Mark Gurman's scoop last week sent the Apple press abuzz.
There have been rumors floating around for months that a 12" Air was coming, but nobody was predicting anything as dramatic as the renders Gurman commissioned.
The compressed keyboard, even slimmer body, and especially the ports have divided opinions greatly. Beyond the expected divide on how well it will fit into users' daily lives, there has been a major divide in where it fits into Apple's lineup.
Assuming there is fire with all the smoke, and that Gurman's scoop turns out to be accurate, I'm leaning more towards The Verge's take.
I don't think Apple is going after the low end market of Chromebooks, at least not on price, but I do think they are concerned about the Chromebook's success in education. Obviously, Apple does not want to cede education to anyone, but Google would be the worst. So how does Apple fight back?
Take the 12" MacBook Air rumor, merge it with the 12" iPad rumor, turn on the split screen features seen hidden in iOS 8 builds and you have a device suited perfectly for education (even the more compact keyboard makes sense in this market). Give the 12" screen the same 2048×1536 resolution as the iPad Air, and the A8X processor, and I'd expect the costs to be pretty reasonable. I'd expect battery life to be impressive. This device would also let Apple test the waters of using their own processors in a laptop, without angering users about incompatible software.
This could even have been the impetus for the iWork rewrite.
Of course I'm just spitballing here. Rumors are rumors.