The M2 MacBook Air Has a Big Problem
The reviews for Apple’s newest laptop, the M2 MacBook Air, are in, and the general consensus is that it’s really good. I’ve been using one for a few days and I would agree. It’s hard to find anything not to like. If you’re looking for a new laptop, I’m sure you’ll be happy with the M2 MacBook Air. The problem is, recommending the M2 MacBook Air is a little more complicated than that.
Look, the redesigned MacBook is beautiful, fast, lightweight, and more than capable of handling anything you need it to do–all while getting all-day battery life. It’s probably the best overall combination of performance and efficiency you can get in a laptop.
There is a problem, however.
Some reviewers have pointed out that the M2 might actually be slower than previous models in some cases due to the fact that Apple is using higher density SSDs for storage. As a result, if you order the base configuration, instead of getting two 128GB SSD chips, you get a single 256GB SSD. Since the storage controller could previously write to both chips at the same time, in benchmarks, the M2 seems like it would be slower, right?
I guess technically the answer is yes, but in real-world use that’s not the case. Nothing about it feels slower. You should not worry for even a minute that this computer will be too slow for your needs. Slow is definitely not the problem.
The problem is that all of the things that make the M2 such a great laptop are also true of last year’s M1 MacBook Air, which is $200 less expensive at the entry level, and $300 less expensive if you start upgrading things like storage or memory.
If you’re looking for a solid computer for school, or work, or just for having around the house to do whatever it is you do on a computer, the M1 MacBook Air is still the best laptop Apple has ever made for almost everyone. You can see why that might be a problem for the laptop meant to replace it.
Except, it’s not even clear that Apple wants to replace the M1. Apple made a decision to keep the M1 MacBook Air around, probably because, for whatever reason, it couldn’t get the M2 into that $999 price slot.
At that price, the M1 has been the easiest laptop to recommend in the history of personal technology. It wasn’t the least expensive option available, but it was by far the best value. It was generations ahead of the PC competition, especially when you look at sub-three-pound laptops.
If the M1 was no longer available, there’s no question the M2 would be the new default option for most people. But, the M1 is around. That leaves the M2 in a weird place.
I actually think Apple made a mistake here. Not only that, I can’t help but think the reason behind Apple’s decision is a sign of something worse.
I imagine the argument for keeping the M1 at its previous price point is that the M2 is now an upsell opportunity. It seems reasonable that the number of people who walk into an Apple Store planning to buy a $999 laptop isn’t going to decrease. Apple will keep selling a lot of them. But, some segment of those consumers will walk in, look at the two laptops, and think “hmm… this one is newer and M2 sounds like it’s better than M1. I guess I should get that.”
And, those people will end up spending $200 more money than they otherwise would have had Apple followed the model it has so often, which is to introduce new models at the same price point as whatever they replaced.
I think the right move would have been to introduce the M2 at the same price as the previous version. If Apple just happens to have a bunch of M1 chips sitting around next to a pile of old wedge-shaped aluminum cases, fine, sell the M1 starting at $799. Apple has been known to do this. It sells previous model iPhones at a lower price. It has historically done the same with the Apple Watch as well.
It probably makes a lot of financial sense for Apple to keep selling the M1 MacBook Air at $999 and sell the M2 version starting at $1199. Apple is good at doing things that make a lot of financial sense. That’s how it became the most valuable company in the world.
In this case, I wonder if Apple looked at the fact the M1 MacBook Air is, as the company likes to remind us, the “world’s most popular laptop,” and decided there was an opportunity it could take advantage of. The problem is, sometimes when you take advantage of an opportunity, it’s your customers who feel taken advantage of.