Apple Quietly Updates Aging MacBook Air

WWDC did little to revitalize the trailblazing ultrabook

Apple’s held its yearly Worldwide Developers Conference this past week. In addition to new versions of macOS, watchOS, and iOS, Apple unveiled several new hardware products. By virtue of its name, the event is supposed to be a showcase of new features and tools for developers of iPhone, Mac, and other Apple software. WWDC17 wasn’t the first time that Apple used the event to unveil new hardware, however. In the first Conference of the post-Jobs era, the Retina MacBook Pro was announced at the 2012 event. Other clamshells were updated in that announcement, too.

Much like the Retina MacBook hogged the spotlight five years ago, the focus of this year’s event on the hardware front was rightly on the iMac Pro, a $5,000 workstation scheduled for release in December. A 10.5 inch iPad Pro with a 120Hz refresh rate was also announced, as well as spec bumps to the MacBook Pro and 12-inch MacBook.

"The focus of this year’s event on the hardware front was rightly on the iMac Pro."

Least notably, the MacBook Air got a processor upgrade. It is unforgivably still of the fifth-generation Broadwell architecture, while Apple’s other laptops saw a revision from generation 6 to 7 for their CPUs. The update for the Air is quite modest, representing a 12.5% boost in clock speed. If your workflow was hampered by the 2015 MBA’s 1.6Ghz processor, this year’s 1.8Ghz chip is unlikely to change matters.

As discussed previously on D&theJM, a TN panel on a modern $1,000 computer offers terrible value. Other ultrabooks, some of which undercut the Air’s price tag, have full HD IPS displays. These notebooks, including the Dell XPS, HP Spectre x360, and Lenovo Yoga 910, all put the 900p screen on the MacBook Air to shame.

"The exterior of the machine hasn’t been changed since 2010."

It’s no surprise that these thin-and-lights trounce the Air’s screen. The exterior of the machine hasn’t been changed since 2010. The chassis design has aged gracefully, with many other laptops paying homage to its rounded corners and aluminum wedge shape. It is still a top seller and there is no compelling reason to tweak the tried and true formula of this once great computer. 

While Apple keeping their hands off the iconic design of the MBA is a sound business move, it is equally unsound to leave the laptop with an old processor and washed out screen. The Broadwell architecture also means the MacBook Air must retain the older DDR3 SO-DIMM memory. They could pop in the guts of the entry-level MacBook Pro, use the Pro’s display and be done. The only problem is that would be less profitable.