Jony Ive apparently led a ‘big war’ at Apple to kill the MacBook Air

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We here at Macworld used to complain that the MacBook lineup was too complicated, but Apple has now simplified it so it makes more sense. But what if Apple had gone even further–what if there was only one laptop line, the MacBook Pro, and nothing else?

That’s what former Apple design guru Jony Ive wanted to do, according to journalist Walt Mossberg. In a recent episode of The Vergecast podcast, Mossberg talks about one of the ideas that Ive had while working with Tim Cook at Apple. (It’s at the 26:30 mark of the show.) Ive wanted to whittle down the MacBook lineup to one model, the MacBook Pro. “He decided there didn’t need to be an Air and a Pro,” said Mossberg. “He decided he could do the Pro and make it as light and as thin–or thinner–than the MacBook Air. And it would be a higher-priced machine, so that would be better for their bottom line, and people would buy it even if they didn’t need the extra power it gave.”

Mossberg cautions that the rumor is “a one-source story” from “a very high-level” person at Apple who “really super-knew the products.”

Apple followers may remember Steve Jobs’ philosophy of having two different product sets, one for general consumers, and one for pros. Ive’s idea flies in the face of that. “There was a big war between the design team and its acolytes (in other words, the Jony Ive-led team), and the engineering and product managers side of the company,” said Mossberg. The latter group wanted a new MacBook Air because it was Apple’s best-selling laptop. “They did not want to leave it on a hill to die.”

This dispute continued but eventually, the product people prevailed, and a new MacBook Air was produced, though it was just a specifications upgrade, not a redesign. Mossberg, who admitted that this story came from a single high-level source at Apple and may not pass “journalistic rigor,” said this MacBook Air was released at an event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which was in 2018. “This source of mine pulled me aside,” said Mossberg, “and said, ‘We finally won.’”

Ive left Apple the next year. It’s easy to conclude that this event led to Ive leaving (Mossberg doesn’t address it in the podcast), but it’s more likely that Ive had been planning to leave regarding of the outcome. Ive had been at Apple for nearly 30 years and stuck around for eight years after Steve Jobs died.

But (cue Jeffrey Wright voiceover), what if Tim Cook gave into Jony Ive? What if all we had was the MacBook Pro as Apple’s laptop offering? Ive was notorious for believing that customers had to be shown what they wanted and would argue that customers would just adapt, but would they, especially if their pocketbook was taking such a huge hit? As Mossberg said, it would’ve been a higher-priced device, so there would’ve been considerable backlash by Apple customers. Maybe, maybe not. The world will never know.

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