MacBook Air: Could a 2018 refresh of the budget MacBook be on the way?

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in Future Apple Hardware
A refresh of the MacBook Air to celebrate a decade of sales could rejuvenate a MacBook model that has seemingly been left behind. Could Apple be planning to update the MacBook Air, and if so, what changes are on the cards?






This year marks the 10th anniversary of the MacBook Air, which Steve Jobs first introduced back in January of 2008. It's been refreshed with new internals and minor changes quite a few times, but it still features the same extremely outdated design. Is this the year that Apple will finally completely redesign the MacBook Air?

Drop in performance and value

As usual, Apple has recently refreshed their MacBook Pro lineup, but strangely they left the base $1,300 model completely unchanged, making it really poor value compared to the new quad-core 13-inch Touch Bar models.




For the first time in three years, the Retina MacBooks weren't updated either. They are also packing dual-core processors and have the same $1,300 price tag, also making them less attractive if you value performance.

After the MacBook Air MacBook Air didn't get much of a boost at the 2017 WWDC, it got nothing at the 2018 event. It had poorly-performing hardware in 2017, and it certainly hasn't gotten better with age.

Looking at Geekbench 4's CPU test, all three of those unchanged MacBooks are far behind the new 13-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pro in terms of performance.

Two models for one market

The Retina MacBook already fills the role that the MacBook Air used to occupy, so what if Apple decided to consolidate the MacBook and MacBook Air lines into a new completely redesigned budget MacBook?

Those MacBooks already compete with each other, making for a pretty confusing lineup. If Apple did redesign the MacBook Air while also boosting performance, it's questionable there would still be a market for the regular MacBook.

The MacBook Air's current design is as old as it gets in Apple's lineup, with huge bezels surrounding a low 900p-resolution display. It's powered by 5th-generation Intel processors, whereas the new MacBook Pros have moved on to 8th-generation chips.

On the plus side for some, the MacBook Air has got legacy ports like Thunderbolt 2, and it still uses the old keyboard and physical trackpad.


Rumors and potential updates

Seeing as it's the MacBook Air's 10th anniversary this year, it could be the perfect time for a redesign, and I'm not alone in this line of thinking. Back in March, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed Apple is planning a lower cost MacBook Air coming later this year, reiterating those claims again in June and July.

A report from DigiTimes claimed Apple is working on a new MacBook Air with a slim design, high-resolution display and Intel's latest notebook processor, with prices expected to be lowered by $100 or $200. They reiterated claims of a new inexpensive MacBook again on August 13th.

Some rumors point to Apple waiting for Intel's Cannonlake processors for an update, but if that's the case, we're not seeing a refresh until 2019.

Let's say Apple is readying a new MacBook Air with the possibility of having a quad-core processor model. It would make a lot of sense for Apple to avoid releasing it at the same time as the new $1799 quad-core MacBook Pro, as that could cut into sales of both models.

If it were to do a simple refresh of both the MacBook Air and MacBook to include 8th-generation dual-core processors, this could have easily been introduced alongside the new Touch Bar MacBook Pro, without affecting the MacBook Pro's sales.

The fact this hasn't happened suggests that Apple's not going to update the MacBook Air at all, or it is planning some pretty major changes in the entry-level portable Mac lineup.


2018 MacBook Air wishlist

If Apple were to refresh its product lines with a new budget MacBook Air, we have a few suggestions for what to expect from the notebook.

First, a redesigned Retina-quality display would be appreciated, complete with smaller bezels. Continuing with the externals, upgrading to the Force Touch trackpad and a new keyboard design would be desirable additions to the design.

As much as we would like to see Apple implement their own custom processor, and while we are nearly positive is it coming, it probably won't happen for a couple more years. We definitely want a newer processor, and even the option for a quad-core chip. As for memory, an option for 16GB of RAM would also be nice.

Pricing wise, we'd definitely like the base model stay under $1,000, before adding any upgrades. It is supposed to be a budget MacBook after all.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 30
    Seems to me like he time is ripe for them to introduce a 14” MacBook, and then just drop the price of the 12”. This would make the line up much like it was in the early aughts, with 12 and 14” budget MacBooks, and 13 and 15” Pro machines. Seemed a sensible line up then, why not an encore?
    mcdavebadmonk
  • Reply 2 of 30
    We can hope Apple marketing research is good and they will bring machine that will fit needs. But that does not say needs of us here but majority nontech users.
  • Reply 3 of 30
    tmaytmay Posts: 3,560member
    Kind of related, but ARM has announced a few new cores for laptops;

    https://semiaccurate.com/2018/08/16/deimos-and-hercules-appear-on-the-arm-roadmap/

    From that article:

    "More importantly the vanilla ARM cores are designed for a wide frequency range so they leave some performance on the table to gain that flexibility. If you take an ARM core and design it for a small number of workloads and frequency ranges, you can get a lot more performance out of the SoC, and we mean a lot. The classic example of this is the Apple A11 which currently trounces the best Intel has at performance per Watt and in many cases raw performance. The numbers SemiAccurate has seen for the A12 show it gains about 50% more single threaded performance without changing energy use. Some of this is process related but most of it is architectural. You will see in a few weeks and you will be impressed."


    chasm
  • Reply 4 of 30
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 3,825member
    Apple need to kill the MBA. Update the 13” non-touch bar MBP, lower the price and call it a day.
    chasm1983
  • Reply 5 of 30
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,291member
    I would consider replacing my now stuck in time 27" iMac with a docked Macbook Air and a third party 4k display. I have frequently pondered this with a mac mini, but this is all about the cost/benefit equation. And I'd need it to drive both that 4k display and a separate standalone HD display. No, I don;t have room for it to be non-docked. And as I type this, I might consider simply driving that HD display with an AppleTV. 

    My current MBA works great. I don't need to replace it. At some point it and my iMac will become untenable, and I'll need to replace them, maybe combining them.

    In an unrelated comment, I really doubt Apple's commitment to "making great products that change people lives." They dropped the entire AirPort biz, and the external display biz, products that could work great with their existing computer lineups. But I expect those decisions were made almost wholly on "these things don't make us enough money." I agree this is their call, but it is inconsistent with "we focus on making things people love." True, but only when it makes us a fucktonne of cash.
    baconstang
  • Reply 6 of 30
    irelandireland Posts: 17,547member
    Ive & co. will figure out a way to kill everything I like about the MBA, including the keyboard. “I always dreamt of typing thinner”, said no one ever.
    edited August 2018 lmachenrybaybaconstangGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 7 of 30
    lmaclmac Posts: 178member
    For me, the MacBook Air is one of the best laptops Apple has ever designed. I maxxed out the RAM and SSD when I bought it, and it's still my favorite machine. Retina display would be nice, but really don't care that much, especially if it's at the expense of battery life. Love the light weight, reliable keyboard, magsafe (though magsafe II doesn't connect as reliably as the original) adapter, SD card slot, and legacy USB ports, and the affordable price.
    urashidbaconstang
  • Reply 8 of 30
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,872member
    Apple need to kill the MBA. Update the 13” non-touch bar MBP, lower the price and call it a day.
    Well said. Like to see 3-4 USB-C ports similar to touchbar MBP.

    edited August 2018 chasm
  • Reply 9 of 30
    lmaclmac Posts: 178member
    eightzero said:
    it is inconsistent with "we focus on making things people love." True, but only when it makes us a fucktonne of cash.
    Totally agree. If they were into making things people love, they'd still make iPod nanos, but of course, that would cut into their phone profits. I ended up buying a used nano when my old one got wet and stopped working. Way lighter than an iPhone for exercise, and works offline, where I spend a fair bit of time. Battery lasts for days. But I guess there's no profit in that anymore. Same with the AirPort. Still, as I stray from the Apple ecosystem to other products like Mesh wireless, my loyalty to Apple begins to slip. One of the reasons I've stuck with iTunes is that I had Airport express wired to my stereo system. I guess I'm supposed to buy a HomePod and an Apple watch but I'm not interested.
    edited August 2018 baconstang
  • Reply 10 of 30
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,291member
    wood1208 said:
    Apple need to kill the MBA. Update the 13” non-touch bar MBP, lower the price and call it a day.
    Well said. Like to see 3-4 USB-C ports similar to touchbar MBP.

    I'm in at about $800.
  • Reply 11 of 30
    It would have been hard to launch “a simple refresh” of MacBook alongside the MBP last month, since Intel hasn’t released the 8th Generation Y-series chips yet. There’s no updated CPUs for the 13” nTB MBP either, for that matter—but it seems that this model will be discontinued in any case, and merged into a MacBook Air replacement. 

    A better analysis would have speculated on how Apple could differentiate a 13” retina 8GB/128GB MacBook Air replacement at $999 from the $1,799 13” retina 8GB/128GB MacBook Pro that was just released. So that means USB 3.1 Gen 1 instead of Thunderbolt, and obviously no Touch Bar, and less powerful CPU/GPU. 

    What CPUs will an Air replacement use? 15W is most likely, but Iris graphics aren’t necessary. And surely anything under $1,399-1,499 will be dual-core, right? No Mag Safe or SDXC slot are a given, new keyboard if it costs less to manufacture than the old one. Who knows about USB-A, but it’ll be thicker than MBP so it would be easy enough to include them. 

    Here’s my CPU prediction: dual-core processors at the lower price points. 15W 7x60-U using 9.5W cTDP-down, which would give better battery life and have CPU/GPU performance that would slot in below 8x50-U quad-cores, which would start around $1,399.

    So you’d have starting tiers something like:

    $899/999 1920 x 1200, dual-core (max 8GB RAM)
    $1,199 retina dual-core
    $1,399 retina quad core

    MBP has higher performance CPU/GPU (28W with significantly higher base clocks and GT3e graphics), Thunderbolt 3 and Touch Bar, starting at $1,799. 
    edited August 2018
  • Reply 12 of 30
    eightzero said:
    wood1208 said:
    Apple need to kill the MBA. Update the 13” non-touch bar MBP, lower the price and call it a day.
    Well said. Like to see 3-4 USB-C ports similar to touchbar MBP.

    I'm in at about $800.
    Sure just cut $500 from the MBP while adding more ports. iMac 1080p for $599 and 12” MacBook for $799 while they’re at it. Might as well drop the 8GB/128GB mini from $899 to $399 too. 
  • Reply 13 of 30
    The Air chassis is too dated. Much like the iPhone 8's!

    It's going to be the current MacBook chassis with one port, no retina display, in silver only. Done!

    Or...

    Since Apple already has plants in China punching out Air's w/ the old chassis, they'll update the screen, kb, trackpad and screen bezels. Done! :)

    Best.
  • Reply 14 of 30
    tipootipoo Posts: 1,027member
    I'm hoping the base storage and RAM aren't so gimped that getting them to a reasonable amount gets you into 13" rMBP pricing anyways. Would defeat the purpose. 

    As for appearance, largely looking like the 13" rMBP but for skipping on Thunderbolt to save cost would be fine by me. 
    edited August 2018
  • Reply 15 of 30
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,989member
    There is still a place for an updated MacBook Air in Apple's current portfolio. When you go to Apple's web site it's looks like the Air is strategically positioned between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. This is deceiving. One of the first things you see when you open the MacBook page is "Light." One of the first things you see when you open the MacBook Pro page is "More Power." When you open up the MacBook Air page one of the first things to catch your eye is "Starting at $999." The Air started as Apple's lightweight power play but that role has now been handed to the MacBook. The 13" MacBook Pro is now thin and light enough, but unlike the Air, has so few performance compromises that it truly earns to have the Pro moniker.

    That leaves the Air to be the "value" play for the MacBook/pro product line.

    My silly wild-ass guess is that the updated Air will double down on the "value" play and be launched as the MacBook SE. The "Air" name goes away since the MacBook is already Lighter than Air. Dropping the Air name is no big deal, they've already done with the iPad line. This will allow Apple to slot the new Air, aka SE, both below the MacBook in price but still allow it to be optioned-up above the MacBook in performance because it's no longer wearing the lightness crown that still commands a premium price.  The real question is - what about the display? I can see the MacBook SE at 12" using similar technology to the current MacBook and the MacBook being upgraded to a newer display technology like what's on the newest MacBook Pros, still at 12" but distinctly higher end than the SE. Of course the SE and the MacBook would get the latest keyboard technology. No TouchBar or TouchId on the SE, but who knows, perhaps both TouchBar and TouchId end up on the MacBook.

    Speculation is fun.  
  • Reply 16 of 30
    d_2d_2 Posts: 55member
    ...

    So you’d have starting tiers something like:

    $899/999 1920 x 1200, dual-core (max 8GB RAM)
    $1,199 retina dual-core
    $1,399 retina quad core

    MBP has higher performance CPU/GPU (28W with significantly higher base clocks and GT3e graphics), Thunderbolt 3 and Touch Bar, starting at $1,799. 
    This makes sense, IMO, as the long-in-the-tooth Air when on sale was competing in the < $1k market.

    If Apple wants to be aggressive in this price range, especially in secondary education - a key (desktop) market for them for decades, then they need a durable machine in the $800 range (not an iPad & Case / Keyboard) to compete with Dell, Lenovo. I know it’s Apple we’re talking about and profit matters more than overall share, but this could/should be a market they want to address (again).
  • Reply 17 of 30
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 30,840member
    "Introducing the all-new MacBook iPad!"
  • Reply 18 of 30
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 7,090member
    eightzero said:
    I really doubt Apple's commitment to "making great products that change people lives." They dropped the entire AirPort biz, and the external display biz, products that could work great with their existing computer lineups. But I expect those decisions were made almost wholly on "these things don't make us enough money." I agree this is their call, but it is inconsistent with "we focus on making things people love." True, but only when it makes us a fucktonne of cash.
    Well, first of all they've already announced new first-party monitors.

    Second, there has been a lot of coverage about their wireless router line and how it's not unsimilar from their getting out of laser printers (which they also pioneered) when it was clear the rest of the industry had caught up and the value added was minimal. 

    Third, the statement about making great products that change peoples lives can still be true even as they get out of an accessory category. Nothing about that decision makes it untrue. So your comment is rather odd.
  • Reply 19 of 30
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 7,090member

    lmac said:
    eightzero said:
    it is inconsistent with "we focus on making things people love." True, but only when it makes us a fucktonne of cash.
    Totally agree. If they were into making things people love, they'd still make iPod nanos, blah blah blah
    People love iPhones. People love iPads. People love Macs. Thus, they are clearly still making things people love, and your entire sentiment is moot.

    You seem to be confusing "things I like and want" with "making things people love". They aren't the same. And just because they aren't making the things you personally want and love, doesn't mean people don't love the things they are making. Deal.
    edited August 2018 anomePickUrPoison
  • Reply 20 of 30
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 1,831member
    Apple need to kill the MBA. Update the 13” non-touch bar MBP, lower the price and call it a day.
    I would go as far as to say kill the MBA and the 12" MB.  Update the 13" non-touch bar MBP and just have 2 laptop lines => MB (13")  & MBP (13" & 15").
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