AirBar for the MacBook Air provides the ability to seamlessly activate touch and gesture functionalities.  

Airbar for Mac

Even though it’s a few years old, Apple’s 13″ MacBook Air is still an impressive device. For $999 you get:

  • 128 GB of flash-based storage on a solid-state drive,
  • A 1.8 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor,
  • 8 GB of 1600 MHz LPDDR3 onboard memory, and
  • Up to 12 hours of use on a single battery charge.

The only thing that the MacBook Air doesn’t have is a touch screen.  Now, one manufacturer (Neonode) is looking to change that. It’s a device that business professionals and others who are serious about productivity will definitely appreciate.

AirBar is an accessory designed specifically for the 13″ MacBook Air that turns it into a full-touch screen display, similar in concept to Apple’s iPad. It’s available for purchase from major retailers for just $99.

AirBar “turned heads” soon after its debut at the CES 2017, where it won an Innovation Award due its functionality. It’s a thin, solid-aluminum bar that you attach just below the MacBook Air’s display with magnets. You use a USB cable to connect it your MacBook Air to turn it into a full-touch screen device.

AirBar’s impressive operation relies on an invisible light field that’s projected onto the surface of the MacBook Air’s display. Whenever your finger, a stylus, or any other object breaks that light field, sensors translate this action into macOS-compatible commands. When you touch the screen to control your MacBook Air, you can tap-to-select, swipe, scroll and even pinch-to-zoom.

AirBar requires at least 17 mm (millimeters) of free space below the display to operate. The light-field generator and sensor are both plug-and-play compatible, meaning they instantly activate when plugged into a USB port on either side of the 13″ MacBook Air.

For those interested in enabling additional gestures for their device, they can purchase Neonode’s optional multi-touch software. This one-time installation extends the functionality of AirBar even further.*

The Growth of Hybrid Devices

Adding a touch-screen interface to the 13″ MacBook Air is a move that will undoubtedly be met with controversy among Apple enthusiasts. Since the release of the original versions of both the iPhone and the iPad in 2007 and 2010, Apple has been very clear about its desire to keep its hardware categories heavily segmented.

If you’re looking for a powerful smartphone device, you go with the iPhone. If you’re looking for touch-screen productivity while traveling, you go with the iPad. If you want a true computing experience, you have options available like the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. Beyond that, company officials have been heavily resistant to “hybrid options” or “2-in-1” models like their competitors.

Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke negatively about both the concept of these hybrid devices and the popular Microsoft Surface Book, calling it a “deluded product category” that “tries too hard to do too much. It’s trying to be a tablet and a notebook and it really succeeds at being neither.”

Nevertheless, it’s a product category that both personal and enterprise shoppers have embraced in recent years. Research Director of Tablets at IDC, Jean Philippe Bouchard, said: “we’re witnessing a real market transition as end users shift their demand towards detachables, and more broadly towards a productivity-based value proposition.”

The “detachables” segment of hardware sales recorded an impressive 75% growth in 2016, compared to 2015. The market for Windows-based devices in this segment alone was expected to more than double by 2019.

If you’re waiting on Apple to come up with their own tablet/laptop hybrid, you’re probably going to be waiting a very long time. Until that day arrives, options like the AirBar are your best bet.

* Note:  Unfortunately, the MacBook Air has been discontinued. Official MacBook Air models haven’t seen a proper refresh in years, and have been supplanted by the MacBook. The AirBar is incompatible with the MacBook Pro, MacBook 12″ or MacBook Air 11″ model.  

The AirBar is also available for select models of Windows-based laptops with display sizes in the 13.3″, 14″ and 15.6″ ranges.

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