The new Macbook Air is faster, but it’s the keyboard that will have Apple fans talking.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic closing stores and putting life on hiatus for many around the world, Apple has revealed a new MacBook Air model that’s sure to give Apple fans something to be excited about while waiting for the worst to pass. The new MacBook Air replaces last year’s model, and while it looks practically identical (the only difference is 0.02″ of added height in the 2020 model), the graphics, storage, and processor are all upgraded.
Those new hardware features pale in comparison to the biggest change introduced in the 2020 MacBook Air: An all new keyboard design. Those who have been holding out hope for a true MacBook keyboard redesign have finally had their wishes answered.
Here is what business users need to know about the MacBook Air 2020. This article will be updated as new information is available about this Apple device.
SEE: Apple Macbook Air 2020: Cheat sheet (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Disclosure: TechRepublic may earn a commission from some of the products featured on this page. TechRepublic and the author were not compensated for this independent review.
What is the new MacBook Air 2020?
Apple’s 2020 MacBook Air is the latest version of its ultra-portable laptop design that first appeared in 2008. The new MacBook Air retains the design of the 2018 and 2019 models, with most improvements coming in the form of upgrades to internal components; one exception is a new keyboard design.
Apple’s MacBook keyboards have long been a source of complaint since the now-extinct butterfly keyboard was introduced in 2015. In place of the unpopular design present in MacBooks from 2015 to 2019 is the same scissor keyboard design present in the current generation of Apple Magic Keyboard. The same keyboard design is also used in the 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch.
Anyone who has used a MacBook with the butterfly keyboard and an Apple Magic Keyboard or the 2019 MacBook Pro knows how different they feel. Dan Ackerman of TechRepublic sister site CNET even went as far as calling the new keyboard “positively delightful, which is not praise I offer lightly.”
SEE: Apple’s first employee: The remarkable odyssey of Bill Fernandez (PDF download) (TechRepublic)
Other features include the new scissor designed keyboard, a three-microphone array for clearer voice capture, support for 6K external monitors, improved stereo speakers, and Touch ID.
Owners of 2018 or 2019 MacBook Airs won’t notice much of a difference aside from performance and the new keyboard—this MacBook is an update, not a redesign.
SEE: Mobile device security policy (TechRepublic Premium)
Specs for the MacBook Air 2020
Display: 13.3″ 2560×1600 px True Tone display
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Processor: Choice of 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel i3 w/3.2 GHz Turbo Boost and 4 MB L3 cache; or 1.1 GHz quad-core Intel i5 w/3.5 GHz Turbo Boost and 6 MB L3 cache; or 1.2 GHz quad-core Intel i7 w/3.8 GHz Turbo Boost and 8 MB L3 cache.
Memory: Choice of 8 GB or 16 GB
Storage: Choice of 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, or 2 TB SSD
Security: Apple T2 chip
Ports: 2 USB-C, 3.5 mm headphone jack
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (no Wi-Fi 6), Bluetooth 5
Camera: Front-facing FaceTime HD camera
Operating system: macOS Catalina
Why should business users care about the new MacBook Air?
The reason that professionals should care about the 2020 MacBook Air boils down to one word: Keyboard.
As the owner of a 2018 MacBook Air, I can attest to keyboard problems; and, as the owner of an Apple Magic Keyboard I often use to type on it instead, I can also attest to the superiority of the Magic Keyboard’s scissor keys.
Not all professionals are going to be excited over a new keyboard, but anyone who spends a good amount of their day typing is sure to be pleased. The key travel distance on the new MacBook Air Magic Keyboard is only a single millimeter, but that’s double the distance of the butterfly keyboard.
Key travel distance can make a huge difference, and while anyone using shallow keys can adjust, it’s hard to completely eliminate the feeling that your fingers are slightly clumsier than they are on a keyboard with greater travel.
Travel distance aside, the Magic Keyboard addresses a lot of the issues the butterfly keyboard has, which include missed keystrokes, duplicates, sticky keys, and sensitivity to dust.
If the new and improved keyboard isn’t enough to excite you, there’s also the promise from Apple that the 2020 MacBook Air gets two times faster performance, and the fact that its entry-level hard drive starts at 256 GB, which is double that of last year’s model.
The 2020 Air has a new lower starting price of $999, and even an entry-level model comes with the new keyboard and the twice-as-large hard drive.
How does the new MacBook Air compare to similar and other products?
The 2020 MacBook Air faces competition from the usual suspects, many of which haven’t changed much since TechRepublic covered the release of the 2018 MacBook Air.
Chromebooks are the biggest competitor to the MacBook Air, with their similar slim designs, emphasis on portability, and ease of use. Chromebooks are often a lot cheaper as well; CNET’s choice for best business Chromebook of 2020 (the Acer Chromebook 714) only costs around $650 USD.
Apple has made the MacBook Air its entry-level computer, and at $999, it’s a significant jump in price over cheaper, more easily secured, and increasingly enterprise-friendly Chromebooks. Businesses looking to buy a lot of machines for users who don’t need resource-intensive computers may be better served by choosing Chromebooks.
Then there’s the new iPad Pro, which is looking more and more like a full-fledged laptop with each iteration. The latest iPad Pro even includes multi-touch trackpad support, a redesigned type case with backlit keys, and the same Magic Keyboard technology in the 2020 MacBook Air, and a rear camera with LiDAR scanning capabilities. All of those features give it the potential to offer the same level of user experience with the addition of augmented reality features (aided by LiDAR) that the MacBook Air can’t even hope to compete with.
Apple may be splitting its user base between two new products, and while that might not harm Apple’s bottom line, it could leave consumers in a position where they opt for a cheaper machine with all of the capabilities of both the 2020 MacBook Air and 2020 iPad Pro in one package.
When will the new MacBook Air be available, and where can I buy it?
The 2020 MacBook Air is available for order on Apple’s website starting on March 18, 2020, and will be in stores the following week.
With the closure of all Apple’s retail stores outside of greater China due to the coronavirus pandemic, online ordering is currently the only way to purchase the new MacBook Air until it comes to third-party retailers in the weeks following its scheduled in-store release.
Author’s note: This article was originally published on March 18, 2020.