Apple’s 12-inch MacBook: 2015–2019

Farewell Little Guy

I can’t say I didn’t see this coming, but it still somehow surprised me? In a technology world that seems increasingly content to thrive on consumer confusion and the illusion of choice through too many overlapping purchase options, Apple just cut their chaff.

Yesterday, they quietly killed off the 12-inch MacBook, and gave some of the other current MacBook models a light refresh. This is all ahead of a rumored new MacBook launching later this year without the much-loathed and much-discussed Butterfly Switch keyboard.

Notably, your Apple laptop choices as a potential customer are a lot clearer now. If you want something light and portable, there’s the MacBook Air. If you want something a little beefier, and also stricken with the questionable TouchBar, then there’s the MacBook Pro.

Yes, every single MacBook Pro now comes with a little touchscreen on top of the keyboard, and that lineup is now unified feature-wise as a result.

I think these changes are great. And not just because I was calling for them last year. But that’s part of it. It’s never good to confuse your consumer.

Offering clear choices at clear price points is a better way to earn a sale, in my opinion. People know want what they want, and while they might be more invested in the decision-making process if they have to choose between 100 somewhat-similar products, having clearly defined tiers makes the choice easy. And thus less frustrating.

I still enjoy my 12-inch MacBook and will use it till its battery starts to fail. I’m writing this article on it right now. When it first launched, it felt like Apple looked at all the Chromebooks dominating the laptop market, laughed a haughty laugh…then developed a $1000 version made from aluminum that ran MacOS.

Apple weren’t the only ones laughing a haughty laugh. When I first laid eyes on the 12-inch design, I was baffled.

Sure, it had a beautiful thin Sir Jony Ive metal chassis that called to mind the original Air’s design goals, an incredible high-pixel-density display, and a radically tiny motherboard to allow for tons of batteries…

But it also had a single USB C port, thus launching dongle madness. It made use of Intel’s lowest-end mobile processor lineup, a series of chips that’s always struggled to find a place in the market and even now has been quietly renamed with non-mobile branding in the hopes you won’t hate them. It got rid of the lighted Apple logo. And it brought us the infamous Butterfly keyboard…which I like in theory, but which has caused numerous issues for users to the point of being one of Apple’s biggest public design failures.

I decided at the launch of the machine in 2015 that I didn’t want one, even though I was about to be in the market for my first personal Apple laptop. The middling reviews, the limited port selection, and the weird keyboard pushed me away. I managed to hold out for several months, using my older PCs and my ancient Chromebook I was looking to replace.

And then I started seeing them in real life.

The coffee shop I used to hang out in, which sadly closed a couple of months ago, was dominated by Apple users. And quickly, the laptop landscape there started to include the 12-inch MacBook. It had a cool factor that was undeniable, packed into a body that’s still among the best size/performance ratio of any computing device ever released.

When the 2016 revision launched, I ran to the Apple store.

My perfect writing buddy when I don’t want to lug my giant PC around. And it has more power than a Chromebook, which I totally needed for…reasons.

Even now, in 2019, parts of the 12-inch MacBook feel like they fell out of the future. The screen is breathtaking. The speakers put out better audio than the larger drivers in my Dell gaming laptop. The trackpad is perfect. And the battery life is so impressive for such a small device, even under relatively heavy workloads.

The 13-inch MacBook Air does all of these same things with a slightly bigger display and with better hardware under the hood. The 12-inch has been languishing for two years without an update. Apple is pushing users that want a small device towards the iPad Pro, which is gaining additional “standard computing” functions thanks to iPad OS. And the Pro has a TouchBar…which I hope one day has a utility beyond improving a few apps, and looking cool.

This new lineup is better for consumers and a smart move for Apple to make. Thanks to Apple’s weird tendency to hold on to old computer hardware for too long (see: the Mac Mini, the Mac Pro, and the original MacBook Air) I never thought we’d actually get here. I thought they’d drag the 12-incher through the mud till at least 2020.

If you’re in the market for a MacBook, the choice is the easiest it’s been in years. Unless you want to wait for that new keyboard that’s probably totally coming.