convergence

It’s easy to spot the differences between an iPad and a MacBook Air. One boasts a touchscreen, the other a keyboard. One has a so-called Retina display, the other a blurry laptop screen. One runs a mobile operating system, the other its desktop-focused predecessor. But what if the two products are more similar than their current hardware, software, and marketing suggest?

Apple today released updated versions of the MacBook Air with new processors and an $899 starting price. This means that the low-end model is now $30 cheaper than the high-end iPad Air. Compare that to just a few years ago when the iPad cost just a little over one-third of the price of the Macbook Air.

The intermingling between the iPad and the MacBook Air isn’t restricted to their prices. Apple has also been making its desktop software more like its mobile apps for the last few years, and is expected to make the two platforms even less distinguishable with the next update to OS X. The two platforms are still easy to tell apart, but they’re on an obvious path to convergence.

And the company has been making the categories’ hardware more similar over the years, too. It’s only a matter of time before the high resolution displays first added to its mobile products are added to all of its desktop computers. Meanwhile, the company has brought desktop-class processors to its smartphones and tablets, making them more powerful than ever before.

It isn’t hard to imagine a series of products that utilize similar processors, a single operating system, and high quality displays. And as Apple continues to lower its laptops’ prices, those products may begin to cost the same, regardless of whether they have a touchscreen or a keyboard. The categories are converging, and today’s price cut shows that.

Reactions from around the Web

The Verge reports that, besides the new price and processor, the new MacBook Airs are the same:

Pricing and processor aside, don’t expect any other significant changes. Nothing else about Apple’s acclaimed MacBook Air has changed with this latest revision — at least according to its spec sheet. The base configuration still includes 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. It’d be great to see Apple increase that default to 8GB, but for now more memory still demands extra from buyers. The MacBook Air also hasn’t gained speedier Thunderbolt 2 connectivity with today’s update; that’s still reserved for the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro desktop.

But 9to5Mac reports that Apple might be planning a significant update for later this year:

we expect to see significant changes in this department later on in the year with the possible release of a 12-inch MacBook with Retina display that will offer the portability of he 11-inch model, but the power of the 13-inch model. As you can see from the image below outlining the last model’s specifications, there’s not much new to get excited about. That being said, the Air is at the top of the ultra-portable laptop game and any improvements, however slight, once again yield  the best ultra-portable laptop in the world.

Pando weighs in

I wrote about the MacBook Air’s quiet consistency:

It’s hard to read about Apple’s products without stumbling across some out of this world adjectives that struggle to convey just how good their subjects truly are. The iPhone 5 has been described as a “miracle,” a “beast of a phone,” and a “hallmark of design.” The iPad mini is “Apple’s best tablet yet,” has been compared to a “solidly made watch,” and, according to the Wirecutter, is “what tablets should have been from the start, honestly.” The MacBook Air is “balanced,” it “ticks off the most boxes,” and its refresh in 2012 was described as “basically the same laptop as last year” with “a little more oomph.”

In other words, while the iPhone 5 is a goddamned miracle, the MacBook Air just happens to be a better all-purpose computer than its competition. Apple has allowed the product that defined a category to idle, relying on subtle upgrades that improve upon a two-year-old laptop without really changing the product in a noticeable way. Unlike the iPhone or iPad, which are continuously changed and are remarkably different from their predecessors, the MacBook Air is, and will remain, good enough. And that might be exactly what the notebook industry needs.

I then wrote about some of the challenges Apple will face in its drive towards convergence:

As much as OS X has borrowed from iOS — in addition to the things listed above there is Launchpad, which emulates the iOS homescreen; an increased focus on multitouch-enabled interactions; and iOS-like sharing in apps like Safari and iPhoto — the operating system is still very much designed for the desktop. Many applications, despite the aesthetic similarities to their mobile counterparts, would be frustrating to use if you could or had to reach out and touch them. The buttons are too small, the built-in gesture controls would conflict with a multitouch interface, and it would be a veritable nightmare to try and use any current Mac app with your fingers.

Ive — and Apple as a whole — is fond of saying that design is about more than the way something looks, it’s the way something works. OS X Mavericks might be the most iOS-looking version of OS X to date, but it’s a fundamentally different operating system built for a different type of input. It doesn’t matter how many notifications roll across your Mac’s display or how much Calendar, iBooks, and Maps look like their iOS counterparts — OS X is built around point-and-click, iOS is built around tap-and-swipe. That’s a wide gap to bridge.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]