When it comes to unloved MacBooks, one model trumps them all: the 12-inch MacBook from 2015. It got a lot of hate from all quarters, but you know what? I think Apple should bring it back.
We’re talking about a device that was even more divisive than the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro with butterfly keyboard. But despite that, there are more and more rumors that Apple is on the brink revive the 12-inch MacBook and try again, despite the obvious shortcomings of last time. Here’s why I think that could be a great idea.
The Jony Ive fever dream
In a report from late June, Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman claimed that Apple was working on a new 12-inch MacBook that was still early in the development process. That followed a earlier report from Gurman in which he said Apple is “considering launching it in late 2023 or early 2024.” But why would Apple want to bring back one of its least-selling laptops?
Last time the device was almost at thin. Just 0.14 inches at its thinnest, there was no room inside for a fan, meaning the chip that powered the device had to be a puny Intel Core M-series chip running at just 1.2GHz (which was the the most powerful fashion model).
Elsewhere, the butterfly keyboard was extremely shallow, resulting in an unsatisfactory typing experience and sticky keys. And there was only one USB-C port, because the chassis was just too narrow to put other ports on it.
In other words, it was Jony Ive fever’s ultimate dream. Apple’s former design guru had a reputation for pursuing his idea of perfection and cutting out the superfluous, but in the 12-inch MacBook he created a device that chased the thin and light ideal like a rabid dog, unaware that it threw everything people wanted overboard basically in a laptop. It was basically a proof of concept – congratulations Apple, you’ve created the ultimate lightweight laptop, if only someone wanted to use it now.
Apple silicon is a game changer
So why is Apple apparently going to bring back the 12-inch MacBook, even after Jony Ive and his obsession with extreme thinness left Apple? Well, this time it could be very different – and much better. In fact, we can already see evidence of that.
Since Apple finally brought the 12-inch MacBook to the backyard and unceremoniously shipped it in 2019, the company has embarked on something that completely revived its previously ailing Mac line: the move to Apple silicon chips.
Perhaps the most notable thing about these chips is their ability to get maximum performance for minimum power. They are so efficient that the MacBook Air doesn’t even need a fan, while reports suggest that Apple has at least one Apple silicon chip in its secret mixed reality headsetthat is the ability of the chips to stay cool during use.
These chips appear to be tailor-made for a new 12-inch MacBook. This time, Apple didn’t have to make any compromises to get a super-slim laptop — no need for low-power chips, just charge it up with an Apple silicon chip and reap the rewards. Like the M2 MacBook AirApple will be able to offer an incredibly slim laptop that still performs admirably, but is even more portable than the MacBook Air.
Put all that efficient power into a small laptop that defines portability, and you’ve got a real selling point. It’s not going to break any performance records, but for people who need to do lightweight work on the go, it could be perfect.
There is work to be done
That said, there are still plenty of hurdles for the 12-inch MacBook to overcome. The keyboard is a good example of this. When Apple killed off the last butterfly MacBook Pro and brought back the Magic Keyboard in 2019, Apple CEO Phil Schiller was very clear that the company hadn’t given up on the butterfly keyboard. Talking to CNETSchiller explained, “We’re going to continue with both keyboard designs,” referring to the Butterfly and Magic Keyboard variants.
So far, the butterfly keyboard remains dead and buried, but that doesn’t mean Apple is quite done with it yet. If it comes back, will it be in an improved form? Given past performance, we certainly hope so.
There is another potential pitfall: gates. Or rather: “gate”. With just one USB-C port for charging and peripherals, the 12-inch MacBook helped continue Apple’s dongle era. Fortunately, we seem to have woken up from that nightmare, because the latest MacBooks have a wider range of slots (even if it’s just one MagSafe Port on the M2 MacBook Air†
Will Apple have room to squeeze more ports onto the 12-inch MacBook’s chassis? Or will it stick with the previous tactic and limit everyone to a single slot and tell them to do the best they can? That could be a great test of its success, and in the current climate of reaction against port cuts, the stakes for Apple’s decision-makers couldn’t be greater.
Will it be worth it?
There are two things we know for sure about Apple. It likes small designs and hates to admit it’s wrong. Reviving the 12-inch MacBook allows him to eat and eat his cake, offering a laptop that embodies the Apple design aesthetic, while avoiding the defeat of the 12-inch MacBook project. How can Tim Cook resist?
Despite all the hints that a 12-inch MacBook is in the works, it’s not an absolute certainty. Notable leakers and analysts such as Ming-Chi Kuo and Ross Young include: skeptical the laptop is coming, and it would certainly cloud the already confusing MacBook waters. Apple should be anyway cutting laptopsdon’t add more.
But if Apple goes ahead and tries again, desperate for the confirmation it missed last time, it’ll be taking a risky bet on something that’s failed once before. I still think Apple has the ability to do it right, but it needs to learn from its own past. The results may be worth it.