June 2012, Apple has cut prices of the 13-in. MacBook Air by 13% to 14%, depending on the model.

Although CEO Tim Cook on Monday boasted that the company has recorded much larger Mac sales increases than the personal computer industry average, the stats he quoted disguised the fact that, like all computer makers, Apple's sales have stalled of late. In the first quarter, Mac unit sales were down 2% year-over-year; the downturn was much larger in the fourth quarter of 2012, when sales were off 22%.

The price cuts narrow the gap between the 11-in. MacBook Air and an iPad with 128GB of storage -- the amount now standard for the least-expensive Air -- to just $200. Investors and analysts have concluded that, again like rivals that sell Windows-powered PCs, Apple's laptop sales have been hurt by a shift towards tablets. Apple has agreed, but publicly reveled in the practice.


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