Apple Could Be Making Its Own Low-Cost Chromebook Lookalike Laptops

Apple Could Be Making Its Own Low-Cost Chromebook Lookalike Laptops

Apple may be thinking up ways to offer laptops that are cheaper and more pared down than its existing MacBook Air line. As reported by DigiTimes (via MacRumors), industry sources are speculating Apple could be working on a lower-cost version of its MacBooks that would compete in the crowded Chromebook market.

There’s not much detail on what this device would look like, other than maintaining the usual metal casing. Otherwise, the device would use less expensive materials and components for its internals. As far as a release date goes, DigiTimes said that, since there hasn’t been much activity at major Apple suppliers like Foxconn, there’s no good reason to expect we’ll see an ultra-cheap MacBook early in 2024. That means a late 2024 release window at the earliest, if ever.

This is the first anybody’s hinted at a Apple-style Chromebook, so the lack of details isn’t too surprising. The rumour should be taken with enough salt to taste, but it does make for an interesting thought experiment. Gizmodo reached out to Apple for comment, but we did not immediately hear back.

Apple isn’t one to ape the competition without adding some trademark flourish. After all, that’s how we got the upcoming $3,500 Vision Pro headset that the Cupertino company hopes will revolutionize VR, at least for those who can afford it. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting on Apple’s iPhone SE4 for a return to cheaper iPhones, but Apple doesn’t seem too interested in the ultra-cheap market.

The tech giant has distanced itself from non-Apple-brand silicon, and it’s hard to see the company going back to it, even to establish a new ultra-cheap laptop brand. Currently, the cheapest version of the M1-powered MacBook Air starts at $US999. The M2-powered MacBook Air is already considered one of the best laptop devices for its price. There’s a 15-inch version released this year plus M3-powered Airs coming down the pike. To get below $US1,000, Apple would need to sacrifice quite a bit from its current design.

Chromebooks are a mainstay of school-age, simplified laptop design. We’ve seen the trend of Chromebooks shifting more toward the lower-end tier of regular laptop power with Acer even dubbing one of its latest designs a “gaming Chromebook.” Then you have non-Chromebooks also eating into the sub $US1,000 category like the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go line which doesn’t run a pared down ChromeOS.

If Apple could somehow make its MacBook even more slim and pared down, any cheap laptop that could support speed and usability of Apple’s native chips and OS would have a major leg up compared to the native limitations of the Linux-based ChromeOS which mostly operates on the Chrome browser.

Apple’s jump into Chromebooks could also come at an important time for the ultra-cheap laptop market. Chromebook shipments increased dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, but growth slowed in 2022. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that educators across the country are dealing with the empty promises of Chromebooks. Many school districts that bought thousands Chromebooks back in 2017 and 2018 are finding their devices are becoming defunct. Google ended support for 13 models this year and 51 models next year. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group begged Google to extend the lifespan of 2023’s 13 Chromebook models, but to no avail.

Apple has a relatively solid track record of supporting older hardware, but it’s unclear if these kinds of devices would meet schools’ needs. While there’s no guaranteed lifespan for many devices, the usual lifespan for OS upgrades is about five to seven years, but the company still supports security updates on devices that are no longer being actively sold. Apple no longer supports macOS 10.15 Catalina, but any 2013 MacBook Pro or later can still technically run macOS 11, at least until Apple ends support for that OS this November.

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