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Keep or kill: Do the MacBook Air, Mac Mini and iPod Touch have a future? - CNET

Last Thursday, Apple killed off its entire networking product line. The company announced that it would be sunsetting the AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule. You can still buy the remaining stock (if you don't mind Frozen-era networking tech), and they'll still work. Just don't expect Apple CEO Tim Cook to pull out a shiny new next-gen Apple router on stage at June's WWDC keynote -- or any other time in the future, unless the company feels it can somehow truly reinvent the networking space.

While some have lamented its demise, the death of the AirPort line surprised absolutely nobody. By not updating its networking products since 2013, Apple had effectively waved would-be consumers farther down the aisle, on to newer, better products from manufacturers that were actually moving forward in the space with innovations like mesh networking -- Eero, Netgear and even Google, to name a few.

The death of the AirPort line is a stark contrast to the fate of the Mac Pro. Apple's highest-end computer was similarly left untouched for the better part of a decade. It had effectively been given up for dead by the Mac's creative community -- until the company revealed in 2017 that it would be resurrected in the future, completely redesigned from the ground up. Not only that, but Apple would be developing new standalone displays, too -- thus reversing its exit from the monitor business, when it had killed off the Thunderbolt display in 2016.  

But what about those peers of the AirPort and the Mac Pro -- the other Apple products that have existed in limbo for years? They're not officially dead, but they feel impossible to recommend because "Apple has to be refreshing them soon, right?" Will they get an unexpected stay of execution, a la the Mac Pro? Will they be marched to the gallows, like the AirPort line? Or will they continue to occupy some middle ground product purgatory, limping along without updates?

iPod Touch

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The 2015 version of the iPod Touch is basically an iPhone SE without the phone capabilities.Nate Ralph/CNET

Last updated: Except for refreshed storage upgrades in July 2017, the hardware is identical to what was released in July 2015.

The case for killing it: Apple killed off the final scrollwheel iPods back in July 2017, leaving the Touch as the only iPod in the company's lineup. But with its tiny 4-inch screen and aging A8 processor, it's underpowered. And that 4-inch display feels downright microscopic compared in a world where the screens of most iPhone start at 4.7 inches, and most Android phones at 5. 

The case for keeping it: At $200 for 32GB, this is still your most affordable onramp to an iOS device: $150 cheaper than the similarly sized iPhone SE, and totally pocketable, unlike the iPad that costs $130 more. If a bigger 4.7-inch or 5.5-inch screen is off the table at this price, give this puppy iPhone 7-era specs, at least: an A10 processor and a 12-megapixel camera.

Read the CNET review: iPod Touch 2015

iPad Mini 4

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The 7.9-inch Mini 4 on the right, compared to a 9.7-inch iPad on the left. Sarah Tew/CNET

Last updated: The current hardware was introduced in September 2015, but as of March 2017, it's sold only in a 128GB model.

The case for killing it: The fourth iteration of the 7.9-inch Mini occupies a weird place in the iPad line. The only iPad that's not compatible with the Pencil stylus is smaller and slower than the new $329 9.7-inch Apple tablet, but it's also more expensive, thanks to the fact that Apple offers only a single 128GB version at an artificially price-inflated $399. And interest in mini tablets has waned as smartphone screens expand into phablet territory: We may see a 6.5-inch iPhone in September, if the rumors are to be believed.

The case for keeping it: A refreshed 32GB Mini with an A10 chip would be a killer entry-level product for, say, $249 -- especially if Apple ends up axing the iPod Touch described above. That price isn't that much less than the $269 for which Apple offered the Mini 2 until last year.

Read the CNET review: iPad Mini 4

Mac Mini

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The Mac Mini (far right) is starting to look downright massive compared to newer PC competitors, including the the HP Mini (left), Acer Revo (top center) and Intel Compute Stick (bottom center).Sarah Tew

Last updated: The current version of the smallest, most affordable Mac was introduced in October 2014 -- and has been unchanged since.

The case for killing it: Despite a devoted following, this $499 desktop computer has languished with an ancient fourth-gen Intel Core i5 for almost 4 years. Apple's statements on the Mini's fate since then have been noncommittal at best. One gets the feeling that the company would probably prefer that you just buy an iPad and keyboard/case combo at this price -- or step up to a MacBook instead.

The case for keeping it: At the very least, the Mini needs a current-generation Intel processor to be considered more than an also-ran -- although the still-popular MacBook Air (see below) has a fifth-gen Intel CPU that's only slightly newer. That said, it would be cool to see Apple pull an Apple, and go for a complete redesign. It could either go upscale, with a Cupertino take on the Hades Canyon, or it could go even mini-er than ever: Imagine a Mac desktop that wasn't much larger than an Apple TV box, for instance. That's the direction that other PC competitors have gone in recent years, as shown in the photo above.

Read the CNET review: Mac Mini 2014

MacBook Air

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The MacBook Air (center) lacks the thinner bezels and Retina screens of the MacBook Pro (left) and the 12-inch MacBook (right).Sarah Tew/CNET

Last updated: The Air was given the tiniest of CPU refreshes in June 2017, but the "upgrade" was to a 2015-era fifth-gen Intel processor. Its basic design, meanwhile, is nearly unchanged from the version that Steve Jobs pulled from a manila envelope when introducing it back in 2008. But that's not a knock: Many consider it to be nearly perfect -- the apogee of laptop design.

The case for killing it: There are two Mac laptops designed to siphon off Air lovers: The 12-inch MacBook is designed to be the perfect coffee shop computer, while the entry-level MacBook Pro brings more power to the table. Both are lighter and have Retina screens that leave that of the aging Air in the dust.

The case for keeping it: The options above have three big problems: They're both more expensive than the $999 Air (though sales have been more frequent), they require dongles and adapters to use any old-school USB peripherals and complaints about their fancy butterfly keyboards continue to mount. What Apple needs is a new entry-level laptop that leans in to the Air design and dependability legacy, while bringing its specs up to snuff. A 13-inch version of the MacBook would fit the bill nicely -- so long as it brings a Retina screen, at least one USB-A port, and a throwback keyboard that can't be felled by a speck of dust

The latest rumors: Published reports say that some sort of Air replacement is in the wings, and we may see it as soon as June 4. But keeping that $999 price tag is a must if it's meant to be a true successor to the Air.

Read the CNET review: MacBook Air 2017

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