Apple’s MacBook Air isn’t long for this world. When Apple announced its new lineup of MacBook Pros in October, absent from the update party was the MacBook Air. In fact, Apple quietly removed the 11-inch model from the website around the same time, leaving only the 13 inch to soldier on for the time being. It's not a good sign for photographers invested in the Apple ecosystem (that’s a lot of us) looking for a road-warrior laptop.
MacRumors points out that it has been more than 700 days since the MacBook Air’s last update in 2015. That’s an eternity in tech years and an oddity from Apple, which normally refreshes its products yearly (when they want to keep them relevant). This effectively makes the MacBook Air the walking dead.
Why the Air Was Great for Photographers
The MacBook Air line has been a solid choice for photographers for a long time. The 11-inch model tucked neatly into a camera bag and packed all the features you’d expect in a full computer, at a time when most of the PC competition was hawking underpowered netbooks as the Next Big Thing. I tried to make a go of making an Acer Ferrari One my road machine, complete with a solid state drive and RAM upgrade, but while it was a serviceable Photoshop/Premiere Pro machine after all of those upgrades, it didn’t compare to the out-of-the-box elegance and functionality of the MacBook Air. It was, in fact, the Ferrari One experiment that paved the way for me to enter the Apple system for my photo and video work, which up until 2010 was an all-PC workflow.
The 11-inch air eventually paved the way for a loaded 13-inch model, which is still my workhorse laptop when I’m away from my iMac. It’s just enough power to run everything Adobe I can throw at it and some Final Cut Pro X as well. Since everything I shoot with uses SD or MicroSD cards, I haven’t really had to pack any gadgets when I travel as it’s all built in.
Once the entire Air line is retired, however, this leaves photographers with fewer choices when they’re on the road. You either have the MacBook or the MacBook Pro. While the MacBook has a nicer Retina screen compared to the Air, its lack of any sort of ports aside from one USB-C port and a headphone jack means limited options without adding an adapter like this one, featured on Apple's website.
And even then, after spending $49, my SD card slot isn’t back. An Apple web designer must have realized how embarrassing this is because there isn’t even a clear link to buy this adapter where it’s mentioned on the MacBook page, I had to copy and paste the name into the search bar just to find it. If you wanted to use any USB-C accessories while charging your laptop, you’re out of luck unless you buy some sort of adapter that gives you more than one USB-C port.
Speaking of charging, I can’t even think of how many times my chargers and laptop have been saved by MagSafe when someone’s stepped on the cord or I’ve dropped my Air (one time was while it was stacked on top of a table that was on top of a couch trying to reach a projector in the ceiling, and it didn’t miss a beat). Even though Apple made an infuriating change between generations of MacBook Airs that meant my older 11-inch Air can’t use the same MagSafe charger as my 13-inch Air, at least they all were MagSafe.
I’m also a little bit bitter about the death of a “real” keyboard. I haven’t spent an extended amount of time with the new “butterfly” keyboard on the MacBook and MacBook Pro, but what little time I did spend was unpleasant; I wouldn’t want to type this article on it.
The MacBook Pro situation is a little bit better in that you get two or four USB-C ports depending on configuration, but you still need a goofy, overpriced adapter to get the basics such as HDMI, SD, and USB back.
Apple Marketing Senior Vice President Phil Schiller said the decision to remove the photographer-friendly SD card slot was because it was “cumbersome” to have the card sticking out. If anyone ever had a problem with that, I’d really like to know in the comments.
Apple's Power Play for the Money of Power Users
Shaking up the lineup also forces the photographers’ hand toward the more expensive MacBook Pro. Eliminating the Air means that the more powerful Core i5 and i7 processors will be MacBook Pro only. With the Air, you can get a good chunk of the computing power of a MacBook Pro (within spitting distance of a 2013 model Pro when the option boxes are checked off) while giving a little bit in the way of graphics capability, some ports, and that glorious Retina display. I speak from experience, carting around a 15-inch previous generation Pro with all the trimmings for work alongside my Air.
When hooked up to an external monitor, there’s little difference in day-to-day use and a small difference for heavy-duty photo and video work. My MacBook Air has edited tons of wedding photos, videos, and even a 4K video in a pinch. My job had me working with 50-megapixel Canon 5DS files on-the-go, something both computers — Air and Pro — handled well.
When the choices are only the MacBook or the MacBook Pro, as all indications from Apple seem to point to, power users won’t have a middle ground to choose from.
MacBook Lineup’s Future?
The MacBook Airs that are left right now are the lowest price of the trio: $999 for a base model versus $1,299 and $1,499 for the MacBook and MacBook Pro, respectively. With the connectivity you get from the Air, it’s still a great choice for photographers, and perhaps maybe even a better choice for those (like me) who are waiting and seeing if the MacBook Pro can catch up to the Windows side when it comes to power, price, and connectivity.
What are your thoughts on portable photo-editing solutions? Is it time for the Mac faithful to move on (or back) to Windows? Is this a sign that Apple has forgotten about the photographers helped bring it back from the brink?