We first heard reports about a 15-inch MacBook Air almost a year ago now, and I noted at the time that it could be the perfect machine for many users.
A report yesterday indicated that the machine may be arriving early in April, and while customers have had a long wait, I suspect that the timing is not coincidental …
I outlined last year the reasons the machine is likely to prove popular.
Apple has traditionally conflated screen size with power. The MacBook Air offered small screen sizes (as small as 11 inches) and modest power. The MacBook Pro offered larger screen sizes (up to 17 inches) and higher specs.
Looked at from one side of the equation, that made sense. If you want a powerful machine suitable for running professional audiovisual apps, you likely want a decent-sized screen. So pro specs should mean a large screen.
But Apple seemingly forgot to look at the other side. People may want a large screen without needing beefy processing power. Those people were then forced to pay the substantial premium for a MacBook Pro when they had no need for the higher specs.
There are many reasons people might want a large-screened MacBook Air. Being able to work with two windows side by side is an obvious one. You don’t have to be using pro apps to benefit from this. A student might have a website open as they write a paper. A keen cook might have a recipe open as they compile a shopping list. A writer may have their notes open as they write (if they haven’t yet heard of Scrivener). There are countless possibilities, including poorer eyesight among older users, and greater immersiveness when watching videos.
I noted then that people have been calling for just this machine for many years now.
But in days of old it might have been a risky move for Apple. There was definitely a slice of the MacBook Pro market who didn’t really need the power of the pro models, but were instead buying it for the larger screen size. Offering a larger-screened MacBook Air would risk cannibalizing these sales.
Of course, Apple has long said that it doesn’t mind cannibalizing its own products, because if it doesn’t, someone else will. The increasing capabilities of iPads have certainly cannibalized some MacBook sales, for example. All the same, an affordable 15-inch MacBook Air might once have meant the company taking quite a hit.
However, as the Pro machines have grown increasingly expensive – and the gap in pricing between the Air and Pro models increasingly large – the likelihood of people buying them just for the screen size has significantly declined.
Today, for example, someone can buy a 13-inch MacBook Air from $999. If they want to boost the screen size to 16-inches, the cheapest MacBook Pro they can buy will cost them at least $2499. Very few people are going to be willing to pay two-and-a-half times the price just to get a larger screen.
Since almost all MacBook Pro users are buying the machine because they need the power, we’re unlikely to see too many of them choosing instead to buy a 15-inch MacBook Air.
Indeed, Apple is instead very likely to be creating upsell opportunities here. We don’t know how much the new machine will cost, but the difference in price between the entry-level 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models is $500. That precedent would suggest that the 15-inch MacBook Air would come in at $500 above the 13-inch M2 model, which would make it $1799.
At that pricing, Apple creates the potential for two levels of upsell. First, someone planning to buy the 13-inch Air may decide that it’s worth upgrading to the 15-inch one. Second, those ready to pay $1799 for the Air might be tempted to spend the extra $700 to upgrade to the Pro.
The net result, then, is likely to be an increase – not a decrease – in the average selling price of a MacBook. The new machine is a win for consumers, and is likely to be a win for Apple, too.
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