How Apple can make the MacBook Air great again

Apple has long been a big player in the laptop industry, consistently producing portables superior to all but the very best Windows alternatives.

These days, however, Apple’s winning streak arguably seems coming to an end, especially in terms of the MacBook Air. Apple’s pitch for the MacBook Air is a simple and successful one: a lightweight laptop that doesn’t compromise on performance. And while that remains the case with the modern MacBook Air, it’s a far cry from being the absolute best ultrabook.

Not only does the forever-consistent Dell XPS 13 prove a more powerful and all-round better alternative, but there are also an increasing number of other laptops that are arguably better than the MacBook Air in most regards. The Surface Laptop 3 13, Acer Swift 5 and LG Gram 14 are just a few examples, while manufacturers such as Asus, Lenovo and HP are also becoming more and more competitive.

If Apple wants to remain one of the very best companies at producing ultrabooks, it’s going to have to up its game in several key areas for the MacBook Air 2020. Here’s what we think Apple needs to do:

Related: Best MacBook Air alternatives

Intel Ice Lake

MacBook Air 2020 – Upgrade to Intel’s new processor

Apple has built a reputation for products that are just as powerful (if not more so) than those of competitors, always making sure the components in its smartphones, tablets and laptops are bang up to date. That isn’t currently the case with the MacBook Air, which currently sports the 8th Generation Intel Core chips.

Intel has since moved onto its 10th-generation chips, and companies such as Dell, Acer, Microsoft and Razer have been very quick to implement the new processor into their laptops. Apple has traditionally kept to its own cycle, refusing to rush the launch of a product to coincide with Intel’s processor road map. We have little issue with that, but it does mean the MacBook Air is currently significantly less powerful than its ultrabook rivals.

The last time we benchmarked the MacBook Air, it only saw a Geekbench 4 multi-core result of 7820. As you can see below in our table, rival laptops offer far better processing speeds to churn through tasks such as web browsing, video streaming and running applications.

Geekbench 4 single-core Geekbench 4 multi-core
Apple MacBook Air 4248 7820
Dell XPS 13  4877 14,509
Surface Laptop 3 5761 19,334
Acer Swift 5 5112 15,163

The good news is that Apple can easily catch up with the competition, just as long as it can strike a deal with Intel to start using its 10th Gen Ice Lake processors. Not only will that make the MacBook Air’s performance speedier, it will also enable support for Wi-Fi 6.

Related: Intel Ice Lake

MacBook Pro 16

MacBook Air 2020 – Ditch the butterfly keyboard

One of the most controversial MacBook design features is the keyboard. When Apple shifted over to its infamous butterfly switches, most users weren’t impressed with the uncomfortably shallow keys. There have also been reports that keys are prone to jamming if anything gets stuck underneath.

The new MacBook Pro 16in represents a massive U-turn for Apple, as it ditches the butterfly mechanism in favour of its traditional scissor switches. We welcomed this move in our MacBook Pro 16 review and Max Parker said, “It really is a pleasure to type on and a massive improvement if you dislike the previous keyboard.”

It’s a no-brainer move to also bring the scissor switches to the MacBook Air and eradicate the unpopular butterfly keyboard from the MacBook line-up.

Related: MacBook Pro 16in review

Apple MacBook Air 2018

MacBook Air 2020 – Make it even lighter

The MacBook Air’s unique selling point is in its name: it’s incredibly light – or at least, it was considered incredibly light when it first launched in 2008. Jump forward to the modern day and its 1.25kg weight is now considered the norm for ultrabooks, making the MacBook’s Air moniker feel dated.

We’ve since seen fantastic laptops emerge that are significantly lighter than the MacBook Air and the most notable examples are the Acer Swift 5 and the LG Gram 14, both weighing 1kg or less.

Weight
Apple MacBook Air 1.25kg
Dell XPS 13  1.23kg
LG Gram 14 1.00kg
Acer Swift 5 0.99kg

Of course, it’s not a major issue if the future MacBook Air continues to weigh 1.25kg – the recent Surface Laptop 3 13in model weighs more, after all – but if Apple wants to reclaim its crown as the king of ultrabooks, this is one area it can certainly work on.

Related: Acer Swift 5 review

iPhone 11

MacBook Air 2020 – Introduce more colour options

This one’s a bit of a wild card, and the least likely Apple will implement, but we’d love it if the company introduced more colour options to the MacBook Air range. Currently there are only Gold, Space Grey and Silver options, which is essentially the norm for Apple but becoming old hat in the laptop world.

The Surface Laptop 3 is a great example of how flashy colours can help a laptop really stand out and show some personality, with the Cobalt Blue and Sandstone options a refreshing alternative to all the blacks, greys and silvers.

There is some hope the MacBook Air will offer a wide range of colour options in the future though, especially since Apple recently launched a total of six colour options for the iPhone 11, including red, purple, yellow and green. If these colours were available for the MacBook Air, the ultra-portable laptop would immediately have a huge advantage over the best Windows alternatives.

Related: iPhone 11 review

iPhone X

The TrueDepth sensor as shown during the launch of the iPhone X

MacBook Air 2020 – Bring Face ID to the MacBook

Being able to unlock your laptop via Windows Hello simply by looking at it may be a small feature in the grand schemes of things, but there’s no doubt it’s also a huge time saver and helps to improve the overall experience.

Apple already has its own version of this technology in the form of Face ID, but it’s currently exclusive to iPhones and iPads. The MacBook Air already features a web camera so the laptop wouldn’t even need an aesthetic makeover or require the divisive notch seen on the iPhone. Everything already seems in place for this to become a reality.

Apple is also working on allowing users to log into the likes of iCloud with Face ID, so introducing it to the MacBook Air would speed up many more processes than just the initial sign in. Having Face ID on the MacBook Air makes so much sense that we reckon the arrival of this feature is more of a “when” than an “if.”

O2 5G

Image Credit: O2

MacBook Air 2020 – Support 5G connectivity

There was a large focus in 2019 on 5G connectivity, which enables devices to have a fast enough internet connection to download videos within seconds and stream games for the likes of Google Stadia and xCloud. Unfortunately, 5G is currently exclusive to smartphones for the most part. Intel and MediaTek are working together to produce 5G-capable laptops, but they’re not expected until 2021.

This means we’re highly unlikely to see the next MacBook Air support 5G, but Apple could explore that option in the following years. So what benefits would 5G bring to the MacBook Air? MediaTek president Joe Chen says, “Consumers will be able to browse, stream and game faster on their PCs, but we also expect them to innovate with 5G in ways we have not yet imagined.”

A major negative point of the MacBook Air is its inability to run video games. The combination of 5G and a cloud-streaming service such as Google Stadia could solve that issue right away, while also allowing for continued productivity when away from the Wi-Fi.

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