When will the new MacBook Air for 2017 be released in the UK? What tech specs and new features will the new MacBook Air get? Is the 'Air' brand being killed off? Will the new MacBook Air get a Retina display at last?
The MacBook Air has had an update in 2016, but it was such a minor and frankly disappointing update - merely including an optional RAM upgrade in the standard package for the 13in model - that we're looking ahead to the next MacBook Air update. Will we have to wait until 2017 for a proper update to the MacBook Air lineup, or was the 2016 announcement just a teaser for something bigger near the end of 2016?
In this article we round up all the rumours, hints and clues about the new MacBook Air for 2017 or late 2016, including the new MacBook Air's UK release date, tech specs, new features, design, along with speculation that Apple may be phasing out the 'Air' lineup completely.
Updated, 24 October, to discuss the chances of ARM processors appearing in the MacBook Air; on 21 Oct, with advice on how to watch Apple's 27 Oct Mac launch event; on 20 October, as invites go out for a Mac launch event on 27 October; and previously to include rumours regarding E-ink keyboard technology and release date rumours.
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: UK release date
Apple hosted a special event on 21 March 2016, and ahead of the event we (quite 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.
Instead, we had to wait until 19 April for Apple to release new MacBooks and the updated MacBook Air. But the MacBook Air update was 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.
So when will we get a proper update to the MacBook Air line-up? There are two main theories: 27 October 2016, and March 2017.
As expected (see next section), Apple has sent out invitations to a press event on Thursday 27 October at its Cupertino headquarters. The announcements will start at 10am local time, which translates to 6pm UK time.
The event will see the launch of new Macs. We're fairly sure a new MacBook Pro will be top of the agenda, but some pundits think the entire Mac range is going to be refreshed. We're hoping to see a proper MacBook Air update, but it's not set in stone - after the (extremely minor) update back in April, Apple may wish to wait a little longer before returning to the Air, if it does at all.
We'll be liveblogging the event, so come back to this page at 6pm UK time on 27 October to hear all the announcements as they happen, along with our expert (and independent) analysis of what they mean for you.
Apple recently moved its quarterly financial results from 27 Oct to 25 Oct and some sites and pundits - including 9to5Mac - argued that this is because the company now plans to unveil new Macs on the former date. Apple itself has warned investors to expect iPhone sales to be down again in Q4 2016, and so (the theory goes) it wants to follow this moderately negative news with a positive, shareholder-pleasing product launch. This could be a new MacBook Pro, and maybe a more signficant update to the MacBook Air lineup following the disappointments of March.
Following this speculation, the generally reliable Recode - which has got the scoop on a few Apple launch events in the past - popped up to say that its sources have 'confirmed' that a Mac launch event will go ahead on 27 October.
And while a new MacBook Air logically shouldn't be expected until next year, an email from Apple CEO Tim Cook in early September 2016 may suggest otherwise. A MacRumours reader emailed the Apple CEO asking if it was "pulling away" from the Mac line and while we imagine Tim Cook recieves emails like this on a daily basis, he finally responded.
"I love the Mac and we are very committed to it," said Cook in the email to the Apple fan. "Stay tuned." While this isn't explicit confirmation that a new MacBook Air is coming soon, we should definitely expect a new Mac of some kind within the next couple of months.
That theory has recently been backed up by ZDNet. While we've heard about various rumours pointing towards a late-October 2016 launch for the redesigned MacBook Pro, ZDNet claims that a new MacBook Air will also make an appearance. However while this news seems exciting for MacBook Air fans, the publication doesn't go into detail about the sources for the rumour so take this with a heavy pinch of salt. It also listed a number of upcoming MacBook Air features, including the introduction of USB-C, a Touch ID sensor and a Force Touch trackpad, but will also apparently see the removal of the hugely popular MagSafe 2 port.
New MacBook Air release date: 2017 launch
The disappointing update in Mac 2016 hints 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. It's even possible that we'll see an update to the line in Q4 of 2016. According to Bloomberg, reporting in August 2016, Apple is preparing a refreshed MacBook Air line with USB-C ports, much like on the MacBook. Click here to skip down to that USB-C rumour.
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: How to watch Apple's 27 October Mac launch event livestream
You can watch Apple's 27 October Mac launch event live on Apple's website, and follow the announcements here on Macworld, where we'll analyse what it all means for you.
To stream the event on Apple's site you'll need an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with Safari on iOS 7.0 or later, a Mac with Safari 6.0.5 or later on Mac OS X v10.8.5 or later, or a PC with Microsoft Edge on Windows 10. Yes that's right, even PC fans can watch the Apple event.
You can also stream the keynote on Apple TV. If you've got a 2nd- or 3rd-gen Apple TV it'll need to be running software 6.2 or later. A 4th-gen Apple TV will be fine. A 1st-gen Apple TV won't be able to stream the event.
We'll be liveblogging the event throughout the night and adding our expert independent views. The liveblog is embedded below.
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 any more," she said of the differentiation 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 likely to feature next-generation Intel processors, as well as graphics and RAM upgrades. Intel has started shipping its Kaby Lake processors - that's the generation of chips after Skylake, and offers support for Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 and DisplayPort 1.2.
But here's a leftfield alternative. The Dutch-language site Techtastic has posted a reference in the kernel of macOS Sierra to "ARM HURRICANE", a chip family that is now supported.
This isn't a chip that anyone has heard of, but it would make sense for this to be an Apple custom ARM chip, fitting in as it does with the company's previous naming conventions: the A7 (in the iPhone 5s) was codenamed Cyclone, the A8 Typhoon and the A9 Twister. Those are iPad/iPhone chips, of course, so does this mean Apple is going to let iDevices run macOS Sierra? Certainly not - but it might be about to put ARM chips in the MacBook Air.
Image courtesy of Techtastic
Rumours are rife concerning Apple's 2016 MacBook Pro and, more specifically, its OLED touch bar. The OLED touch bar is rumoured to provide contextual shortcuts to the user based on the application that they're using at the time - but the most recent report suggests Apple isn't happy enough with the feature. 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 implimenting the software, or which laptop it could be featured on, leading us to believe that it could possibly 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.
New MacBook Air 2017 rumours: Retina display
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? With the 2016 update only adding more RAM to the basic 13in model, it may be the case.
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.
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.
However, Bloomberg reported in August 2016, one week before the reported iPhone 7 launch, that Apple is preparing a MacBook Air update 'as soon as October'. This might mean that the MacBooks are announced at the 7 September event, but won't ship until the following month.
This seems a logical step; the MacBook has just one USB-C port and the rumoured new MacBook Pro will also feature 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.
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: 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 into 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