The White MacBook, 2006-2011: An Elegy

By  |  Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 5:30 am

Among the umpteen things that makes Apple different from other technology companies is this: it makes news by discontinuing products as well as introducing them. Today’s big announcements involve the arrival of OS X 10.7 Lion and updated MacBook Airs. But it’s also decided to stop producing the $999 white MacBook, a machine that had an uncommonly long life as the cheapest general-purpose Mac portable.

As recently as a week ago, the reliably unreliable Apple rumor mill said that an upgraded white MacBook was on its way. Then it decided that no update was imminent. And the truth turns out to be there won’t be an update because the machine is leaving the market.

The final white MacBook was a direct descendant of the one that Apple released in May 2006 (along with a black model which I mourned when it was discontinued in 2009), and it shared largely similar aesthetics with iBook models going back to, I believe, 2001.

May 2006 was a decidedly different era in Apple history than the present day: for one thing, there were no iPhones and no iPads. For another, an awful lot of the company’s products still came in plastic cases–between the iPod, the iMac, and the MacBook, white plastic was probably the case material most identified with Apple products.

Specwise, the current white MacBook is a modern computer: it offers better specs than older versions, a unibody case, and other improvements. But it still feels a bit like the Mac that time forgot. I can’t imagine that Steve Jobs, a man famously allergic to nostalgia, is a huge fan.

The machine’s disappearance doesn’t do anything to the starting price for Mac portables: it remains $999. But that buys you the new 11″ MacBook Air, a computer that’s strikingly unlike the MacBook. It’s vastly sleeker. It has a smaller screen, but with higher resolution. It weighs less than half as much. It’s battery life is shorter.  It has a quarter the storage, but it’s solid-state. It has fewer ports and no optical drive. It has a slicker case made of aluminum. It has a more current processor, but at a slower clock speed. It’s just a beast born of an entirely different set of tradeoffs.

(The 13″ MacBook Pro is a closer cousin of the white MacBook, albeit one that’s a lot slicker; it starts at $1199, which is presumably too steep for some of the folks who would have bought a white MacBook in the past.)

Why did Apple ax the white MacBook? Presumably, it wasn’t because sales were terrible or because it was unable to turn a profit on the thing. But the new MacBook Airs represent the company’s thinking as of mid-2011 about what a laptop in this price range should be like. And a majority of consumers seem to agree: the 11″ Air was already outselling its older white counterpart. Apple being Apple, it didn’t wait until the white MacBook was truly obsolete before it pulled the plug.

Me, I never owned one. But it reminds me of the black MacBooks which I did have, and knowing it was still around made me feel good. Even though I’d opt for the Air myself if I was buying a Mac on budget. I’m curious to see whether the 11″ MacBook Air becomes anywhere near as pervasive as the old standby which it’s kinda-sorta replacing.

 
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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Jim Says:

    A pity, really. This has been the staple for my daughter in college. She needed the ports and the storage (which I upgraded and partitioned for her so she could also run WIndows for specialized engineering apps). A solid machine at a reasonable price (MicroCenter sold them regularly for $900, less if it was open-box). The only thing the last few versions lacked was the Firewire port.

    The MacBook Air models are great for many purposes, but not necessarily college students. Many colleges give students dedicated ethernet ports in dorms instead of wireless and forbid personal wireless hardware on those jacks. Other colleges that I know of limit wireless usage, requiring large downloads to be via hardwire ethernet. The MacBook Pro is a sweet machine, but not all college students have an extra $200 on hand.

    I personally use a white MacBook for some field work and found it perfectly adequate for my desktop computer as well. Next time, I guess I'll have to spring for the Pro version, as well.

  2. Annabella Freeman Says:

    I am really upset about this, I love my white MacBook it's my little buddy that goes with my everywhere. I always that one day I'd getter a newer one but alas I will now cherish this one until it breaths it's last breathe which I hope isn't for a very very long time! : (

  3. spookiewon Says:

    I own one, circa mid 2008. I don’t use it any more, but it was my first Intel Mac and I’m sentimental. I own a 13″ Macbook Pro and a 11″ Macbook Air now, both of which see daily use, but I’ll miss the classic white acrylic Macbook…

  4. Anon Says:

    I always thought it was a use-case designed product for the student: an affordable, rugged, portable machine that would get pulled in and out of backpacks a dozen times a day in class rooms and cafes, and that could last from matriculation to graduation.

    The new MBAirs are too compelling now at the same price point. Let's see if they can fill that same space that the MacBook did.

  5. Joy Says:

    Are you kidding me?
    CANCELING BEST DESIGN EVER!
    who cares if air is thin, white macs kind of make me addicted.
    I wanted to buy one, what now :////

    such a shame

  6. Jayde Says:

    Hey do you have an eBay and would be willing to sell me your white MacBook 13″ for around $400 (U.S.). Thank you in advance. If you are willing please reply and I will give you my email.

  7. Eric Says:

    What a great read, I'm really glad that I stumbled upon this.
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  8. Devin McLarty Says:

    Nooo!!! My life is over!!! DX
    I so wanted to have a new upgraded version of the (white) MacBook. It seems the most like the classic Apple products. It's design was flawless to me… I even saved up $2500, planning to buy one this year. ):

  9. Andrew Says:

    In the end these were better than Apple's metal notebooks. Aluminum notebooks are a bad idea. Apple ought to be making their 17 inch MacBook Pros out of polycarbonate plastic. You get better wi-fi reception, and what I always saw as a much better material. So, maybe the glossy white outer shell attracted scratches, but the plastic on those black MacBooks had a matte finish which attracted far less scratches than aluminum. They were also much easier to pick up and carry around. There was no glass panel over the screen and a heavy aluminum body. I would buy a macbook air if it was made of plastic. The only reason I bought a macbook pro over a macbook was because the newer macbooks lacked firewire, and I had a need for a firewire port. Apple could easily switch to plastic- it's not like plastic is any harder to shape- heck, all you do is design a mold and pour it in to dry! Nevertheless, apple isn't selling any (new) computers made of plastic. The white macbook was the last to go, and now the only plastic you will see is in peripherals (which they are still changing to metal- look at the newer Mag-safe connectors!) and accessories like the Time Capsule.

  10. jim Says:

    andrew – it's almost 2012. get with it man!

  11. Kim K Says:

    Im getting the white is it good

  12. Dr. Branco Says:

    Now is 2012 and a friend of mine is offering me one for about 600$ ! It will be my first Mac, should I buy it ?
    Tks folks !

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  14. Mia Says:

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