After tearing apart one of the new ultra-light laptops this week, iFixit, a popular electronics do-it-yourself website, gave the new MacBook Air a 'repair score' of 4 out of a possible 10 - which is the same score as the model released last summer. Although many parts are easily replaceable after the back cover comes off, iFixit said, the low score resulted, in part, because Apple uses proprietary components.
The SSD (solid-state drive) in the new MacBook Air is smaller, and thus not compatible with third-party alternatives created for previous generations, including last year's.
[Related: MacBook Air (2013) review | MacBook Air 2012 review | Apple launches new MacBook Air with battery improvements, Haswell | New MacBook Air release date and UK pricing | MacBook Air 2013 speed tests: how much faster is the Haswell model? | New MacBook Air 'just as tough to repair & upgrade as last year's model']
"The most striking thing about the updated 13in Air is the lack of major internal revisions. In fact, the newest Air generation is almost identical to the previous one, save for a handful of minor changes: a smaller SSD module, an updated AirPort card, a Samsung flash controller, and a new heat sink clamp," said Miroslav Djuric of iFixit in an email.
On Monday Apple refreshed the MacBook Air line by equipping all four configurations - two in the 11in screen size, two 13in - with Intel's latest Core processor, codenamed Haswell, which features a more powerful integrated graphics chipset.
Apple also cut prices $100, or between 7 and 8 percent, of the two 13in MacBook Airs so that the stock models now sell for $1,099 and $1,299. At the same time, it bumped up the price of the upper-end 11in Air by $100, or 9 percent, to account for a doubling of the laptop's flash-based storage from 128GB to 256GB.
Historically, the Cupertino, Calif. company rarely lowers Mac prices, preferring instead to keep those stable but swap newer, faster processors for older CPUs, add more memory or increase storage. But this week's price cuts were the second in just over a year: At last year's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple lowered prices of three of the four Air models by $100.
Since early June 2012, Apple has cut prices of the 13in MacBook Air by 13 to 14 percent, depending on the model.
Although CEO Tim Cook boasted that the company has recorded much larger Mac sales increases than the personal computer industry average, the stats he quoted disguised the fact that, like all computer makers, Apple's sales have stalled of late. In the first quarter, Mac unit sales were down 2 percent year-on-year; the downturn was much larger in the fourth quarter of 2012, when sales were off 22 percent.
The price cuts narrow the gap between the 11in MacBook Air and an iPad with 128GB of storage - the amount now standard for the least-expensive Air - to just $200. Investors and analysts have concluded that, again like rivals that sell Windows-powered PCs, Apple's laptop sales have been hurt by a shift towards tablets. Apple has agreed, but publicly reveled in the practice.
"I see cannibalisation as a huge opportunity for us," said Cook during a January conference call with Wall Street. "One, our base philosophy is to never fear cannibalisation. If we do, somebody else will just cannibalise it, and so we never fear it. We know that iPad will cannibalise some Macs [so] that doesn't worry us."
But by again pushing down MacBook Air prices and reducing the difference between laptop and tablet, Apple may be trying to stymie some of the cannibalisation.
iFixit's tear-down confirmed reports that the new Airs rely on a PCIe flash drive, which Apple boasted boosted performance 45 percent over previous SATA III flash-based models. Apple sourced the faster SSD components, including the controller and the flash memory, from long-time supplier Samsung, said iFixit.
The tear-down specialists also revealed that some of longer batter life Apple's claimed for the MacBook Air - a jump from 5 hours to 9 for the 11in, and from 7 hours to 12 for the 13in - came from a more powerful battery.
iFixit found that the new 13in MacBook Air uses a 7.6-volt, 7150 mAh (milliamps hour) battery, compared to 2012's 7.3-volt, 6700 mAh battery, for a 6 percent increase in milliamp hour, an indicator of how long a battery will run between recharges.
The refreshed MacBook Air went on sale Monday on Apple's online store, throughout its retail chain, and at some resellers, including Amazon.com. As of yesterday, Apple's online store claimed orders shipped within 24 hours.
The 2013 MacBook Air's solid-state drive (top) is smaller than the one in last year's almost identical notebook. (Image: iFixit.)
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Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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