How does the MacBook Air fit into Apple’s lineup now that iPad exists?

In order to understand where the MacBook Air fits into Apple’s lineup and its overall strategic vision moving forward, it is necessary to understand its CEO – the primary visionary of the company and, as of late, the computer industry. At the D8 Conference, Steve Jobs gave one of the best analogies explaining the future of personal computing. He said that PCs (meaning all personal computers including the Mac) will be like trucks and tablets (such as iPad) will be like cars. Most people will use cars in the future, because it serves all of their needs. Just as the average commuter just needs to get from one place to another – the average computer consumer wants a device that ‘just works’ and enables them to email, browse the web, compose documents (and the occasional spreadsheet) and enjoy their media. The people that use trucks want to do more than just get from point A to point B – they want to bring a boat along or maybe a crate of bricks. Similarly, those people who want to do more than just email and surf the web will need a full-fledged PC while sacrificing mobility and battery life in favor of raw processing power that will enable them to use Photoshop, Final Cut, Parallels and many other high powered applications.

The current Apple lineup mirrors this vision. iPad is one of the best email and browser experiences as well as being a great entertainment device, while being able to easily compose a document with the help of a bluetooth keyboard. On the high-end, the latest Macbook Pro lineup is outfitted with i5 and i7 chips that really crank up the performance of the machines designed for heavy use.

So where does this leave the MacBook Air? In continuing our vehicle analogy, it would be classified as an SUV (a crossover more specifically and not one of those massive Tahoes or Surburbans). It is a sleek version of the truck without all the capabilities but is more versatile than a car. It is a pain to pull a boat or transport a crate of bricks in a SUV and sacrifices must be made, such as taking out seats or getting horrendous gas mileage gunning it up a hill. Just as running Photoshop on a MacBook Air might be a pain, requiring the user to close most or all other open applications. But it both cases, the options are still available – it can be done. But in a car its impossible to bring along a boat or haul a crate of bricks, similar to running Photoshop on iPad – it’s just not possible.

That leaves us questioning what market this device targets. If cars are for consumers and trucks are for professionals, then the Air is for everyone else. It might sound like a cop-out answer or a potentially tiny target audience, but it actually could be a good portion of the market, especially initially. The Air is is for those consumers who feel uncomfortable when they are not carrying around a OS X device. It may take some time for even the average consumer to depart with OS X for mobile applications and purely adopt iOS for being on the go. The Air is also for amateurs, a more long term market, who need more than what iPad has to offer but not quite MacBook Pro power. Apple has even made a fantastic, free, pre-installed on every mac application bundle, iLife, for these amateurs. And those amateurs that want to run the occasional high-powered applications can do so as well.

I hope this sheds some light on the state of the Apple lineup as well as their vision moving forward. It is clear after seeing many comments on TechCrunch and even articles by other publications that believe the MacBook Air is a NetBook killer while iPad is just a fun device. This is obviously not the case (the price of the Air can tell you that much).

Moving forward, don’t be surprised if, during the next refresh of laptops (most likely Summer or late Fall of 2011), the current white plastic MacBook and the 13″ Macbook Pro are discontinued and the MacBook Air simply becomes the MacBook. Feel free to drop me a line @chadhuber