The MacBook Air has been with us for eight years and it’s barely changed in that time: the rumored Retina display hasn’t made it onto it yet despite last year’s frenzied rumors.
It’s been a whole year since the last minor speed bump and the Airs are still rocking Intel Broadwell processors, rather than the company’s sixth-generation Skylake variants.
That means the time is ripe for a new model, and rumors suggest that there could be some radical changes. They might include the retirement of the 11-inch MacBook Air and the introduction of a 15-inch version instead.
That’s assuming Apple intends to keep the Air, however. And it might not, because having two product lines – the 12-inch MacBook and the MacBook Pro – is a lot simpler. Here’s what we know so far.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The next generation of Apple’s entry-level notebook
- When is it out? WWDC in June for the launch, shipping shortly afterwards
- What will it cost? Expect the new Airs to start at £749 (around $1,068, or AUS$1,399) like the existing range
MacBook Air 2016 release date
Apple tends to sneak out minor updates with minimal fanfare, but if the MacBook Air 2016 has the improvements we expect then we’d expect Tim Cook to make a fuss about it, most likely at WWDC in June. At least one source, Economic Daily News, believes that the on-sale date will be in Q3 2016; in Apple’s world that’s the financial quarter ending in June.
MacBook Air 2016 price
The current MacBook Air starts at £749 ($899) for the 11-inch model and £849 ($999) for the 13-inch. Apple tends to stick to its favorite price points, but one tasty rumor suggests that while the prices will remain the same the sizes will increase – so you’ll see a 13-inch Air at £749 and a 15-inch at £849.
Then again, that rumor comes courtesy of Digitimes and Digitimes’ track record in Apple rumors is patchy to say the least. Economic Daily News believes that the price will go down and up: down for the 13-inch, but up for the 15-inch.
MacBook Air 2016: thinner, lighter, more powerful
Reports from Economic Daily News late last year predicted a “significant refresh” of the Air line-up in mid-2016. EDN’s sources say the new Airs are significantly thinner and lighter than the current models, with new batteries and cooling systems, Intel Skylake processors and USB-C.
We’ve already seen USB-C in the MacBook, which owes much of its thinness to removing all the ports, and USB-C in the Air would enable Jonathan Ive to shave a few more millimeters off the Air too.
Some rumors predict TouchID fingerprint recognition, but we think that’s wishful thinking: the source for that particular prediction also promised that TouchID was coming to the revamped Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad late last year. It wasn’t. However, Apple has since filed a patent for a Magic Mouse with Force Touch tech, so the report might have been on the money after all.
Apple is working on a version of Apple Pay for its Safari web browser, but that’s going to be on iOS: if it’s coming to Macs, it won’t be for some time after that.
In the meantime, if TouchID is coming to the Mac it’s likely to come via Continuity, which enables the Mac to pick up on what you’re doing on your iPhone or iPad; there are already multiple third-party apps that enable you to unlock your Mac via TouchID on your phone.
We don’t think blazingly fast next-gen SSDs will quite make it to the 2016 Air either: Intel’s Optane SSDs are destined for Macs, but that’s likely to happen in 2017.
MacBook Air 2016: what’s so special about Skylake?
The move to Skylake processors should be more significant than the move to Broadwell, as the latter was more about battery life and energy efficiency than performance. According to Intel, the Skylake processors likely to power a 2016 Air are 10% to 20% faster, have 34% faster graphics and last for more than an hour longer than Broadwell processors.
Skylake has some other tricks up its silicon sleeve including support for WiGig and WiDi short-range, high speed data transfer as well as wireless charging. Don’t expect those features to be enabled in this year’s Airs, but they’re likely to turn up in future iterations.
MacBook Air 2016: Retina or no Retina? That is the question
The Air was widely predicted to gain a Retina display last year, but it turned out that the Retina displays channel sources had spotted were destined for the new MacBook. If Apple plans to cut the price of the 13-inch Air it might not be able to afford to stick a Retina in there, at least on the most basic model, although as with the current MacBook Pro it might decide to offer the 13-inch Air in a cheap non-Retina and a more expensive Retina version.
MacBook Air 2016: What we’d like to see
We’ve said it before: we think Apple is falling behind other laptop firms who have largely caught up and in some respects overtaken notebook Macs. As Kevin Lee put it: “Cupertino’s Air and Pro series machines are long overdue for a makeover that goes beyond a simple internal refresh. The design and specs of both models are long in the tooth: the MacBook Air is sporting the same HD screen resolution it has for the last six years.”
Some of Lee’s suggestions are firmly in the “we wish” category than the “we expect” category – a touchscreen Air seems unlikely when there’s the iPad Air and iPad Pros for touchy-feely stuff, and OS X isn’t currently optimised for touch – but there’s no doubt that the MacBook Air is starting to feel a little old compared to faster, thinner, sharper rivals.
MacBook Air 2016: is it going to get the bullet?
It’s possible, although unlikely: the incoming, updated 12-inch MacBook that’s mentioned in OS X’s server code is going to be significantly more expensive than the Airs that you see absolutely everywhere. Why kill off a model that’s so successful? What’s more likely is the end of the 11-inch model, which would leave Apple with a 12-inch MacBook, 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Airs and the 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pros.
MacBook Air 2016: when will the specs start to leak?
If Apple’s gearing up for a June reveal and product launch, the leaks should start coming thick and fast any day now: that’s only three months away, and that means production’s going to start very soon. If there’s one thing we know about Apple’s supply chain, it’s that it tends to get awfully leaky once the production lines start work.
What would you like to see in a 2016 MacBook Air? Tell us your must-haves, would-love-to-haves and not-on-your-nellys in the comments.
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