Comparing the Apple Vision Pro to the MacBook Air

It’s probably unfair to compare the new Apple Vision Pro to any of Apple’s prior product releases. After all, it represents an entirely new computing platform. But it shares many similarities to the 1.0 versions of Apple’s existing platforms:

  • the original 1984 Mac, with only 128k of RAM and a single 400KB floppy drive, was slow and underpowered to do all the amazing tasks Apple showed off in its introduction. (Apple quadrupled the RAM just nine months after the Mac’s introduction with the release of the 512k model.)
  • The first portable Mac (the Macintosh Portable) weighed nearly 16 lbs. It was the equivalent of having to carry six MacBook Airs with you, in order to get Mac Plus performance. (It wasn’t a hit.)
  • The original iPhone shipped in June 2007 with the incredibly slow 2G EDGE network, five years after the USA adopted 3G technology. (The inexpensive model had 4GB of storage, and it was quickly discontinued, in favor of 8GB models.)
  • The OG Apple Watch was too slow to run third-party apps natively on the device and required its iPhone companion to send screen data—incredibly slowly—over Bluetooth. (Within 18 months, Apple released a significantly faster model that was also $200 cheaper.)

Apple has had many first-generation products that are cutting-edge technology, priced too high for most consumers, that are more like technological demonstrations of the future. The Apple Vision Pro is no exception. While far more powerful and sophisticated than the Meta Quest 3, it’s also far from the dream of powerful AR glasses or featherlight VR goggles. It reminds me of an earlier Apple product: the original MacBook Air.

When Apple released the MacBook Air in 2008, I was blown away. I wanted it. Badly. I even fell in love with the song Apple paired it with: Yael Naim’s “New Soul.” (My wife and I even included the song in our wedding.)

But when Apple released the MacBook Air, it was expensive. Apple was already making MacBook and MacBook Pro computers: a MacBook started at $1,099, and MacBook Pros started at $1,999. When the MacBook Air debuted, it cost $1,799, but if you wanted it with the 64GB SSD—which is what made the MacBook Air the incredible computer it was—you needed to spend an additional $999. At $2,800 (which is nearly $4,000 in 2024 money), you’d be buying a computer which, compared to the $1099 MacBook, had a slower processor, half the storage, no optical drive, and fewer ports.

Why would you spend $1,700 extra to have seemingly less of a computer? Two reasons: it was light, and the SSD made it blazingly fast. While the processor was still slower than a MacBook Pro, the computer felt faster because the SSD was a revolution in random and sequential disk access. You couldn’t believe how much faster it was, until you tried it for yourself. The MacBook Air’s SSD was no fad, either: in 2012, Apple released the retina MacBook Pro, and, for the first time, all Apple laptops shipped with SSDs. It took 4.5 years to get the price of SSDs low enough to become standard on all Apple laptops (Apple made SSDs standard in MacBook Airs in late 2010).

Today, it’s hard to imagine using a hard drive as primary storage for a computer, and for users old enough to remember when computers shipped with hard drives, it’s sad to think about how much slower computers were because of their storage medium. But, in 2008, spending $2,800 to use a paltry 64 GB of SSD storage meant sacrificing in order to be cutting-edge. Today, you can spend $3,500 to be on the cutting-edge of AR and VR computing. Sure, the headset is too heavy, the incredible cameras are still not perfect representations of the real world, and it’s not ready for all-day use. But there’s a reason it’s blowing so many people away: the future is coming, and you can wear it right now.