For better or worse, Apple’s range of MacBooks has contracted

It’s suddenly become much easier to pick among Apple portable computers as many of the options have suddenly vanished. For most, this will make things simpler. For example, the old 12″ MacBook? Gone. MacBook Pro’s that don’t have Touch Bars? They no longer exist. Essentially you can pick a MacBook Air (which is actually only 1/4 pound lighter than the Pro but has a smaller feel OR a MacBook Pro that generally has more power for a higher cost and only slightly more  weight. That’s it.

Apple has made shopping for MacBooks simple again

Addition through subtraction

Yesterday, Apple did one of those sleepy summer spec refreshes on its MacBooks that usually passes without much fanfare or celebration. No designs have changed, the problematic butterfly keyboard is still around — albeit in an improved form — and the spec bumps are nice but not earthshaking. But the other thing Apple did was trim down its lineup significantly: it discontinued the 12-inch MacBook, finally stopped selling the ancient old-school MacBook Air to consumers, and it ditched the MacBook Escape, giving its entry-level MacBook Pro a Touch Bar. In this process of downsizing and simplifying its portfolio, Apple has returned to its strength of keeping things simple.

The day before yesterday, a student looking for an ultraportable Apple computer to help with note-taking and essay writing in college faced a cluster of options without a clear delineation between them. They could have bought an iPad Pro with a keyboard, the 12-inch MacBook, or, for a little bit more, the MacBook Air. This knot of overlapping Apple devices was uncharacteristic for the company and frustrating to consumers who mostly want a straightforward answer, ideally without having to perform a spec-for-spec comparison.

ipad mouse Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

The elegance of Apple’s new lineup is in how obvious the choices become and how quickly they can be summarized. If you just want a macOS laptop that covers the vast majority of usage scenarios and needs, you go to the MacBook Air. It’s the closest thing to a “basic” option in Apple’s range. For something below 13 inches, Apple will direct you to the iPad and iPad Pro, which now have their own operating system. This is the most radical change for Apple: the company appears convinced that iPadOS is ready to turn the iPad into a true laptop replacement. Finally, for professional photographers, video editors, and others who require more power from their portable computer, Apple has the MacBook Pro.

We can debate which among these choices presents the best value for money and optimal trade-off between portability and power, but it’s hard to argue that the lines between them aren’t clearly drawn: iPad for portability, Air for versatility, and Pro for extra power.

In whittling down its laptop lineup to just the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, Apple has returned to its core strength of offering simplicity in a world that’s overwhelmed by model names and numbers. And the company has signaled, once more, just how important it considers the iPad to be for the future of its portable computer business.

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