New MacBook Air still stymies repairs, upgrades

Gregg Keizer
14 June, 2013
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Price cuts of 14 percent since early June 2012 narrow the difference between notebooks and tablets, may be Apple’s attempt to slow cannibalisation

Apple’s newest MacBook Air, nearly identical to its predecessor, is not any easier to repair, iFixit said this week after tearing apart one of the just-released ultra-light notebooks. iFixit, a popular electronics do-it-yourself website, gave the new MacBook Air a repair score of four out of a possible 10, the same as the model released last summer. Although many parts are easily replaceable after the back cover comes off, iFixit said, the low score resulted, in part, because Apple uses proprietary components. The SSD (solid-state drive) in the new Air is smaller, and thus not compatible with third-party alternatives created for previous generations, including last year’s. “The most striking thing about the updated 13in Air is the lack of major internal revisions. In fact, the newest Air generation is almost identical to the previous one, save for a handful of minor changes: a smaller SSD module, an updated AirPort card, a Samsung flash controller and a new heat sink clamp,” said Miroslav Djuric of iFixit in an email.

On Monday, Apple refreshed the MacBook Air line by equipping all four configurations – two in the 11in screen size, two 13in – with Intel’s latest Core processor, code-named Haswell, which features a more powerful integrated graphics chipset.

Apple also cut prices US$100, or between seven and eight percent, of the two 13in MacBook Airs so that the stock models now sell for US$1099 (A$1249)and US$1299 (A$1449). At the same time, it bumped up the price of the upper-end 11in Air byUS$100, or nine percent, to A$1349 to account for a doubling of the laptop’s flash-based storage from 128GB to 256GB.

Historically, the Cupertino, California company rarely lowers Mac prices, preferring instead to keep those stable but swap newer, faster processors for older CPUs, add more memory or increase storage. But this week’s price cuts were the second in just over a year. At last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple lowered prices of three of the four Air models by US$100.

Since early June 2012, Apple has cut prices of the 13in MacBook Air by 13 to 14 percent, depending on the model.

Although CEO Tim Cook on Monday boasted that the company has recorded much larger Mac sales increases than the personal computer industry average, the stats he quoted disguised the fact that, like all computer makers, Apple’s sales have stalled of late. In the first quarter, Mac unit sales were down two percent year-over-year; the downturn was much larger in the fourth quarter of 2012, when sales were off 22 percent.

The price cuts narrow the gap between the 11in MacBook Air and an iPad with 128GB of storage – the amount now standard for the least-expensive Air – to just US$200. Investors and analysts have concluded that, again like rivals that sell Windows-powered PCs, Apple’s laptop sales have been hurt by a shift towards tablets. Apple has agreed, but publicly revelled in the practice.

“I see cannibalisation as a huge opportunity for us,” said Cook during a January conference call with Wall Street. “One, our base philosophy is to never fear cannibalisation. If we do, somebody else will just cannibalise it, and so we never fear it. We know that iPad will cannibalise some Macs [so] that doesn’t worry us.”

MacBook Air teardown

The 2013 MacBook Air's solid-state drive (top) is smaller than the one in last year's nearly identical notebook. (Image: iFixit.)

But by again pushing down MacBook Air prices and reducing the difference between laptop and tablet, Apple may be trying to stymie some of the cannibalisation.

iFixit’s tear-down confirmed reports that the new Airs rely on a PCIe flash drive, which Apple boasted boosted performance 45 percent over previous SATA III flash-based models. Apple sourced the faster SSD components, including the controller and the flash memory, from longtime supplier Samsung, said iFixit.

The tear-down specialists also revealed that some of the longer battery life Apple’s claimed for the MacBook Air — a jump from five hours to nine for the 11in, and from seven hours to 12 for the 13in – came from a more powerful battery.

iFixit found that the new 13in MacBook Air uses a 7.6-volt, 7150 mAh (milliamps hour) battery, compared to 2012′s 7.3-volt, 6700 mAh battery, for a six percent increase in milliamp hour, an indicator of how long a battery will run between recharges.

The refreshed MacBook Air went on sale Monday on Apple’s online store, throughout its retail chain, and at some resellers, including As of Thursday, Apple’s online store claimed orders shipped within 24 hours.

by Gregg Keizer, Computerworld

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