For most of 2018, one of the defining stories about Apple is that MacBooks are on the struggle bus. On the cusp of what in all likelihood is its final product launch of the year, Apple will hopefully take a page out of Google’s playbook to resuscitate its enterprise offerings and ensure it’s the laptop of choice for creatives in the years to come.
While it’s affordability and value have been an Apple anathema for most of the company’s history, the rumor mill has strongly suggested that a cheaper MacBook is the works, possibly priced somewhere between $999 to $799. For those keeping score at home, that’s just enough of a price break to bring them into the Chromebook’s price range. A price reduction along with incrementally improved specs might be announced at Apple’s Tuesday product launch, but how exactly could that look like?
To sense how Apple weighs the trade-offs for its more “middle market” devices, we might look to the iPhone XR. The smartphone has the same internals as the XS and XS Max but cuts costs by using an inferior screen and camera set up. Based on those priorities, budget MacBooks will likely come with Core i5 processors to provide the same performance as their counterparts while making up for the lower price by offering little-to-no storage space.
A low-storage, lower cost MacBook would of course have the added benefit of helping drive customers to iCloud storage. Here’s what this fabled MacBook might look like.
Cheaper MacBooks: The Problem
Mac sales are on the decline. Apple reported it had sold 3.7 million Mac devices (including desktop and laptop devices) in the third-quarter of 2018, that’s a 13 percent decrease from last year’s numbers. Apple scoopster Mark Gurman pointed out that these were the lowest Mac sales since 2010 signaling that something needs to change.
2018 has also been unkind to new MacBook Pro owners. The company released new MacBook Pros in the spring, the most expensive of which could cost almost $7,000. The reception was harsh after users reported widespread throttling issues and panned the keyboard. That’s not the reception you want on a laptop that could cover several month’s rent on a one-bedroom.
Apple will almost certainly continuing offering high-end laptops, aside from iPhones it’s primarily what the company is known for. But offering a cheaper entry-level laptop could help boost lagging sales as well as leverage increasingly popular iCloud storage, which has been left in the dust with this year’s iPhone releases.
Cheaper MacBooks: The (Possible) Solution
While they’re not as ubiquitous as MacBooks (at least not outside of classrooms), Chromebooks are helping drive a PC resurgence. That’s thanks to a three-pronged approach that keeps them very affordable: Middle-of-the-road processors, low storage space, and making use of Google Drive storage. Apple’s set up to do the exact same thing, possibly also throwing in a better processor to justify a higher price, while still largely relying iCloud for storage.
The iPhone XS and XS Max are available with up to 512GB of storage, that’s more than the baseline storage of some MacBooks. Massive handheld storage like that means very few users will be using iCloud for their iPhones. By taking a Chromebook approach toward offering cheaper MacBooks, Apple could sell more computers and more iCloud storage subscriptions. In fact, Apple computers already have a feature that automatically dumps files into iCloud.
Mojave predecessor macOS Sierra introduced iCloud storage optimization, which tries to save space by offloading unused files to the cloud. This could easily be changed to just automatically storing all files on iCloud.
The tracks have pretty much been laid out already. Now, we’ll have to see if Apple makes this move on Tuesday.