Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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About that low-cost MacBook rumor…

M1 MacBook Air

On Tuesday Aaron Lee and Eifeh Strom of Digitimes reported that Apple is “reportedly developing a low-cost MacBook series to compete with Chromebook models in the education sector that could be released as early as the second half of 2024, according to industry sources.”

The story goes on:

Sources said Apple will likely launch a new product line for its low-cost MacBooks to differentiate it from the existing MacBook Air and Pro lines. The outer appearance will still use a metal casing but made of different materials. The unit price of the mechanical components will be lower, allowing for a more affordable price aimed at the education market, similar to the positioning of Chromebooks.

If I had a dime for every “Apple’s going to release a low-end product to compete with other low-end devices” rumor, I’d have a hefty bank account by now. And you can find plenty of stories debunking this report as “sketchy.” At the risk of giving this report more credulity than it deserves, let me try to understand what this report might actually mean.

It seems to me that this is based on a rumor in the supply chain, in which Apple is investigating the development of a cheaper laptop. The whole angle about education and Chromebooks strikes me as speculation heaped on the bare rumor in order to make a clearer narrative for the report.

Let me supply an alternative one. The modern Apple strategy is to re-use older technologies to create more affordable products: the iPhone SE and the low-end iPad are just two of those examples. The M1 MacBook Air still being sold alongside the M2 model is perhaps the best example on the Mac side.

Why does the M1 MacBook Air exist? Because Apple wants to have a product available at a (relatively) low price point: currently it’s $899 for education and $999 for everyone else. That’s not a price the M2 model could hit and keep Apple’s traditionally high profit margins.

Now let’s imagine a world with a M3 MacBook Air in it. Does Apple discontinue the M2 model, or push it down into the $999 range? Does Apple discontinue the M1 Air at that point? In the Intel era I’d have answered yes, but the Apple silicon era is something different. The truth is, even now, the M1 is more than enough for most potential Mac users.

Just as a thought experiment, consider what Apple might do if it was planning to import the iPhone SE strategy to the Mac. It would take some older, but still quite capable technologies—say, everything that makes up an M1 Mac. The device’s parts are carefully scrutinized with an eye toward eliminating cost wherever possible, without sacrificing a basic Apple level of quality.

The product I’m describing might just be the M1 MacBook Air, discounted further and further. But it’s not impossible that Apple might instead choose to design a new M1 or M2 laptop that’s not saddled with some of the more pricey parts chosen for the MacBook Air back in 2020.

That’s not a Chromebook competitor, necessarily, but it would be a way for Apple to build a “new” MacBook that could compete with Windows laptops in the sub-$800 range. I’m not saying that it’s likely, but it seems like the most reasonable explanation if the Digitimes report is at all correct.

—Linked by Jason Snell

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