Apple released the latest model of the 12in MacBook back in April 2016, and more than a year later, we're looking to the future and what we can expect from this year's model, the 2017 12in MacBook. Here, we sift through the latest rumours surrounding the 2017 MacBook and also our personal predictions.
Those of you that want to find out more about the current 12in MacBook can take a look at our 12in MacBook review, which covers everything from pricing to performance and design, sprinkled with our personal opinions of Apple's latest MacBook.
When is the new 12in MacBook coming out?
Apple launched the 2015 version of the 12in MacBook at a spring event that year, and the 2016 MacBook was quietly introduced in April 2016; but things are evidently different this year. It looks like June, and WWDC 2017, is the most likely launch date.
A report from Bloomberg claims that new Apple laptops in multiple lines will be unveiled at WWDC 2017. The site based its predictions on anonymous sources referred to only as "people familiar with the matter", who said that the 12-inch MacBook, the MacBook Pro and even the long-neglected MacBook Air could see a refresh at June's keynote event.
A new model of the 12-inch MacBook will be announced, equipped with faster Intel processors. The MacBook Pro is also expected to get a processor bump to the Kaby Lake chipset.
But the most surprising forecast concerns the MacBook Air, a line-up which most of us had assumed was dead and buried. "The company has also considered updating the aging 13-inch MacBook Air with a new processor as sales of the laptop, Apple's cheapest, remain surprisingly strong," writes Bloomberg.
This fits in with dependable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo's earlier predictions (as reported by MacRumors in January 2017) that a new 12in MacBook was set to go into production in early Q2 2017 - April or thereabouts, which meant a June or July launch was feasible.
Will the 12in MacBook replace the MacBook Air?
Possibly not: if the Bloomberg report quoted above is correct, Apple is at least considering giving the Air a comeback refresh at WWDC 2017. If so, it would be a massive surprise.
After its October 2016 event Apple removed the 11in MacBook Air from sale along with the legacy MacBook Pro with SuperDrive, which had been lurking in the Apple Store for some years. While the 13in MacBook Air remained, it hasn't been significantly updated since March 2015, apart from Apple's decision to offer as standard, 8GB RAM for all MacBook Air models (given that the range was so hampered by its 4GB RAM that we recommended anyone purchasing the computer to upgrade the RAM at point of purchase, this update was rightfully celebrated and long overdue).
Another point in favour of ditching the Air is design: it's just not as groundbreaking now as it was eight years ago when it launched. When the MacBook Air first arrived, its biggest selling point was its thin and light design, hence the name, but the MacBook and MacBook Pro now outshine it in those areas. Plus, for those looking for ultimate portability there's the new iPad Pro with a 12.9in screen.
In terms of weight the MacBook Air weighs 1.35kg while the MacBook Pro now weighs only a fraction more at 1.37kg and the MacBook weighs just 0.92kg. If Apple continues to sell the MacBook Air maybe it should drop Air from it's name.
It's not all bad, though. The MacBook Air is both more powerful and £300 cheaper than the MacBook. It is the only Mac laptop that is available for less than £1000. For that reason we do still recommend it, although you might do better buying a refurbished MacBook Pro if you need a Mac that costs less than £1000.
Given that the MacBook Air is Apple's lowest cost Mac laptop you'd think it would be its most popular model, and yet, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (back in 2015), the 12in MacBook is Apple's best-selling computer, closely followed by the 13in MacBook Pro.
So we think that the 13in MacBook Air will be replaced, but we don't think that will happen before the price of the MacBook and potentially the entry-level MacBook Pro, is reduced. History indicates that this will be the case: the last time there was a Mac laptop that had more advanced specs than a more expensive model was when the MacBook Air launched alongside the old white and black MacBooks. Those models were eventually discontinued and the price of the MacBook Air reduced.
We hope that the same will happen, with new 12in MacBook models being priced lower than they are currently and replacing the 13in MacBook Air as the entry level MacBook, while the more advanced specs will be provided by the 13in MacBook Pro.
How much will the new MacBook cost?
We can already speculate about the pricing of the new MacBook as Apple rarely changes the price of its range from generation to generation, unless it's a fairly hefty upgrade. Currently, the base MacBook sells for £1,249.
However, there is a possibility that Apple will reduce the price of the MacBook in 2017, especially if it discontinues the MacBook Air.
With the demise of the 11in MacBook Air came a hike to the point of entry for consumers wishing to buy a Mac laptop. The entry price of Apple's MacBook Air laptop is now £949 (thanks in part to Apple's post-Brexit £100 increase, the model had previously cost £849). Before Apple discontinued it, an 11in MacBook Air had been priced at £749.
In comparison, the entry-level MacBook Pro, with 2.0GHz dual-core processor and 256GB SSD costs £1,449, while the entry-level 12in MacBook with 1.1GHz m3 chip is £1,249. There is certainly a place for a lower cost Mac laptop and it would seem that for now the MacBook Air will fulfil that role. However, a reduction in price for the MacBook is possible, bringing it into line with the price of the MacBook Air currently.
It's interesting to note here that the US prices, less influenced by currency fluctuations, are as follows:
12in MacBook - from $1,299 (£1,249)
13in MacBook Air - from $999 (£949)
13in MacBook Pro - from $1,499 (£1,449)
If you ignore the somewhat confusing currently translations (it's not entirely fair to convert dollars to pounds as there is also VAT to add to the US prices, and there are other 'costs of doing business' to take account of - at least that's Apple's excuse) the price differences are roughly the same, with the MacBook being £300/$300 more than the Air, and the Pro being £200/$200 more than the MacBook. Reduce the MacBook price by £300/$300 and you have a new entry-level price that's below the magic £1000/$1000 mark.
We don't expect Apple to drop the MacBook Air from the line up until it is willing to shave this much off the price of the MacBook. If it was to do so expect the entry-level MacBook to offer much slower processors and probably less storage than it does currently.
Processor: Kaby Lake
The new MacBooks are likely to have Intel's latest Kaby Lake processors. Kaby Lake is the generation of chips after Skylake, and it offers support for Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 and DisplayPort 1.2.
There is another interesting possibility with regards to processors. Back in September 2016 Dutch-language site Techtastic spotted a reference in the kernel of macOS Sierra to "ARM HURRICANE" being supported. The discovery was thought to indicate that Apple might be about to put ARM chips in its MacBooks. As it happens that's exactly what it did a month later with the launch of the MacBook Pro. In that case the chip powers the Touch Bar, but future ARM chips are being developed to look after other functions.
The rumours continue: a Bloomberg report from February 2017 claims that Apple is working on a chip, codenamed T310, that will handle the "Power Nap" functionality and improve the battery life of MacBooks.
Whether this chip will end up in the MacBook remains to be seen. We think it's unlikely to make its debut on the next model as Apple is likely to save it for the next model of MacBook Pro.
Image courtesy of Techtastic
RAM: 8GB and 16GB
Currently the MacBook ships with 8GB RAM as standard. There is no option to increase RAM at point of sale, and the Mac is not user upgradable.
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts that the new MacBooks will offer a 16GB of RAM option, up from 8GB of RAM in the 2016 models. Apple could upgrade the two current models to 16GB RAM and keep a 8GB option as a lower-priced model.
What will the new MacBook 2017 look like?
Looking at the change in design from the 2015 MacBook to the 2016 MacBook, it suggests that we won't be seeing huge physical changes in 2017. In fact, the only change in design from the original MacBook and the 2016 MacBook was the addition of a new colour option, Rose Gold, to sit alongside the Gold, Silver and Space Grey options. Apple seems intent on marketing the MacBook alongside the iPhone and iPad, given the matching colour choices.
Aside from that, the design hasn't changed for the MacBook. It's incredibly thin at 13.1mm, and it weighs just 0.9kg, making it 24 percent thinner than the MacBook Air, and we don't expect that to change dramatically in future.
Screen: 12in and 15in?
One possible change that we might see concerns the screen size. At present the MacBook is available in one size: 12 inches, but analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested that a 15-inch model will be unveiled later this year.
In a research note Kuo mentions a 15in MacBook that he believes will go into production in quarter four of 2017. However, this model is likely to be a MacBook Pro as it is said to feature 32GB RAM, so is definitely not the MacBook.
Nevertheless, adding a bigger model to the range would make sense if Apple is planning to phase out the MacBook Air. Then Apple would offer 13in and 15in MacBook Pro models as well as 12in and 15in MacBook models (or perhaps 12in and 14in MacBook models as it used to do).
Will the new MacBook support Thunderbolt?
When the MacBook launched in 2015 it featured USB Type-C and little else. While USB Type-C now supports Thunderbolt type 3 (which as exactly the same port), this early port didn't.
Described by many as the one port to rule them all, the USB Type-C port and the Thunderbolt 3 port is identical, so any device using either standard can be plugged into it. Rather than suggesting that USB-C means death to Thunderbolt, it rather suggests that the standard has been given new life, indeed, now in addition to the MacBook Pro, many PCs support Thunderbolt too.
There's good reason to support Thunderbolt 3. The standard allows for connection speeds up to 40Gbps, double the speed of Thunderbolt 2 (and it's backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 2). Whether a MacBook user really needs Thunderbolt is another question though, with it being a standard utilised in video production and other high power applications.
Nevertheless, we expect that the new MacBook will feature the new USB Type-C port and therefore it will support Thunderbolt 3. Given Apple's efforts to convince the industry to adopt it since Thunderbolt's introduction in 2011 it is unlikely to fall out of favour with the company. However, Apple also promoted FireWire to the industry and eventually removed that from its Macs.
Another reason Apple could turn it's back on Thunderbolt is if it stopped using Intel processors in its Macs. Intel is the company behind Thunderbolt and it requires an Intel processor to work... It's not a completely crazy idea, there have been rumours that Apple could ditch Intel in favour of its own chip production. Indeed, the company is already said to be working on its own chips with ARM, these chips would take care of certain functions, just like the Apple T1 chip in the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar does.
Will the new MacBook have LTE connectivity?
It seems that sharing your iPhone's cellular connection with your MacBook wasn't enough for Apple, if this patent approval is anything to go by. The patent, as described by the US Patent and Trademark Office, will allow the company to embed LTE hardware in the 2017 MacBook, making it the first cellular-enabled Mac in Apple's range, past or present.
As well as LTE connectivity, the patent describes the use of Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth and satellite connectivity, and mentions ways to boost the signal without interference from the metal body of the MacBook. It's worth mentioning that this idea isn't new, though - it was originally filed on June 8 2015, and there was also talk of a 3G-enabled MacBook Pro back in 2008, but the idea was eventually rejected by Steve Jobs as he felt it would tie the user down to a particular carrier.
Will the new MacBook have a Force Touch keyboard?
According to a 9to5Mac report in October 2016, Apple has been in talks with the Foxconn startup, Sonder - a company that uses E Ink technology to display its keys (see a video here). This allows a way of customising keys and even adding symbols which would not be possible on a regular keyboard. It's rumoured that Apple will use this technology in their next MacBook.
Back in autumn 2015, it emerged that Apple had filed a patent that appeared to show its design for a Force Touch capable keyboard. Along with the 2015 MacBook Pro, the 2015 MacBook has a Force Touch trackpad, which gave electric pulses that feel like clicks, but is a glass plate that doesn't actually move. Like on the iPhone 6s, you can press harder for a deeper click to access menus and options within certain apps. The new MacBook also has keys unlike any other Mac, which have very little travel in order to make the chassis ultra-thin.
The newly discovered patent shows what seems to be a whole keyboard and trackpad area fit to house this technology.
As this shows, the whole keyboard and trackpad, plus areas to the left and right of the pad, could theoretically be customised to the user's tastes and, for the first time, not have a physical keyboard. However, we have seen Apple file patents in the past that are to bookmark ideas for the future.
It'd be amazing if this technology were included in the new MacBook, but we feel this is one for the coming years. It would potentially allow you to have several language keyboards saved and switch between them on the adaptable display.
Imagine typing on a surface that felt like a keyboard, but was actually electric feedback telling your brain you're pressing keys? If this is Force Touch's future, we are excited.
Will the 2017 MacBook feature an Apple Pencil-compatible trackpad?
It's not the only new addition to the MacBook either, if another patent approval is anything to go by. According to a patent filed by Apple which was approved in May 2016, an upcoming Mac could boast compatibility with the Apple Pencil - although the Apple Pencil depicted in the patent is far more advanced than the one on sale at the moment. The Pencil in question features a number of sensors that could detect movement, orientation and depth and, according to the patent, could be used with a Mac as an 'air mouse' or possibly even a joystick for gaming.
The patent reads: "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."
It doesn't end there, either - apparently an upcoming Mac trackpad will feature Apple Pencil support, allowing users to use and draw directly onto the trackpad with the precision of the iPad Pro. While the patent doesn't mention whether the trackpad will be built into a MacBook or offered as a standalone Mac trackpad.
Thinking of buying a Mac? Read our Which Mac? Best Mac buyers guide. Wondering whether to buy a MacBook or a Mac desktop? Find out if you should buy a Mac laptop or Mac desktop here.