Don't count on Apple releasing a cheap MacBook to really challenge Chromebooks

MacBook Air M2
(Image credit: iMore / Gerald Lynch)

What you need to know

  • A new rumor claims Apple is working on "a low-cost MacBook series to compete with Chromebook models."
  • Specifically, Apple would be targeting the education sector, an area where Chromebooks continue to excel.
  • The report also suggests that these new MacBooks would not be released until "the second half of 2024."

If a new report from DigiTimes is to be believed, Apple is currently working on plans to introduce cheaper MacBook models in an effort to compete with Chromebooks. It's unknown whether these will be available to consumers, and it would be quite a shock if the report comes true.

Apple "prides" itself on offering higher-end devices, with its cheapest Mac being the M1-powered MacBook Air from 2020, retailing for $999. In comparison, some of the best Chromebooks for students start around $300, but you can get them for even less if you pick up last year's model. Options like the HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook or even the Framework Laptop Chromebook cost the same as the MacBook Air, but you won't find many of those in classrooms.

In order to bridge the gap and become more competitive in this market, the DigiTimes report goes on to claim that Apple will use "different materials" for the build. This, paired with the lower cost, could make the new MacBook "more appealing to the education sector." Currently, Apple uses a combination of recycled aluminum, but the company will likely look to rely on different materials in an effort to cut costs.

Lastly, the report goes on to claim that this new line of MacBooks won't debut until "the second half of 2024." That gives the company plenty of time to decide on a design, manufacturing materials, and everything else that goes into creating a new device. So, at least for the time being, Chromebooks will continue to be prevalent in classrooms.

Our take

Last year, Google announced that more than 50 million Chromebooks were being used in schools by both students and teachers. Much of this had to do with the buying rush that came when COVID hit, as Chromebooks are simply more affordable and continue to be improved in terms of what they can do. However, in its report, DigiTimes states that Apple already has a foothold in schools, as "there are 10 million schools around the world utilizing Apple's iPads."

One of the biggest appeals of a Chromebook is that it is a low-cost solution that works seamlessly with a Google account for access to all of the different services. While Apple has its own line of apps and services, it would be a great undertaking for a school to transition away from Google. Perhaps that's part of the reason why this report has even surfaced, as it's possible that Apple has started having conversations with educational leaders.

But the biggest reason why we're lukewarm on the idea of Apple targeting the education market is cost. We've already seen Microsoft try to put a dent in Google's Chromebook market share, to no avail. Granted, some of that has to do with Windows not being exactly optimized for lower-end hardware, something that ChromeOS excels at.

However, it would be extremely un-Apple-like to see a brand-new MacBook priced at less than $500. And that's likely around the lowest that Apple would go, provided that it can manage to maintain the same level of attention to detail and reliability found on current MacBook models. There's also the idea that Apple would basically be cannibalizing its foothold in the student tablet market, as a $500 MacBook would make less than the latest iPad Air.

We'll definitely be keeping our ears to the ground to see if Apple makes a play to dethrone Chromebooks, but we're not holding our breath.

Andrew Myrick
Senior Editor - Chromebooks, tablets, and wearables

Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.