On Apple Portables in the Approximately $1,200 to $1,300 Price Range

With the release of the Retina MacBook Air earlier this month came questions about how the product fits into the rest of Apple’s laptop lineup — especially since the starting prices of the MacBook and MacBook Pro are just $100 more than the Air. And, if you wanted, you could arguably add the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard Folio to a comparison shopping list, as that’s about the same price as these 12-to-13-inch Mac notebooks. On the surface, then, it seems like there’s a crowded field of comparable products if you want to spend about $1,200-$1,300 on an Apple portable.

But that’s obviously not right for a couple of reasons. First, these products all have their distinct niches: the Air is a well-rounded consumer notebook; the iPad Pro is ideal for ultra-portability; the MacBook is similar, but for those who want MacOS as opposed to iOS; and the Pro is what you buy when performance matters most. It’s also not right because it isn’t, I don’t think, a fair comparison at each of these models’ base price point.

Yes, you can get a MacBook Air for $1,199 in the U.S., but that comes with just 128 GB of storage; it’s a similar case for the base model MacBook Pro at $1,299. The MacBook starts at 256 GB of storage which, if it were my decision, ought to be the bare minimum for a Mac in 2018.

When these Macs are all specced with 256 GB of storage, a different pricing picture begins to emerge:

  • MacBook at $1,299
  • MacBook Air at $1,399
  • MacBook Pro at $1,499

Now, it’s easy to mix in the iPad Pro with 256 GB of storage, the base model Touch Bar version of the MacBook Pro, and the old MacBook Air to complete this picture:

  • Old MacBook Air at $1,199
  • MacBook at $1,299
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard Folio at $1,348
  • MacBook Air at $1,399
  • MacBook Pro at $1,499
  • MacBook Pro with Touch Bar at $1,799

To me, this pricing is much more reflective of the Mac products’ positioning as far as performance and capability go. Even the iPad makes sense, as far as Apple’s aspirations — if not yet realizations in software — for it go.1 And there’s even a nice ramp to those prices.

Instead, by starting the MacBook Air with a 128 GB drive, Apple has priced it to fit its status as the default consumer Mac portable to buy. A 128 GB drive is probably enough for a bare minimum user who relies upon Apple Music and offloads their iCloud Photo Library. It’s a little dicey, I think — we all know how easily a hard drive can fill up in unexpected ways, like if Mail downloads a decade’s worth of email — but there are ways to manage that. I really do think 256 GB ought to be the baseline, but a good enough argument can be made for 128 in the Air.

The real anomaly is, I think, the MacBook Pro: the 128 GB model feels like a clear price point play, but how many people are really buying that configuration? Apple must have data supporting its continued existence, but it puzzles me. It is a vastly more capable product with, I think, a completely different audience. Even if “Pro” doesn’t strictly mean professional in Apple’s parlance, it is a higher-performing and more serious product.

It comes down to the honesty and integrity of the product. Every so often, I think to myself could I imagine everyone on Apple’s executive team happily using this product? as a proxy for product integrity. For most of the current lineup, I have few reservations; I bet Phil Schiller would be very happy toting an iPhone XR and a base model iPad, for example. But — and perhaps this is projecting — I think they would get frustrated after a year of using any Mac with 128 GB of storage; but, especially, a MacBook Pro. It’s debatable, to me, whether that’s a fair base storage in the Air, but I don’t think it’s honest in the Pro. As far as I’m concerned, the MacBook Pro makes more sense starting at the $1,499 256 GB configuration — from both a pricing perspective, and for its integrity.

  1. The one tech spec that the iPad cannot match against any Mac is RAM. The 2018 iPad Pro models all come with 4 GB of RAM, with the exception of the 1 TB models which sport 6 GB of RAM. You cannot order a Mac with less than 8 GB of RAM today. I think the same minimum should be in the iPad Pro, too. ↥︎