Apple goes to great effort to eliminate “which one should I buy?” ambiguity from its product lines. Look no further than iPods:
If you take the Touch away, and count it as an iOS device rather than an iPod, it’s even more clear. The Nano is the default, the best and most obvious choice for most people. The Classic is for those with high-end storage space needs, and the Shuffle is for those looking for the lowest price.
Consider desktop Macs. The iMac is like the iPod Nano — the all-in-one sweet spot for most people. The Mac Pro is for those with high-end needs, and the Mini is for those looking for the lowest price.
The MacBook Air defies this pattern. Apple’s MacBook lineup would be a lot easier to navigate without the Air models. There’d be only one $999 model, for example. Now there are two, with very different tradeoffs. If you start with the $999 13-inch MacBook as the baseline model, there are two entirely different paths to spend more: go for performance with a MacBook Pro, or go lighter and thinner with a 13-inch Air.
Here’s the way I see it: the Air is a secondary Mac; MacBook Pros are for use as a primary computer. I.e., if you want your MacBook to be your one and only Mac, you should get a MacBook Pro. You’ll need the additional storage, and you’ll be thankful for the additional RAM and expansion ports. If you’ve got a desktop Mac (or perhaps even a big MacBook Pro) as your primary Mac, but want a small lightweight MacBook for use away from your desk, the MacBook Air is your best option. The biggest weakness of the Air is its relatively small amount of storage space — that’s not nearly as much of an issue for a secondary Mac.
Looking at it this way, though, leads to an interesting conclusion. The new MacBook Airs — particularly the 11-inch model — don’t compete against the other MacBooks so much as they do the iPad. It’s like a “pro” solution for the same “in between a smartphone and a full-size laptop PC” market segment that the iPad sits in. Back to the Mac, indeed.1
How great would it be if you could pay a little more to get a MacBook Air with 3G, and the same no-contract pricing from AT&T as the iPad? ↩