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How the MacBook Air could change everything (again)

Michael Simon | Jan. 15, 2015
Last week, while the rest of his peers were knee-deep in selfie drones, wearables, and smart washers, Mark Gurman of 9to5mac published a scoop that trumped anything to come out of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Apple intended to release a 12-inch MacBook Air sometime in 2015. Ho-hum, right? Maybe not. It's not just that he reported about an unreleased Apple product that no one had an inkling of (though that surely helped). Gurman's report garnered so much attention because it described a laptop so intriguing it was practically unbelievable: a MacBook Air so thin and light that it had only two ports, and neither of them were dedicated to supplying power.

Head in the clouds

Apple has been relatively slow to embrace the cloud as much more than a background saving and syncing solution, but iOS 8 and Yosemite have laid the groundwork for a major iCloud transition. There's iCloud Drive, which finally allows some access to our online files; iCloud Photo Library for keeping track of every picture you snap; and the orderly convenience of Family Sharing (when it eventually works as intended), not to mention a new palatable pricing scheme.

We could very well be seeing Apple's answer to the Chromebook. There has already been speculation that the new machine portends Apple's long-awaited entrance into the budget-PC market, and while I highly doubt we're going to see a $199 MacBook anytime soon, an iPad-esque $499 model with a 16GB hard drive isn't all that crazy of a notion. While Internet-dependent machines may still be something of a niche product, it's one that's growing fast, particularly in the education sector.

Just a few short years ago, the iPad was primed to take over the classroom, but the post-PC has been slow to catch on. Growth of the tablet market has significantly slowed over the past 12 months and schools in particular have begun looking for cheaper alternatives. Apple has already lost a massive $1.3 billion deal with the Los Angeles Unified School District that would have provided an iPad for every student, and I'm thinking this isn't a market segment where the company wants to lose any more ground.

Tim Cook may have called slowing iPad sales a "speed bump," but the fact is that people aren't quite ready to abandon their PCs. High-end Mac sales are stronger than ever, and the iPad hasn't quite taken over the low-end of the market like Apple thought it would. Apple doesn't usually compete in the shallow profit-end of the pool, but remember, the MacBook Air already sells for half of its original $1,799 price. With iCloud, a small hard drive and a two-port design, this new MacBook might give Apple an opportunity to go even lower.

One port to rule them all

Based on Gurman's description and 9to5Mac's renderings, expansion is clearly going to be an issue. With a headphone jack and a sole USB-C port, many devices are going to be competing for its attention, especially if it's plugged into an outlet. But much like the MacBook Air introduced Remote Disk to solve the problem of needing to plug in an external SuperDrive every time you wanted to transfer a file or install a new program, I'm sure Apple is already thinking of innovative ways to handle this.

The good news is that USB-C is backwards-compatible with USB 2 and 3, so the vast majority of devices will work fine with an adapter, which Apple is sure to provi... er, sell... just as it does with the Air's USB Ethernet adapter. But dongles aren't pretty, and if the goal of this machine is to be nearly-wireless, there's another path that Apple could take: magnets.


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