Why Jony Ive’s MacBook Air design never changes

“Apple’s MacBook Air hasn’t been updated since its last redesign in 2010. The question is, why? Granted, Apple doesn’t march to the beat of everyone else’s drum. Still, four years is a long time to wait, especially since in that time, rival laptop manufacturers have moved through several design trends, from small, efficient netbooks, to über thin ultrabooks, and now to hybrid systems that flip, pivot, or detach from their keyboard,” Joel Santo Domingo writes for PC Magazine. “So where does that leave Apple? Why would one of the most innovative technology companies in the world be glacial in redesigning one of its most iconic products? Why would it want the MacBook Air to look… dated?”

“The answer seems pretty simple. The design hasn’t changed because, frankly, it hasn’t needed to. The chassis has plenty of internal room for the system’s motherboard, Flash storage, system memory, and enough battery cells to keep the MacBook Air running well past 10 hours. The 11-inch model is the perfect size for an airline tray table, adding to its appeal for frequent flyers,” Santo Domingo writes. “Don’t be surprised if Apple takes its time before releasing a radically different design for the MacBook Air.”

“This would be par for the course for the company. Case in point: the Apple Mac Pro. The Mac Pro was updated last year, to great fanfare. But the previous iteration had its beginnings with the Apple Power Mac G5, which was a ground-breaking design in 2003. The older model had an anodized aluminum chassis, an etched Apple logo on the side panels, perforated front and back for airflow, and you couldn’t miss the iconic handles on top and bottom of the tower,” Santo Domingo writes. “After three years, Apple totally revamped the interior components, changed some of the ports, left the exterior essentially the same, and came out with the Intel-equipped Mac Pro tower in 2006. Six more years of gradual internal component improvements followed, but the design remained unchanged, because it didn’t need to change (sound familiar?).”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take:

If you don’t understand or cannot grasp how perfect Ive’s austere Power Mac G5 design really is, it would be best to just be quiet and not make a fool of yourself.

This single sheet of aluminum, folded and simply cut to reveal functional handles, and wrapped around a gloriously organized interior makes all other personal computer designs, including the Power Mac G3/G4 cases look ham-fisted.

Ive has now matured to the point where his design is simply genius. And genius is often ahead of its time, as is the case here. Pun intended. If you can’t appreciate the quality of the Power Mac G5′s industrial design right now, wait a bit; you’ll catch up sooner or later.SteveJack, MacDailyNews, June 6, 2003


  1. I’ve said it before, and I guess if rumor is to be believed it will be addressed, the only issue is wasted bezel space on the 11 (and 13 for that matter).

    When the 11 and 13 merge into one line, the 12, about the size of the 11 with less bezel, that will be perfect.

  2. Pretty much every laptop has looked pretty much the same for 20 years. You don’t need to restyle a laptop every year for it to be useful or keep selling. People don’t upgrade laptops based on styling, it is based on increased functionality. Porsche’s 911 looked the same for a few years too. Nobody seemed to mind.

    1. If this were true, every laptop would look like the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. Go to a store and look at the crap on the shelves. What is this plastic? That’s BS!

  3. Yeah, and Porsche hasn’t changed the basic design of the vaunted 911 much since the sixties. Still a great looking car today as then and MacBook Air is still a very slick looking notebook. Things can get a little too thin and too light also.

  4. Apple is iPhone first… iPad second… MacBooks after… those are your top 3 money makers…

    The R&D that went into the iPhone will eventually be found in the next iPads… then whatever applies will land on the MacBook… no problem…

    Besides… people are actualy still buying MacBooks, yes?

  5. On any good useable laptop, there is one inescapable measurement that really can’t be changed no matter what you do with the rest of the computer — the keyboard.

    The MacBook lineup has (in my opinion) the perfect keyboard in terms of its space between keys, space efficiency and the “punchiness” of the keys.

    Whether I’m on my 27-inch iMac at work or my 13-inch MBP with retina while on the go, the typing experience is so similar as to be a non-issue in terms of adjustment.

    I had both 13 and 11-inch MBA’s (and loved both of them – just wanted retina) . . . The ports are one limiting factor in thinness already, combined with the necessary width for the keyboard and I’m just not sure it isn’t about the perfect laptop shape already.

    Apple won’t change the design unless there is a real reason to, nor should they.

  6. What’s the problem here? There is not a single PC design that has caught up to the MacBook Air, since it’s inception. So what are you complaining about? the Ultra Books are still crapy in comparison to the MBA. I am still waiting HP.

    The shift has been away from laptops, towards tablets. So your industrial designers have not been paying attention to the laptop form factor for the last 4 years.

    1. Actually there are several PC laptops that have ‘caught up’ with the MacBook Air – In fact they look just like the MacBook Air. Same wedge design, similar port layout, chiclet keyboard. They simply copied Apples product. Look at most of the Ultra-Books and they closely resemble the now s0-called ‘ancient’ design of the MacBook Air. Irritating when the virtually exact PC design copies are considered ‘fresh’ and the original Mac design is considered ‘stale’.

      1. Is this enterprise or only consumer products. It seems manufacturers will tend to experiment more on consumer goods. As far as HP is concerned their ProBook and EliteBook UltraBooks are still about an inch thick.

      2. “Actually there are several PC laptops that have ‘caught up’ with the MacBook Air – In fact they look just like the MacBook Air.”

        They may look like a MacBook Air from 5 feet away, but upon closer inspection they are not even close to “caught up”.

        -Try to open them with one finger while the laptop remains perfectly balanced on the table.
        -magsafe connection
        -once piece of CNC machined aluminum top and bottom case
        -ambient light sensor which controls screen and keyboard backlighting
        -quality chicklet keyboard
        -glass trackpad
        etc. etc. etc.

  7. The only problem with holding up the Mac Pro/ PowerMac G5 design up is that it should still be the model for the Mac Pro.

    What they call the Mac Pro today is a nice machine, but is a HTPC with the Mac Pro name hung on it. A smaller version of the Aluminum cased Mac Pro with internal storage and slots would have been an amazing thing, but Ive is more concerned with form than function.

    1. You think Apple should have made a worse machine than the new MacPro? A smaller version of a dated design, not the old MacPro, the entire tall tower concept. The new MacPro does have expandable memory, just not HDD. You want a few slots for devices you will have to turn off the computer and open it up to replace. Instead of about 40 hot swappable devices, some that can be 60m away. Several noisy fans, instead of one quite one. Something that is a pain in the ass to move over something very portable. I don’t understand your logic.

      The only problem with the MBA design is that someone might mistake it for a cheep, pice of crap Cromebook. Google completely copied the look, but nothing else.

  8. But, beautiful as it is, the Mac Pro G5 (and beyond) tower handles with their flat edges are really nasty if you’re going to carry this machine for any stretch of time. Best to have a pair of gloves handy. Partially functional handles might be a better description.

  9. A laptop is a laptop. The basic design has not changed since Apple moved the keyboard back from the front edge to the back edge (to provide the “palm rest” area), and later added a trackpad as the pointing device. The “youngsters” around here probably don’t remember what early laptops looked like before Apple’s PowerBook 100. Apple redefined the external design of laptops, in the same way that most smartphones now look more or less like an iPhone.

    What sets Apple apart is refinement and (obviously) the software. Precisely BECAUSE Apple does not do a massive hardware overhaul every year, like the competition and their feeble attempts to draw attention, Apple can focus on refining the existing design and improving the software.

    1. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t all laptops before first PowerBook have keyboard at the front edge and empty space before the screen hinge?
      After that all manufacturers have adopted that same basic design of hand rest and mouse control in front of keyboard. Anyone patented that design?!

  10. The fork, the hammer, the shovel – these haven’t changed design much in the last few years either. Then again, when a tool has reached the pinnacle of its utility, it’s unnecessary to change merely for the sake of change.

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