When is the new MacBook Air for 2017 coming out? What new features will the new MacBook Air have? Is the 'Air' brand being killed off?
When Apple updated its MacBook Air in March of 2015, we had been convinced that Apple 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? With the 2016 update only adding more RAM to the basic 13in model, it may be the case. In this article we investigate the hints and clues pointing to a 2017 MacBook Air update: including release date, specs & rumoured new features, along with speculation that Apple may be phasing out the ‘Air’ lineup completely.
Last updated to include a rumour regarding USB-C making an appearance on a future model of the MacBook Air
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: MacBook Air UK release date
Apple hosted a special event on 21 March 2016, so ahead of the event we had naturally expected new MacBook Air and MacBook models. After all, the Spring event represented one year since both were last updated (or one year since it was first launched in the MacBook's case) and before that new Air models arrived in April of 2014. But instead, Apple used the event to show off the iPhone SE and the iPad Pro with 9.7in screen.
Despite the lack of MacBooks at Apple's 21 March event, the MacBook rumours didn't slow down. If anything, they've been hotting up as anyone looking to buy a new MacBook soon was feeling frustrated by the lack of any new models with the latest processors.
As of 19 April, though, Apple has released new MacBooks and updated the MacBook Air, but the MacBook Air update is underwhelming to say the least. While the MacBook got a power boost and a new Rose Gold colour option, the MacBook Air simply got a new 8GB onboard memory standard, and that's only for the 13in model.
Does this hint that Apple is losing interest in the MacBook Air line? Our current thinking is that the 11in MacBook Air is about to be retired, and that eventually Apple will discontinue the 13in model too as we describe in more detail below.
However, if the lineup isn’t getting the chop, we assume that Apple will stick to its yearly upgrade cycle and should release the 2017 MacBook Air at some point in early 2017, possibly between March-May like with previous years.
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: Will the MacBook Air be discontinued?
Tech Blogger Jack March claims to have spoken with a source close to the situation who says that Apple is about to ditch the Air brand completely, including the MacBook Air and iPad Air products in its lineup.
Right now, we think that Jack could be absolutely right. There are rumours that Apple won't release an iPad Air 3 now that the iPad Pro has a 9.7in option, and the MacBook Air doesn't seem to fit naturally in Apple's line-up now that the new MacBook is here and is thinner and lighter than ever.
With the advent of the 12in MacBook and the 12.9in iPad Pro, it's no surprise that rumourmongers are starting to predict that at least the 11in MacBook Air, with a smaller screen than either of those devices, will be discontinued. The iPad Pro may indeed be viewed by Apple as a replacement for the 11in MacBook Air if Apple CEO Tim Cook's comments to the Telegraph are taken into account (published on 1 December 2015).
Following the launch of the iPad Pro, Cook told the Telegraph: "I think if you're looking at a PC, 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."
However, should Apple discontinue the 11in MacBook Air, it does remove the lower price of entry from the line-up.
But as mentioned, it may not just be the 11in MacBook Air that is discontinued. When the new MacBook launched on 9 March 2015, analysts began to suspect that the MacBook Air might not be around for much longer.
"This wasn't the MacBook Air, but instead leaped past the Air," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "They kept the MacBook Air around just as they do with older iPhones, but the MacBook is now in the same position as the newest iPhone. That makes me wonder if the Air will go away over time."
Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of US business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, also predicted a contraction of Apple's line-up. "All [notebooks] need to be more mobile, so something like the Air doesn't need to be branched out anymore," she said of the differenciation Apple made for the line since its introduction more than eight years ago. "And it's to Apple's benefit not to have so many 'families' of Macs."
More recently, KGI Securities analyst and Apple guru Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that Apple is planning on launching a 13in MacBook to sit alongside the 12in MacBook, which would serve as a replacement to the MacBook Air going forward.
In a note obtained by AppleInsider, the analyst forsees an end to the meaningful development of the MacBook Air. Apple won't remove the line from its stores just yet though - it'll serve as an entry-level device for Apple adopters, much like it did with the original MacBook before it was discontinued in 2011.
Over time, it seems likely that the MacBook Air range could be discontinued and eventually replaced by a Retina MacBook range at a lower price.
MacBook Air 2017 release date: When was the MacBook Air last updated?
We originally expected the MacBook Air to be updated with a Retina display back on 9 March 2015 at Apple's Spring Forward event. And were quite surprised when we got something else: a Retina MacBook, yes, but one with a 12in display and a USB-C port (and very few other ports), a new strand of products for Apple's MacBook laptop line-up.
Less glamorously, Apple's MacBook Air did get an update at the same time, with new, faster processors, faster flash storage and better graphics, and was updated more recently in April 2016 with increased RAM, but the screen and overall design remained the same, with no Retina display for the Air line.
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: Price
The last time that there was a Mac laptop that had more advanced specs than a more expensive model was the old MacBooks (aluminium, then white and black, and then eventually aluminum again). These older MacBook models were eventually discontinued and the price of the MacBook Air was reduced to make it the new entry level (when the MacBook Air initially launched it was quite overpriced for the specs, just like the current Retina MacBook).
It seems likely that the same will happen with the new MacBook models eventually replacing the MacBook Airs, at a lower price, but for now that seems a long way off.
The current 11in MacBook Air starts at £749, while the entry level 13in model costs £849.
If the 11in MacBook Air is removed from the line up perhaps the cost of entry of the 13in model will reduce to the level that the 11in model is currently, with a rumoured 15in model coming in at a higher price at some point in the future.
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: Dimensions
If Apple does update the MacBook Air range, what dimensions should we expect?
As mentioned above, rumours suggest that the 11in MacBook Air will be discontinued, after all, the 11in MacBook Air is both smaller than the MacBook and the new iPad Pro, and didn’t receive an update when the 13in model did.
However, 9to5Mac points out that the new 13in and 15in MacBook Air models could be additional sizes to the MacBook range. That site predicts that some time in 2016 or 2017 we will have just two ranges of Mac laptops: the MacBook at the ultraportable level, and the more advanced MacBook Pro. Maybe the 17in MacBook Pro will make a comeback too, with a 4K display.
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: Specs & new features
These new MacBook Air models are said to be thinner and lighter, with internal spec enhancements. Apparently, the new MacBook Air will feature new batteries, cooling modules, and chassis, according to the Economic Daily News.
We also expect to see USB Type-C across the range, especially now that Intel has integrated Thunderbolt 3 into USB-C - more on that below.
The next-generation MacBook Air is also likely to feature next generation Intel processors, as well as graphics and RAM upgrades.
While we assumed the next MacBook Air would feature USB-C ports, a recent report from Taiwanese website DigiTimes seems to confirm our theory - if believed, anyway. The publication 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."
The issue with DigiTimes is that it isn't always accurate - the site has previously claimed that Apple would start shipping ultra-thin 13in and 15in MacBooks by the end of Q2 2016, which ended in June with no appearance, although the site's sources have proven reliable at times in the past. So, how accurate is this report? We're not 100 percent sure, but we imagine that if Apple wants to keep the MacBook Air alive, this is the road it'll be headed down.
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. Although with this being said, 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.
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: Retina display
The suggestion that the MacBook Air will feature a Retina display has been long running but those rumours were prior to the launch of the 12in Retina MacBook and the iPad Pro - suggesting the sightings of the Retina display some thought was destined for the MacBook Air was instead for these models.
Does this mean that there will be no Retina display on the new MacBook Air when (or if) it launches? If Apple wants to keep the price down maybe not. Or perhaps the newly rumoured 15in Macbook Air will feature a Retina display, while the 13in model will lack the high res display, but come in at a lower price, one similar to the current price of the 11in MacBook Air.
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: Touch ID and Force Touch
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-in to the Home button of the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. 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 in to 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 any time soon.
We'll be updating this article as more information about the rumoured Retina MacBook Air emerges so check back from time to time for the latest news.
Wondering which MacBook is best for you? Read: MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro comparison review: 13in Apple laptops compared