On Tuesday morning, Apple announced that it's cutting the base price for its latest, 13-inch, MacBook Air (it was unveiled last fall) by $100 to $1,099, and giving the system a True Tone display that automatically adjusts its white balance in response to an environment's lighting. The company also announced that its cheapest MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,299 and has a 13-inch display, is being refreshed to contain a quad-core Intel (INTC - Get Report) Core i5 CPU (it previously had a dual-core CPU), a True Tone display, an OLED Touch Bar and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor.
In tandem with these moves, Apple quietly discontinued its 12-inch MacBook, which started at $1,299, originally launched in 2015 and was last refreshed in mid-2017, as well as its $999 MacBook Air, which outside of a small 2017 CPU/RAM update hadn't been refreshed since 2015. And following months of major flash memory price declines, Apple cut prices for its Mac solid-state drive (SSD) upgrade options.
Apple shares rose 0.6% on Tuesday and were rising 1% to $203.21 on Wednesday morning.
Here are three thoughts on Apple's moves.
1. Apple Is Simplifying its MacBook Marketing
Following the 12-inch MacBook's discontinuation, Apple now has one MacBook line (the Air) that's aimed at more cost-sensitive notebook buyers, and one line (the Pro) aimed at those willing to pay for more performance, a richer feature set and (in the event a 15-inch model is purchased) more screen space.
The 12-inch MacBook, by comparison, didn't fit neatly into any box. One one hand, it carried a higher base price than the latest MacBook Air, and was thinner and lighter. On the other hand, it had a smaller display, lacked a Touch ID sensor and (though consumers could pay extra to get a more powerful CPU) the dual-core Intel Core m3 CPU on the base model was less powerful than the dual-core Core i5 CPU that goes inside the latest Air.
By no longer selling the 12-inch MacBook, Apple's sales message to potential MacBook buyers has become a lot more streamlined.
2. Apple Is Competing More Aggressively Against Premium Windows Notebooks
The MacBook Air price cut and the refresh announced for the cheapest MacBook Pro put Apple on a little better footing as it competes against premium Windows ultrabooks and notebook/tablet convertibles from the likes of Dell (DELL) , HP (HPQ - Get Report) , Lenovo and Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) . Sales of such systems, which typically pack touchscreens, SSDs and Core i5 or i7 CPUs, have been a strong point for Windows OEMs over the last couple of years amid a broadly sluggish PC market.
It's worth adding here that Apple is also announcing a $100 MacBook discount for college students ahead of the back-to-school season, and that the company is two months removed from giving costlier MacBook Pro models more powerful CPUs. While Apple is still quite serious about pitching the iPad Pro as a notebook alternative, it has been working harder lately to satisfy traditional notebook users, and by doing so bolster a Mac business that records about $25 billion in annual sales and claims an active installed base of more than 100 million systems.
3. Jony Ive's Departure Might Have Something to Do With the End of the 12-Inch MacBook
More than other Apple notebooks, the 12-inch MacBook, which originally launched around the same time that Jony Ive was named Apple's Chief Design Officer, felt deeply influenced by Ive's minimalist design philosophy in terms of both form and function.
At 2.03 pounds and a maximum thickness of 0.52 inches, the MacBook was Apple's thinnest and lightest notebook. It was also the MacBook with the smallest display, at least after Apple discontinued the 11-inch MacBook Air in 2016. And it was the only MacBook to feature a single Thunderbolt/USB-C port for both charging and data transfers (users could pay extra for a dongle that gave them additional ports); all other MacBooks have either 2 or 4 such ports.
It might not be a coincidence, then, that Apple is discontinuing the MacBook less than two weeks after announcing that Ive is leaving Apple to form a new design company that will service both Apple and other clients. Likewise, amid speculation that Apple's controversial "butterfly" MacBook keyboard was a product of Ive's design priorities, it might not be a coincidence that Apple has been reported to be prepping new MacBook Air and Pro models that will pack "scissor switch" keyboards that are more durable and feature a longer key travel distance.