What happens to the MacBook in the age of the iPad? It survives, of course, but is less important than it was.
The most obvious indicator is Apple Store real estate. At my local Apple store in Southern California, iPads have unceremoniously pushed all MacBooks off one large display table at the very front of the store. Not an earth-shattering development but nonetheless indicative of what's really important for Apple right now: the iPad is front and center.
Then there are some less visible, less verifiable things going on that, though speculative, seem increasingly likely to happen. As, the first casualty of the iPad tsunami appears to be the MacBook Air. He spoke of a conversation he had with an Apple store employee who suggested that the iPad would replace the Air.
I also had two similar conversations with Apple store salespeople. They prefaced their remarks (which were surprisingly similar) by saying that they didn't know what would happen to the Air, then said, to paraphrase, "when you think about it," the iPad does everything the Air does. (Actually, not true.)
Another indicator of the possible fate of the Air was its conspicuous absence from the Tuesday MacBook Pro refresh --despite the fact that the Air received only a marginal upgrade way back in June 2009 (it got a slightly faster processor).
This time around Apple could have elected to revamp the Air (I have a particular interest since the Air is my main machine). At the very least, Apple could have refreshed it with one of the ultra-low-power Core i7 processors. Or added a 3G modem option (which the ultraportable Air has always cried out for). Alas, neither happened. Core i processors went to 15- and 17-inch Pros and 3G went to the iPad.
In a broader sense, the MacBook line may simply be a victim Apple's own success. The deemphasis on the MacBook has become unavoidable as the iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad become the most visible Apple products.
What kind of company will Apple be in five years? Anybody willing to guess? If things continue on their present course, it will be more iPad and iPhone and less MacBook.
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