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Making the case for a 15″ MacBook Air

Sections: Features, Laptops, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Opinions and Editorials

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15" MacBook Air

CNET’s Dan Ackerman relates that in a recent poll of most-anticipated 2012 laptops, a purely hypothetical product beat out every high-profile system previewed at January’s CES in Las Vegas; namely, a 15″ version of Apple’s MacBook Air that polled the clear winner in a survey of CNET readers, garnering 40 percent of the total vote.

This makes Ackerman of a mind that a 15″ version of the Air is virtually a lock. He cites a DigiTimes report that Apple has “… already engaged manufacturing partners to start producing a 15-inch MacBook Air for a first-quarter 2012 launch,” but that’s, of course, not been confirmed by Apple and is still rumor status.

But Ackerman notes that by pulling a 40 percent plurality in the most-anticipated 2012 laptops poll—more than doubling its nearest rival in popularity (the glass HP Spectre, which attracted a distant 17 percent)—there is clearly strong demand for a 15″ MacBook Air. Apple will certainly be aware of this.

Ackerman speculates that reasons behind the evident pent-up demand for a larger Air may include that there are still too many compromises imposed by the current 11.6″ and 13″ Airs for them to be really adequate for professional work, such as the minuscule storage capacity of their solid state drives, limited and non-upgradable RAM capacity, and limited connectivity, all of which render the current MacBook Air not full-featured enough for some power users. He also notes that while the 13″ Air’s native display resolution of 1,440 x 900 pixels is shared with the current 15-inch Pro, the latter also also offers an optional 1,680×1,050-pixel display. The presumption is that a 15-inch would match that, as well as having more room for I/O ports and connections, such as a dedicated Ethernet port.

But will a thinner, lighter 15″ Apple laptop necessarily be a MacBook Air? The 15″ MacBook Pro is due for a major redesign, and, as Ackerman notes, the current model is too heavy at 5.6 pounds for really comfortable routine commuting—more a portable desktop substitute. It is virtually inevitable that the next-generation 15″ MacBook Pro will take its form factor and design cues from the spectacularly popular MacBook Air, so the question is posed; would Apple want to make two distinct lines of 15″ laptops whose general design would be quite similar?

That would not be without precedent. After all, quite recently Apple was offering three distinct 13″ laptop models: a MacBook Air, a MacBook Pro, and the erstwhile 13″ white polycarbonate MacBook. The latter was rationalized out of existence with the introduction of the 11.6″ MacBook Air in October, 2010, and there are rumblings that the 13″ Pro may be on the bubble with the coming upgrade of Apple’s laptop lines later this year. I hope not, being a big fan of the 13″ MacBook Pro, but the point may be moot.

I can see a possibility that Apple might simplify its laptop lineups by consolidating on one general design theme, with 15″ and 17″ models designated “Pro” and the 11.6″ and 13″ variants called MacBook Air. A possible flaw in that scenario from a marketing perspective would be that the bigger model (s?) wouldn’t be cashing in on the cachet of the MacBook Air brand name.

Ackerman notes that midsize business PC laptops are slimming down, what with the onslaught of Ultrabooks and examples such as Dell’s XPS 15z and an upcoming 15″ version of Samsung’s Series 9 laptop, which sports a 15″ display shoehorned into a housing 0.58″ thick and weighing just 3.5 pounds.

A conceivable possibility is that the entire array of Apple laptops from 11.6″ to 17″ could become MacBook Airs, with more extensively equipped and more powerful “MacBook Air Pro” versions offered in the two larger sizes at least, and perhaps the 13-incher as well.

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