After 14 years, Apple has finally retired the famous MacBook Air wedge shape

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in Current Mac Hardware

The MacBook Air's famous wedge-shape design is no more, replaced by the square-sided M3 model. Long live the sloped MacBook Air.

The famous envelope image, redone for an Apple MacBook Air ad
The famous envelope image, redone for an Apple MacBook Air ad



Back in 1991, Apple showed up the entire laptop industry by making one key design decision that all rivals then forever copied. That was the moving of the keyboard from the front of the laptop to the back, and turning what was wasted space into a useful palm rest.

As simple and even obvious as that now appears, it remains the single best ergonomic design change in laptops -- but then there was a second one. Some 17 years later in 2008, Apple unveiled the wedge as we've known and adored since.

Apple wasn't the first



As ever, Apple wasn't the first with a wedge shape where the front of the laptop is lower than the back, giving a sloping feel to the whole device. When he introduced the MacBook Air in 2008, Steve Jobs even illustrated how a Sony laptop was 1.20 inches at the back and 0.8 inches at the front.

Jobs just then immediately showed how that compared to the Sony laptop. To surprised cheers from the audience, the MacBook Air was revealed to be 0.76 inches at the back, sloping down to what Jobs called "an unprecedented 0.16 inches."

"Now I want to point something out here," he continued. "The thickest part of the MacBook Air is still thinner than the thinnest part of the [Sony] TZ series."

In what perhaps felt like a clever bit of foreshadowing, Jobs had also criticized existing wedge-shaped laptops for running slowly. He said that they had to because of what he called their thermal envelopes, the way the shape meant they couldn't cool a processor that was running at full speed.

Over its entire life, but especially at the start, the MacBook Air would be criticized for how its shape reduced ventilation and so required the processor to be run slow. But at the time, we had the word "envelope" in our heads, and then of course Jobs did what's still remembered today.

He showed the MacBook Air by slipping it out of an inter-office envelope.

Steve Jobs on stage in 2008, showing an image of the MacBook Air in an envelope
Steve Jobs on stage in 2008, showing an image of the MacBook Air in an envelope



Today these are practically unheard of, but for decades businesses would use these as reusable envelopes. They had a series of boxes on the front where you crossed out the last recipient, wrote in the new one underneath, then chucked the envelope into the internal mail.

In 2008, these inter-office envelopes were still common enough that Jobs's audience knew them. And even now, the sight of that laptop coming out of an envelope remains impressive.

The specifications don't, though. While not unreasonable for its day, the original MacBook Air shipped with 2MB RAM, an 80GB hard drive, and its screen was a 13.3-inch one at a resolution of 1280x800 pixels.

For comparison, the new M3 MacBook Air starts at 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD for storage, and its screen is a 13.6-inch one at 2560x1664 pixels resolution.

The 2008 original MacBook Air sold for $1,799, which today is the equivalent of $2,577. The new M3 MacBook Air starts at $1,099.

However, to put the original 2008 MacBook Air in context, it was introduced alongside the now long-gone Time Capsule. The event was also exactly 200 days since the original iPhone launched, and by this point Apple had sold a total of four million iPhones.

The 2008 MacBook Air form factor was tremendous



In 2008, AppleInsider praised the MacBook Air's physical design, describing the wedge as tapering "down into a whisper thin edge." It also said, though, that "physics simply limits the degree to which the Air could be reduced in size" while following the same overall proportions as the MacBook Pro.

The curved edges make the wedge taper less obvious, but there's still a distinct slope from back to front (right to left)
The curved edges make the wedge taper less obvious, but there's still a distinct slope from back to front (right to left). Notice the (opened) pop-down door revealing the ports.



The New York Times was effusive, saying "you can't take your eyes or your hands off it... this thing looks as if it's descended from a spatula."

"When it's on a table, you might mistake this laptop for a placemat," it continued. It did say that the wedge shape "wastes a bit of internal space."

But for anyone who shares Apple's admiration for elegance, the tradeoff is worth it," concluded the New York Times. "This laptop's cool aluminum skin and smooth edges make it ridiculously satisfying to hold, carry, open and close."

According to Engadget in 2008, as archived by AOL, the MacBook Air was so unusual that airport customs officers held up a traveller with one. They were suspicious because it had no obvious hard drive, and seemingly no ports -- because the ports were hidden behind a pop-down door.

Macworld also praised it overall but noted that it was "the slowest currently shipping Mac model."

That slowness was to become a problem, especially since despite it being slow, the MacBook Air still overheated. In August 2008, Apple released a fix for that problem -- but it didn't work.

By the end of 2008, and also then again during 2009, Apple refreshed the MacBook Air's design. It upgraded the processor and graphics options, for one thing, plus it reduced the price to $1,499. And, that flip-down USB-A door was gone.

Then in 2010 as Apple revamped the 13-inch MacBook Air, it also introduced an 11-inch version.

Surprisingly, since it's now all but forgotten, there was an 11-inch model of the MacBook Air for six years. It was replaced in 2016 by the 12-inch MacBook.

Last rites for the MacBook Air wedge



The simple wedge shape of the MacBook Air genuinely made typing easier and more comfortable. It mean users didn't have to raise their wrists to reach the keys, it meant their palms could be flat down on the surface.

But it also always meant there was less physical space for cooling air to circulate. That in turn meant -- just as Jobs said of the Air's rivals -- that there was a compromise in performance.

Top: the original MacBook AIr in profile. Bottom: the new M3 MacBook Air in profile.
Top: the original MacBook Air in profile. Bottom: the new M3 MacBook Air in profile.



The MacBook Air got faster and faster, but it was still under-powered because of its thermal envelope. The move from Intel to Apple Silicon helped the 13-inch MacBook Air in late 2020.

But it was the 2022 redesign that made all the difference -- and removed the wedge.

On the plus side, adopting the more straight-line profile of the MacBook Pro increased the ventilation and meant the device could run faster, and for longer. It meant that the choice between a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro was harder.

But it also meant that the distinctive and adored wedge shape design has gone. At least for now.



Read on AppleInsider

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 26
    thttht Posts: 5,437member
    Rudimentary math states that 2024-2008 = 16 years.  :D

    Thinnovation!
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 26
    bsimpsenbsimpsen Posts: 398member
    tht said:
    Rudimentary math states that 2024-2008 = 16 years.  :D

    Thinnovation!
    The wedge shape was retired in 2022, with the introduction of the M1 MacBook Air.


    One might reasonably wonder why it took AI two years to tell us about it.
    badmonk
  • Reply 3 of 26
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 15,320moderator
    bsimpsen said:
    tht said:
    Rudimentary math states that 2024-2008 = 16 years.  :D

    Thinnovation!
    The wedge shape was retired in 2022, with the introduction of the M1 MacBook Air.

    One might reasonably wonder why it took AI two years to tell us about it.
    M1 Air still had a wedge, M2 Air changed to box design:


    ramanpfaffbaconstangAfarstardewmeravnorodomwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 26
    charlesncharlesn Posts: 832member
    bsimpsen said:
    tht said:
    Rudimentary math states that 2024-2008 = 16 years.  :D

    Thinnovation!
    The wedge shape was retired in 2022, with the introduction of the M1 MacBook Air.


    One might reasonably wonder why it took AI two years to tell us about it.
    But it wasn't retired. It continued to be manufactured and sold as the M1 Macbook Air in Apple's current product lineup until today. This is the first time in 16 years that the wedge-shaped Macbook Air can't be purchased new through Apple. I'm sure existing stock will be with resellers for a while, and the M1 MBA remains an incredibly capable laptop. 
    edited March 4 chasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 26
    ramanpfafframanpfaff Posts: 133member
    Love the wedge. Have the M1 Air, and a 2012 Air as my media server in the house.
    dewmewatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 26
    I miss those Jobs keynotes.
    tyler82dewmewatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 26
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 966member
    By far the funniest bit of the Air debut was when Newsweek columnist Steven Levy’s review unit accidentally got thrown out with his newspaper recycling. https://www.newsweek.com/levy-gone-without-trace-84019
    tyler82watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 26
    retrogustoretrogusto Posts: 1,110member
    In those days, Apple designers figured out a number of clever tricks to make things look even thinner than they were, but in the spirit of updated design, a number of these tricks have been abandoned, resulting in products that in some cases look thicker but are actually thinner than their predecessors. The wedge design was brilliant, and still to my eyes looks entirely modern. I’m glad they kept it around as long as they did, and maybe when some of the current designs start to look dated they can bring back some of the things they learned with the wedge and the rounded and beveled edges of the 10.5” iPad Pro, among others. 
    baconstangdewmewatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 26
    thttht Posts: 5,437member
    Eric_WVGG said:
    By far the funniest bit of the Air debut was when Newsweek columnist Steven Levy’s review unit accidentally got thrown out with his newspaper recycling. https://www.newsweek.com/levy-gone-without-trace-84019
    Heh. The youngings don't know that the Sunday edition of a local newspaper was like 2 lbs, 1" thick, and about 12 x 16 inches folded up! Like gaming laptop big back in the day. ;)
    13485watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 26
    tyler82tyler82 Posts: 1,101member
    Apple should just start calling this the "MacBook" and drop the Air title
    sflageldewmeravnorodomwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 26
    baconstangbaconstang Posts: 1,105member
    Still lovin' and using my 9 y.o. 11" MBA.  So nice, small and light !
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 26
    entropysentropys Posts: 4,162member
    Have an 11 inch in the cupboard. Updated the Os last year, thought “hey, except for the screen resolution, this is still pretty good”. Then I put it back in the cupboard.
    but my home machine is still the 2015 13inch MBA. It is…slow.
    edited March 4 watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 26
    jccjcc Posts: 326member
    That image you show in the article is a MacBook Pro and NOT MacBook Air!!! A MacBook Air is thinner and has the headphone jack on the other side.
    thtAfarstarwatto_cobraindiekiduk
  • Reply 14 of 26
    timmilleatimmillea Posts: 243member
    I believe the (wedge) M1 MacBook Air is likely to prove the greatest MBA ever and become a collectors' item.

    I just have to wait 10-20 years for most to have been disposed of and for mine to be worth a small fortune :-) 
    edited March 5 sflagelMisterKitdewmewatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 26
    M68000M68000 Posts: 724member
    Having used 2 airs for many years it is difficult to look at the current models and think of them as airs because of the wedge being gone.
    MisterKitdewmeravnorodombaconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 26
    MisterKitMisterKit Posts: 493member
    Gone also is the gold color in the Apple laptop lineup. RIP
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 26
    KBuffettKBuffett Posts: 95member
    The current MBA models feel too thick and too heavy. As are the iPhone Pro models.

    Definitely missing Steve Jobs
    edited March 5 watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 26
    M68000M68000 Posts: 724member
    KBuffett said:
    The current MBA models feel too thick and too heavy. As are the iPhone Pro models.

    Definitely missing Steve Jobs
    And Jony Ive?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 26
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 15,320moderator
    KBuffett said:
    The current MBA models feel too thick and too heavy.
    Macbook Air 2009:
    https://support.apple.com/kb/SP548?locale=en_US
    weight: 1.36kg
    thickness: 0.16-0.76" (average = 0.46")

    Macbook Air 2024:
    https://www.apple.com/macbook-air/specs/
    weight: 1.24kg
    thickness: 0.44"
    thtMplsPravnorodomwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 26
    netroxnetrox Posts: 1,418member
    "The specifications don't, though. While not unreasonable for its day, the original MacBook Air shipped with 2MB RAM, an 80GB hard drive, and its screen was a 13.3-inch one at a resolution of 1280x800 pixels."

    Surely it cannot be 2MB RAM??? I think you meant 2GB? 


    hecalderauxiococoakenravnorodomwatto_cobra
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