Why Apple needs to upgrade the MacBook Air – and fast

I didn’t realise it at the time, but the tone for this year’s CES was very much set by Asus chairman Jonney Shih at the launch of the Transformer Book T300 Chi. “Lighter than Air”, “Faster than Air”, “Brighter than Air” – I paraphrase a little, but that was the running theme of Mr Shih’s presentation. Read more: Latest news and reviews from CES 2015

Why Apple needs to upgrade the MacBook Air - and fast

Likewise every laptop product manager I’ve spoken to, almost without exception, has taken the time to make a few disparaging remarks about the MacBook Air, the breakthrough machine that at one time stood for cutting-edge ultraportable but is now shorthand for portly and low resolution.

Nor is it just the Air feeling the heat. Just take a read through Dell’s press release for the XPS 13, where a whole paragraph is dedicated to one ex-MacBook owner’s change of heart:

“I recently switched from a MacBook Pro to Dell XPS 13 and couldn’t be happier,” it quotes Scott Stedman, founder of Northside Media Group, as saying. “The touchscreen is a game-changer and has transformed the way I work. It allows me to pivot between business development and design throughout the day. While I’m responsible for growth and operations, right now we are deep in product development for a new web app set to launch in 2015, and the XPS has allowed me every tool to navigate these varied responsibilities.”

I suspect Apple isn’t exactly quaking in its boots at these taunts – the MacBook Air remains a great laptop, and its sales no doubt continue apace even now – but it should take note. The PC industry has caught up, and even the most staunch Apple advocate would surely agree that the company finds itself in the unfamiliar position of underdog.

It’s almost certain that we’ll see a 12in MacBook Air (even if it isn’t called that) this year, but even if the rumours are right – and I tend to give most credence to MacRumors on this front – then it could look so-2014 by the time of its release.

Because those laptop product managers have every right to be a bit cocky. Asus is showing the strength of the 2-in-1 laptop/tablet design with its Transformer Book Chi, and it’s notable that Toshiba has produced a 2-in-1 product in the form of the Satellite Click Mini, while Lenovo’s ThinkPad Helix is quietly improving too. Will Apple release a 2-in-1? I very much doubt it.

Sticking with Lenovo, it’s breaking new ground with the 770g LaVie – a full 40% lighter than the equivalent MacBook Air. And then there’s the new Dell XPS 13 with its stunning edge-to-edge “infinity” display. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned my favourite laptop of CES, HP’s EliteBook Folio 1020.

CES 2015 best laptop HP's EliteBook Folio 1020It’s shaping up to be a cracking year for laptops and, for once, all the innovation is coming from the old-school Windows manufacturers. I’m sure Apple will produce something special at some point – if not this year then next – but if nothing else it’s nice to see a power shift after almost a decade of Apple design dominance.

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