Those eagerly awaiting a MacBook Air update will be pleased to learn that Apple updated the MacBook Air at WWDC in June 2017. Read our MacBook Air (2017) review.
However, the only change is that Apple has switched the 1.6GHz Broadwell processor for a 1.8GHz Broadwell processor. There’s also a build-to-order option of 2.2GHz Broadwell processor. Broadwell is the generation of Intel processor from 2014/2015.
It’s unclear why Apple hasn’t updated the generation of Intel processors used in the MacBook Air since 2015. It would be understandable if the price had dropped on the model in reflection of its lowely status, but the price is still high – and since the demise of the 11in MacBook Pro in 2016 the price of entry has been around £1,000 (it used to be £749).
Like the MacBook Air update in 2016, this is a minor and frankly disappointing update. Hope of a proper update to the MacBook Air lineup in 2017 might have been dashed, but it seems that the MacBook Air still hasn’t been killed off for good, which is some consolation to its fans.
While rumours have abound that Apple will kill off the MacBook Air, the WWDC update, although minor, had been predicted. According to Bloomberg sources: “The company has also considered updating the ageing 13-inch MacBook Air with a new processor as sales of the laptop, Apple’s cheapest, remain surprisingly strong,” wrote Bloomberg.
Will this 2017 update be the final iteration of the MacBook Air, or will Apple breathe new life into its entry-level laptop at some point? In this article, we round up all the rumours, hints and clues about the hoped for new MacBook Air release, including tech specs, new features, design, as well as speculation that Apple may be phasing out the ‘Air’ lineup completely.
For buying advice related to the current Apple laptop range, read our Best MacBook buying guide and Best cheap MacBook deals articles. You can also see our one-stop guide to the best place to buy any Mac.
The MacBook Pro also saw a minor update, getting a processor bump to the Kaby Lake chipset. Read more: New MacBook Pro release.
A new model of the 12-inch MacBook was also announced, again getting faster Intel processors. Read more: New MacBook release
The 2017 MacBook Air: Availability
While Apple isn’t listing the refreshed MacBook Air as ‘New’ on its website, the ‘new’ model updated in June 2017 can be ordered now.
The 2017 MacBook Air: Specs
Fundamentally, the MacBook Air hasn’t changed a lot over the past few years, aside from increased RAM (4GB -8GB) in April 2016 and faster processors (1.6GHz – 1.8GHz) in June 2017.
It’s the fact that Apple has essentially been updating the Mac with what would have been build-to-order options on the original 2015 model, rather than bringing the components into line with other Macs in the range, and other computers on the market, that has fans vexed.
The current model offers 12-hours of battery life, a 1.7-centimetre (at the narrowest point) design and weighs 1.35kg.
Thanks to the updates post its 2015 launch, it now offers 8GB RAM along with 1.8GHz i5 Broadwell processors as standard.
You’ll also find the option of either 128GB or 256GB flash storage and Intel’s HD Graphics 6000 cards.
Reasons why the MacBook Air is likely to be discontinued
There are a number of reasons why it looks likely that Apple will not continue to sell the MacBook Air.
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- The fact that the MacBook Air saw only a small update in March 2016
- The demise of the 11-inch MacBook Air in October 2016
- Apple’s own comparison of the newly introduced MacBook Pro 2016 to the MacBook Air when it was introduced in October 2016 – suggesting that Apple was pitching the new, thinner, lighter model against the cheaper model which used to be the lightest Mac laptop sold (hence it’s name, Air).
- Speaking of which, Apple really can’t continue to call this the MacBook Air when Air was supposed to signify the fact that it was so light… Now there is a smaller, lighter and thinner MacBook on the scene.
- While it is the cheapest Mac laptop, the MacBook Air can’t really be described as low-cost. At the same time as the 11in MacBook Air was discontinued, the 13in variant received a £100 price bump, taking the new basic model’s price from £849 up to £949 and the 256GB model up from £999 to £1,099 in the UK. (Read more about the price increase here). Not many people will want a costly Air with more powerful, and thinner, Mac laptops available for not a lot more. The MacBook and the 2015 model of the MacBook Pro (which is still available) both cost £1,249.
- There is some evidence that Apple plans to ditch the Air brand – it has already ditched the iPad Air. Apple discontinued the iPad Air line up when the new iPad, reviewed here, was introduced in March 2017.
- Even the 12.9in iPad Pro could be reason enough for Apple to discontinue the MacBook Air. The iPad Pro may indeed have been the killer of the 11in MacBook Air if Apple CEO Tim Cook’s comments to the Telegraph are taken into account (published on 1 December 2015). Regarding the new Pro iPad, Cook told the Telegraph: “Why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one? Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people. They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones.”
- At many times over the years Apple has had just two types of Mac laptop – the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, and we think it’s likely that the company will return to that format.
With all that in mind it seems likely that the MacBook Air range will be discontinued and replaced by a lower priced MacBook range. In January 2017, DigiTimes cited Chinese site Economic Daily News and said Apple is going to drop the price of the non-Touch Bar 13in MacBook Pro and discontinue the MacBook Air.
It added: “Apple is expected to unveil a new 12-inch MacBook in early second quarter with an additional memory option of 16GB” – this would all but render the Air unnecessary to Apple, even if consumers might lament the absence of its lower price point.
Reasons why the MacBook Air might survive
While there are a lot of reasons why it looks likely that Apple will not continue to sell the MacBook Air, here are some reasons why the Air could survive:
- Apple would need to shave $300 of the price of the entry-level MacBook to bring it under $1,000 (it’s currently $1,299). Until the company is preparaed to reduce the price of the MacBook by that much we don’t expect it to remove the lower cost model from the line up.
- The 13in MacBook Air is currently $999, but the older 11in MacBook Air was $749. We’d like to see Apple reduce the 13in MacBook Air price to that level, reverting to that lower entry-level price.
2017 MacBook Air price
Considering the place of the MacBook Air in Apple’s product line up we feel that it is over-priced at almost £1,000 for what is essentially a two year old computer.
When it launched the entry-level 13in model cost £849. It now costs £100 more than it did then. To make matters worse, before the 11in MacBook Air was axed in October 2016, you could get a 11in MacBook Air for £749. So the cost of buying a MacBook Air is now £200 more than it would have been two years ago, but the machine is essentially the same.
Perhaps Apple is neglecting to update the MacBook Air sufficiently in a bid to stop people buying it. Apparently it is still a popular option.
However, the MacBook Air hasn’t always been the entry-level Mac laptop. When the MacBook Air initially launched it was quite overpriced for the specs, just like the Retina MacBook which launched in 2015 (about the time Apple stopped paying attention to the MacBook Air).
At the time the MacBook Air launched in 2008 the entry level Mac laptop was the old MacBook models – the ones that were aluminium, then white and black, and then eventually aluminium again.
Over time the price of the MacBook Air was reduced and those older MacBook models disappeared from the lineup.
It seems likely that the same will happen with the new MacBook models eventually replacing the MacBook Airs, at a lower price.
Until Apple is ready for the MacBook price to drop to below £1,000, bringing it into line with the current entry-level Air, you can expect the company to keep selling the Air. As soon as the MacBook price comes down, expect the Air to vanish.
Future MacBook Air specs
If Apple does ever update the MacBook Air, here is a taster of what you could expect… But we have to say, it’s looking unlikely.
Back in March 2015 we were expecting Apple to award the MacBook Air with a Retina display – years later and it still doesn’t have one.
When Apple updated its MacBook Air in March of 2015, we had been convinced that the company was about to give the laptop a Retina display. Instead, it launched a brand-new MacBook line that’s super-thin, super-light and does offer that high-resolution display, but does that mean Apple won’t enhance the MacBook Air with a Retina display in the future?
If Apple wants to keep the price down maybe not. Find out what a Retina display is here: What is a Retina display?
The next-generation MacBook Air is likely to feature next-generation Intel processors, as well as graphics and RAM upgrades. Intel is shipping its Kaby Lake processors – that’s the generation of chips after Skylake – and light years from the Broadwell processors in the current MacBook Air. These processors offer support for Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 and DisplayPort 1.2.
9to5Mac and TrustedReviews report that Apple has been in talks to use a laptop variant of Sonder Design’s dynamic keyboard technology.
Sonder Design is famous for developing an E-ink keyboard, using E-ink to change the key labels on the fly. This means that the entire keyboard is customisable, providing multiple languages as well as contextual shortcuts from a single keyboard. It allows users that are, for example, editing in Final Cut Pro to look down at the keyboard and see exactly which tool they need to use without having to memorise them before hand.
What isn’t clear is how Apple is planning on implementing the software, or which laptop it could be featured on, but it could theoretically make an appearance on the 2017 MacBook Air. Sonder has confirmed that talks between Apple and the company has taken place, although it won’t comment on whether or not it’s a deal – it has only confirmed that it’s “closing B2B procurement contracts” with three laptop makers.
We assume the next MacBook Air will feature USB-C ports – which helpfully double up as Thunderbolt ports, a report from Taiwanese website DigiTimes seems to confirm our theory. It claims that Apple is planning to release a MacBook Air with USB-C ports in future, but doesn’t provide a launch timeframe for the upgraded laptop.
“Currently, Apple has decided to adopt the USB Type-C interface for its MacBook Air, while Asustek Computer and Hewlett-Packard (HP) are upgrading one of their notebooks’ regular USB port to the Type-C. Lenovo, Acer and Dell are still evaluating the option,” according to that report.
This seems a logical step; the MacBook has just one USB-C port and the new MacBook Pro also features this connection type. It would still represent a bold move overall for Apple however – it’d mean all of its laptops would no longer support standard USB-A connections, a move sure to annoy a few people, but ultimately shape the future of mobile computing.
Apple Pencil-enabled Trackpad
While this isn’t a new patent (it was originally filed back in 2014), a patent application has recently been granted that allows the Apple Pencil to work with Mac trackpads. What is most interesting about the patent is that it depicts a more sophisticated Apple Pencil than the one currently available, suggesting that the accessory is due to get an overhaul at some point in the future. It even goes as far to describe the Pencil being used as a general input device like a joystick or an ‘air mouse’.
“Inertial sensor input may be gathered when operating the stylus in one or more inertial sensor input modes such as an air mouse mode, a rotational controller mode, a joystick mode, and/or other inertial sensor input modes.”
What isn’t clear is if the upgraded Apple Pencil will only work with certain trackpads – if this is the case, we imagine that the technology would make its way to the next-gen MacBook Air. However, Apple has a habit of applying for a patent and then doing nothing with it, so it isn’t set in stone that we’ll be seeing this featured on the next MacBook Air – but we can sure hope.
Touch ID and Force Touch
We expect this feature to come on the Air model – if it isn’t discontinued!
There are also reports to suggest that it’ll boast Touch ID within its Trackpad, which may also get the Force Touch upgrade that was given to the 13in MacBook Pro back in March 2015, and comes with the new MacBook.
Touch ID is the fingerprint sensor that’s built into the Home button of the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and beyond. It’s also used to make Apple Pay more secure and with the recent announcement of Apple Pay coming to Mac as part of macOS Sierra, this rumour makes a lot of sense.
According to an Independent report, Touch ID for the Mac line would require a dedicated chip to be built into the device.
The rumour started with Taiwanese blog AppleCorner, which cited sources in the supply chain. Apparently, the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad may get a biometric update too, enabling users to make Apple Pay payments on the web, but both those accessories were updated alongside the launch of a new 4K iMac so that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.
We’ll be updating this article as more information about the rumoured MacBook Air emerges so check back from time to time for the latest news.