Apple Announced Some New Computers

Of the two new computers announced today by Apple, the Mac Mini refresh is the most surprising.

And the least baffling.

The last refresh four years ago (!) was an unequivocal disappointment that I still bought because it was the only Mini on the market when I wanted one. It technically got new hardware, but it lost processing cores and overall performance in high-end tasks…and remained neglected for years.

2014 was long enough ago to feel like an eternity in the tech space. I, and most others, had left the Mini for dead.

So to say that the new models are a surprise is an understatement. They’re equipped with 8th gen Intel processors, decent amounts of RAM, fast storage, and prices that aren’t totally out of line with their internals.

Thank goodness.

As I said, I have a 2014 Mac Mini. It was the first Mac I ever purchased for myself. It worked great for about the first six months I owned it, then got bogged down enough that I relegated it to the living room TV as a media playback device.

The new version looks like a really capable, modern computer, and I couldn’t be happier that it exists. It’s a great product at just the right time. It’s exactly the sort of thing I used to expect out of an iterative Apple product.

The new MacBook Air however…ugh.

It’s basically just a 13-inch version of the 12-inch MacBook. Alternately, it’s a different, slightly thinner take on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. If it didn’t say Air at the bottom of the screen, I’d have a hard time distinguishing it in some of the product pictures. It has two USB-C ports and a headphone jack.

I guess it’s not courageous to remove headphone support from computers, only from phones.

I’ve written in the past about how complicated and over-stuffed Apple’s laptop lineup is, and now it’s a bit more stuffed.

You now have three different options if you want a small, portable MacBook…and none of them have anything other than USB-C ports. Yay? I’m not against the port in principal, but when one of the deciding factors between models is “how many of this same port does it have?” I feel like something went wrong along the way.

You can tell this isn’t a 12-inch MacBook because it has *two* USB-C ports right there, and because they put the word “AIR” behind it.

Did we really need this many takes on a small Mac laptop? Couldn’t they have crammed this new hardware into the 12-inch chassis, or trimmed the lineup a bit?

The MacBook, New MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro are all priced within the same ballpark as long as we’re not looking at touchbar models. How are people supposed to choose between these? Why are people supposed to choose between these?

This was the perfect chance to drop the MacBook Air branding and roll this out as a 13-inch MacBook. Or add the 12-inch MacBook to the “Air” family.

The Air has more or less lost its identity in this new upgrade, becoming much more like its fellow laptops. It was the one laptop Apple had left that still used hallmarks of their classic designs, so I guess the writing was on the wall.

Sure, the screen was a little iffy, but it still had multiple ports and that wonderful, useful MagSafe connector.

I don’t actually think the new MacBook Air looks like a bad machine, it’s just so bizarre that it’s an additional product that’s so similar to other products that Apple already makes. It has a different screen size by .3 inches, and slightly different configuration options. And touch ID. And that’s about it.

Again, I’d understand this new model more if it replaced either the 13-inch Pro or the 12-inch MacBook. Maybe one of those product line changes is coming down the line, once old stock is sold out.

But right now I’m kind of scratching my head.

We all know that Apple needed yet another distinct light computer in its lineup, right?

I feel like Apple is just going with the “Let’s keep releasing new models, flood the market, and see what sticks” mentality.

Plus, this new MacBook Air effectively represents a price increase. If you want to buy a brand new MacBook for less than $1000, you’re now out of luck.

That’s the one decision about this that “makes sense…” not from a pure consumer standpoint but from the business side. Apple has aggressively pushed into the high end market for the last few years, doubling-down on the notion of prestige electronics, and a higher-end MacBook Air makes perfect sense from that perspective.

The name “Air” used to represent Apple’s smallest portable computer. But that’s been null and void for the last few years with the 2 pound 12-inch MacBook. And this new Air is a little bit heavier than that smaller machine.

But hey it’s made out of recycled metal!

I know I’m getting lost in the weeds of semantics and specifics here, but this stuff is important in marketing.

Every product should have a clear identity, customer, and market purpose.

The new MacBook Air awkwardly combines elements of already-existing computers into an almost-new computer, and doesn’t really replace anything except a vastly outdated model.

The new Mac Mini takes a long-forgotten piece of hardware and suddenly makes it relevant again.

The gulf in success between these two new products from a marketing standpoint could not be more different.

I don’t envy Apple customers trying to decide which MacBook is right for them. A clear cut choice between a couple of different, clearly-defined models is so much better than a muddled lineup with lots of overlap. Hopefully, Apple sorts this out soon.



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Alex Rowe

Alex Rowe

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