A forum at MacObserver (http://macte.ch/iEa7D) ponders whether the MacBook’s days are numbered. It’s an interesting discussion — and I think the consumer portable’s days are indeed numbered.

With prices dropping (a little) on the MacBook Air, it could serve as a replacement in some cases for the MacBook, especially if Apple were to offer steep educational discounts. Of course, Apple could introduce an Air with a traditional hard drive instead of a pricey solid state drive, but that’s almost certainly not going to happen.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro could also be touted as a replacement for the MacBook Air. The entry-level MB Pro costs US$1,199, which is only 200 bucks more than the MacBook (and that’s not figuring in educational discounts). Of course, 200 bucks is a lot of money for students and schools. Apple could probably trim some off the price of a MB Pro by introducing a smaller hard drive — say, a 250GB version, such as the MacBook has, instead of the 320GB drive now in the entry level, 13-inch MB Pro.

But what will probably drive the nail in the MacBook’s coffin is the iPad. It’s less expensive than any Apple laptop. It’s also less capable in may areas; still, bundle an iPad with an external keyboard and you have a device that can replace a laptop for many students.

I think we’ll still see the MacBook continue on in 2011. But within a year — since Apple likes streamlined product lines — I think the company will drop the consumer laptop and pitch 13-inch MacBook Pros, iPads and perhaps MacBook Airs to schools, especially K-12 institutions.

— Dennis Sellers