Apple quietly kills one of my favorite laptops, because the MacBook Air is suddenly cool again.
The end came quietly, slipped in with a series of back-to-school announcements about better screens and lower prices for the MacBook Air, and, uh, more Touch Bars for the MacBook Pro. No formal announcement was made in the jargon-filled press release letting us know that the entry-level Pro now features “Touch Bar and Touch ID, a True Tone Retina display and the Apple T2 Security Chip,” but a quick check online confirmed that the 12-inch MacBook had been removed from Apple’s website.
And the 12-inch MacBook wasn’t alone in going to the big upstate farm where old computers allegedly roam, with free Wi-Fi and plenty of power outlets. The “classic” MacBook Air and the Touch-Bar-less MacBook Pro also exited active duty. But those are easier to let go of. The former was so outdated as to be hard to recommend, the latter is getting the higher-end features of its more-expensive cousin while keeping the same price.
I’ll come right out and say it. The 12-inch MacBook was an unfairly maligned, misunderstood product. In fact, at several points since its 2015 debut, it’s been my favorite laptop. Insanely portable, very light, great 12-inch display, and a sharp look that turned coffee shop heads back when smaller-screen laptops were mostly low-end junk.
In 2016, I proudly declared it “my favorite laptop” and “my top go-to machine.” I even wrote most of a 75,000-word book on its . But I also acknowledged why a lot of people just didn’t “get” the 12-inch MacBook.
“The knocks against this system — an odd-man-out, not part of either the Air or Pro MacBook lines — were numerous. Its screen was too small; the keyboard too shallow; not enough ports; no MagSafe power connection; underpowered, even compared to the base MacBook Air; and battery life that didn’t measure up to the MacBook standard.”
I also said, “The 12-inch MacBook won’t do everything and isn’t for everyone. But its strictly enforced minimalism will make this laptop the model that industrial designers will strive to copy for the next several years.”
And that has certainly come to pass. USB-C as the go-to standard? Check. Butterfly keyboard on every MacBook? Check (although who knows for how much longer). Higher-res, Retina-style screens as table stakes for premium laptops? Check.
I recall people tearing their hair out over the single USB-C port in the first 12-inch MacBook. No USB-A, no HDMI — how could anyone use a laptop like that? Now, many super-premium 13-inch laptops have at best a couple of USB-C ports and little else.
It reminds me of when Apple led the way dropping things like Ethernet jacks and optical drives from computers. The company was just a little ahead of the curve about what features were on their way out. The 12-inch MacBook didn’t physically connect to anything because many modern laptops don’t need to physically connect to anything. Between Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cloud-connected services, I can’t recall the last time I had to plug something into a travel laptop. I was excited to get a USB memory key with dual USB-A and USB-C ports several months ago. Still haven’t taken it out of the package.
If it was so great, then what killed the 12-inch MacBook? The culprit was the very system the it was originally supposed to replace. The 13-inch MacBook Air, for many years the single most universally useful laptop you could buy (and a staple for students and office workers alike), had fallen into the phantom zone where Apple sticks products that stagnate with minimal, if any, updates for years on end. But last year, the Air finally got the top-to-bottom makeover it needed and became a sales leader, leaving few reasons beyond slightly better portability to choose the 12-inch model instead.
Call it natural selection or survival of the fittest, but it’s the law of the gadget jungle. And before I get too morose over the death of the 12-inch MacBook, I should remember that I’m writing this on — you guessed it — an excellent new 13-inch MacBook Air.