Mac Musings

A 14" MacBook Air Just for Asia? Why Not!

Daniel Knight - 2012.02.29 -

I ran across an interesting rumor on AppleInsider this morning: Apple may be considering a 14" MacBook Air just for the Asian market, where that screen size accounts for 40% of all notebook sales. (Western markets prefer a 15" screen.)

Apple Has Done It Before

Colour Classic IIIf this is true, it won't be the first time Apple has produced a Mac especially for the Asian market. The first was the 1993 Colour Classic II (left), a 33 MHz update to the original 16 MHz Color Classic. In 1995, the PowerBook 550c was unique to Japan, using a full-fledged 68040 CPU instead of the 68LC040 version, which had no built-in math coprocessor and was used in the PowerBook 520 and 540 models.

PowerBook 2400c with external floppy driveHowever, only one Mac was ever designed specifically for the Asian market, the 1997 PowerBook 2400c(right), which was intended to replace the PowerBook Duo and has a small footprint similar to the 1991 PowerBook 100. (Until the first MacBook Air shipped in 2008, these two models were the smallest full-fledged Mac notebooks ever made.) Apple contracted manufacture of the 2400c to IBM in Japan.

Simplifying the Mac Line

Ever since Steve Jobs returned to Apple at the end of 1996, the company has worked to streamline its offering of models, with the first goal being a four-product ideal of the consumer iMac desktop, the pro-oriented Power Mac desktop, the PowerBook pro-grade notebook, and the consumer-oriented iBook. The consumer models originally came in one clock speed, while the PowerBooks and Power Macs had two or three speed options.

Over time, Apple began to expand from the minimalist 1998/99 ideal by offering multiple speeds of iMacs, two different sizes of iBooks, and three different sizes of PowerBooks. Then came the education-oriented eMac in 2002, the simplification of the consumer notebook category with the 13.3" MacBook, and the introduction of a whole new category with the 2008 MacBook Air.

In 2010, Apple added a smaller MacBook Air (MBA) model, and over the past year the MacBook was phased out of the consumer market and, later, the education market, where the MBA replaced it.

Back in the late 1990s, simplification was a matter of survival for Apple. During Jobs' absence, sometimes the same Mac would be sold with three different nameplates: Performa for the home market, LC for education, and yet another name for the general market. And some Performa models came with 3 or 4 different model numbers depending on the software bundled with the identical hardware. Confusion was the order of the day.

Does a 14" Asian MacBook Air Make Sense?

With Apple growing at an unprecedented rate and Mac sales at record levels ever since the 2006 switch to Intel x86 CPUs, Apple can afford to target models to specific markets. Apple makes special iPhones for some markets, and with the company selling well over 4 million Macs per quarter (compared to less than 1 million per quarter through 2004), the numbers are there for market-specific Macs.

11-inch MacBook AirAn additional benefit is that because Apple is already one of the leading users of notebook displays, a 14" model could take some pressure off the 13.3" and 15.4" markets. Since the MacBook Air is already its best-selling line, it certainly makes sense to expand it, as Apple has already done with the 11.6" MBA.

The 13.3" MacBook Air has a 1440 x 900 pixel screen, just like the 15.4" MacBook Pro (MBP) and a whole lot more than the 1280 x 800 pixels on the 13.3" MacBook Pro. The typical 14" ultrabook has a 1366 x 768 or 1600 x 900 pixel screen, so it doesn't seem unreasonable that a 14" MacBook Air might have the same 1440 x 900 pixels as the 13" MBA and 15" MBP. (If Apple wants to, it could make 1366 x 768 the default screen and offer 1440 x 900 as a build-to-order upgrade.)

The slightly larger model would mean even more room for the battery, which should result in better battery life than the current 13" MBA, just as the widely rumored 15" MBA would have even more space for a battery and still longer battery life.

While there was a very real need to simplify the Mac line 10-15 years ago, the Mac's growing popularity since 2005 means the market is big enough to justify market-specific models, and if Apple thinks a 14" MacBook Air will sell well in the Asian market, I see no reason it wouldn't target that market. (And if that succeeds, perhaps someday we can prevail upon Apple to create a more rugged, more modular MacBook Pro to replace what was lost when the Pismo PowerBook was discontinued, let alone a smaller, expandable, more consumer- and geek-oriented desktop Macintosh to fill the sub-$2,000 niche that has been unfilled since the Mac Pro was introduced in Mid 2006.)

I can't weigh in on the validity of this rumor, but I see no reason it couldn't be true.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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