Apple announces M3 MacBook Air range, claims it's 'world's best consumer laptop for AI'

The MacBook Air with M3 is released in New Zealand on Friday, March 8.
The MacBook Air with M3 is released in New Zealand on Friday, March 8. Photo credit: Apple

Apple has unveiled new 13 and 15-inch MacBook Air devices powered by the M3 chip, which was first released some months ago in the latest MacBook Pro and iMac ranges.

The new MacBook Air lineup features improved external display support, Wi-Fi 6E and other upgrades on last year's models.

Customers can order the new computers from today before they're released on Friday, March 8. In Aotearoa, the 13-inch M3 MacBook Air starts at $2049 while the 15-inch starts at $2499. The highest-spec options for the 15-inch model will make it $4599.

While Apple has notably avoided using the term 'artificial intelligence' more than other major consumer tech companies in recent years, the company is leaning in with this latest product announcement.

"With the transition to Apple silicon, every Mac is a great platform for AI," the M3 MacBook Air announcement states.

"M3 includes a faster and more efficient 16-core Neural Engine, along with accelerators in the CPU and GPU to boost on-device machine learning, making MacBook Air the world's best consumer laptop for AI.

"Leveraging this incredible AI performance, macOS delivers intelligent features that enhance productivity and creativity, so users can enable powerful camera features, real-time speech to text, translation, text predictions, visual understanding, accessibility features, and much more."

Much about the new MacBook Air is the same as the previous version, with the biggest upgrade being the chip. Benchmark tests of the M3 show around a 17 percent performance increase in single-core tasks and 21 percent in multi-core tasks, with a GPU performance increase of around 15 percent.

Apple announces M3 MacBook Air range.
With their thin design, the 13 and 15-inch M3 MacBook Airs weigh 1.24 kg and 1.51 kg respectively. Photo credit: Apple

Apple says the M3 MacBook Air is up to 60 percent faster than the M1 version and up to 13 times quicker than the fastest Intel-based MacBook Air. It should be noted however that only the basic M3 chip is available in the new devices, not the more powerful M3 Pro and M3 Max versions available in the MacBook Pro range.

When Apple first announced the M3 chip it highlighted how its power could be used by creative professionals, as it usually does, but also by gamers - a realm far more dominated by PCs than Macs. While the M3 MacBook Airs will also support hardware accelerated ray tracing for the latest, most realistic games on the market, in announcing them Apple is heavily emphasising their AI capabilities.

"With a broad ecosystem of apps that deliver advanced AI features, users can do everything from checking their homework with AI Math Assistance in Goodnotes 6, to automatically enhancing photos in Pixelmator Pro, to removing background noise from a video using CapCut," Apple said in its announcement.

"Combined with the unified memory architecture of Apple silicon, MacBook Air can also run optimised AI models, including large language models (LLMs) and diffusion models for image generation locally with great performance. In addition to on-device performance, MacBook Air supports cloud-based solutions, enabling users to run powerful productivity and creative apps that tap into the power of AI, such as Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365, Canva, and Adobe Firefly."

As with the M2 MacBook Air range, Apple promises the new devices will carry 18 hours of battery life.

Colour-wise the M3 MacBook Air devices are available in midnight, starlight, silver and space grey.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand starting price of the 13-inch MacBook Air with M2 has dropped to $1799 as of Tuesday.