The MacBook Air celebrated its tenth birthday at the start of 2018, but does it have a future? Will this be the year Apple removes the Air from its lineup, or (as rumours now suggest) will the company surprise us with a long-awaited update in October?
The other big question is whether the new machine will be branded as an Air at all, a new MacBook, or perhaps a new 13in laptop with an old name - we may even see the return of the iBook. (Read more about that idea below.)
In this article, we round up all the rumours, hints and clues about the new MacBook Air release, including tech specs, new features and design.
2018 MacBook Air: Release date
News of a replacement for the MacBook Air came via former KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who earlier in 2018 predicted it would arrive in the spring at a reduced price. Spring passed without any new Mac laptop, but Kuo stuck to his guns, adjusting the prediction to the second half of 2018.
Some pundits' reports had expected the new MacBook to appear at the 12 September event, alongside the iPhone XS, but it was a no-show, so now October, perhaps alongside a new MacBook and updated Mac mini, looks likely. Apple has previously held an October launch for Mac updates, so this wouldn't be a surprising occurrence.
Speculation suggests that the launch of the new MacBook had to be delayed due to a problem with a "key component" which DigiTimes suggested (in April 2018) might be the processor. Other reports indicate that Apple has given up waiting for Intel's Cannon Lake processor, which now won't be ready until 2019, and will use the Kaby Lake chips instead.
We talk in more detail about the processor below.
Of course, it's possible that Apple won't ever update the MacBook Air again - it certainly hasn't shown the once-beloved slim laptop a lot of love in recent years. But there are reasons to hope.
Apple publicly stated that another low-cost machine, the Mac mini, "is still important" to it; since the mini and Air use the same generation of processors and are located at the lower end of Apple's pricing structure, they could well get updated at the same time.
Also, it seems there remains significant demand. "[Apple] has also considered updating the ageing 13in MacBook Air with a new processor as sales of the laptop, Apple's cheapest, remain surprisingly strong," wrote Bloomberg in May 2017.
2018 MacBook Air: Price
The rumours about a new 13in MacBook are all pointing to it costing less than $1,000. (The Air currently costs £949/$1,000.)
This is an increase compared to what the Air cost at launch: the entry-level 13in model cost £849. The price has been even lower than that - before the 11in MacBook Air was axed in October 2016, you could get an 11in MacBook Air for £749. It is unlikely that the new MacBook will see a price as low as that.
Ming-Chi Kuo was the first to say that he believes that Apple is going to update the MacBook Air and reduce the price. He claimed that by introducing a new model of the MacBook Air, at a lower price, Apple will be able to push MacBook shipments up by 10-15 per cent this year.
However, a DigiTimes report in August 2018 suggests that the new laptop will start at $1,200.
13in MacBook, MacBook Air, or iBook?
A DigiTimes report at the beginning of March suggested that this new 13in MacBook would be priced at a similar level to the MacBook Air - and that it will come with a Retina display.
What isn't clear is if the new entry-level MacBook will be part of the MacBook lineup, or a reboot to the MacBook Air.
We love Low End Mac's theory that Apple might bring back the iBook name to use for this new cheaper Mac. That site suggests that Apple's recent move to rename its book reading app, iBooks, as Books, might be down to a desire to bring back the iBook moniker for its laptops.
The iBook range first launched in 1999 and was the name for Apple's consumer laptops until 2006 when the name changed to MacBook following the Intel switch.
We always expected Apple to remove the Air from the lineup as soon as it was prepared to bring the price of the MacBook down to under $1,000/£1,000, but the reports about the new 13in model seem to be indicating that this new 13in MacBook is more of a MacBook Air replacement than an update to the 12in MacBook range.
It is possible that the update could relate to the MacBook - with the 12in screen being replaced by a model with a bigger screen, but starting at a lower price. Read more about those rumours here: 2018 MacBook release date.
2018 MacBook Air: Specs
If the MacBook Air is to get an update, what can we expect?
The current model offers 12 hours of battery life, a 1.7cm (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.
We don't expect those specs to change much if Apple updates the MacBook Air, other than the introduction of a new processor and integrated graphics card. We will probably also see USB C - and the removal of the older USB port (to the dismay of some, no doubt!)
According to Bloomberg's sources in this report from 20 August 2018, the new 13in Mac laptop will look similar to the current MacBook Air, but will have thinner bezels and a 13in Retina display.
The MacBook Air currently has a (non-Retina) resolution of just 1,440 by 900 pixels.
When Apple updated its MacBook Air in March of 2015, we were expecting the company to give the laptop a Retina display. But it didn't - instead, it launched a new and separate line of (12in) Retina MacBooks and kept the lower-res screens on the Air.
Earlier this year, DigiTimes claimed LG was producing screens for a new 13.3in MacBook with a resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels, and this could easily refer to a MacBook Air.
Another reason why Apple needs to stop selling non-Retina displays: macOS Mojave will not support subpixel antialiasing for text. This is bed news for non-Retina screens and suggests that the current MacBook Air will soon stop being sold or it will be upgraded to a Retina display.
One reason why Apple hasn't yet updated the MacBook Air may be down to delays with the range of processors Apple was planning to use for the machine.
If Apple was intending to use Cannon Lake chips for the MacBook Air then the fact that those processors have been delayed until 2019 is likely to be a bit of a hurdle.
As an alternative, Intel updated the range of Kaby Lake processors and Apple may decide to use these newer 8th generation Kaby Lake Refresh processors in the MacBook Air. These processors offer in i5 and i7 quad-core CPUs, with base clock speeds ranging from 1.6GHz to 1.9GHz and Turbo Boost speeds between 3.4GHz and 4.2GHz. They come with Intel UHD Graphics 620 and can support 32GB RAM.
An alternative is the faster Whiskey Lake processors that are set to arrive in the second half of 2018. Another option is that the new MacBook Air could use Intel's eighth-generation Coffee Lake processors. Or, they could use the same type of Intel processors that the MacBook uses - the Core M series, in which case the Amber Lake Y processors might get a look in.
As we hinted above, some reports are suggesting that Apple may be creating its own processors to power its MacBooks. However, the reports are suggesting those processors won't appear until 2020, certainly not as soon as 2018.
Bloomberg reported in January 2018 that Apple is developing more of its own co-processors (like the T2 chip in the iMac Pro and the 2018 MacBook Pro) for use in its desktop and laptop computers.
According to 9to5Mac, who spoke to supply chain sources in May 2018 about a new processor that is being built on behalf of Apple by Pegatron (who manufactures other Apple iOS devices), an Apple-made processor could feature in the "First ARM-based Mac, with a ship date as soon as 2020."
That site claims: "We do know that it has a touchscreen, a sim card slot, GPS, compass, is water resistant and it also runs EFI."
While the inclusion of a touchscreen, SIM card slot and water resistance might suggest an iPhone or iPad, 9to5Mac believes that it could be a Mac. That site points out that EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) is the boot system used by Macs.
9to5Mac suggests this new chip will be used for a brand new device family that it will run a derivative of iOS.
Could this new device be the rumoured 13in MacBook? Possibly - but probably not the 2018 version of it.
Speaking of this new Apple chip - one feature it is said to include is LTE connectivity. Will we have to wait until 2020 before Macs ship with such capabilities?
Digital Trends suggested, in April 2018, that a new 2018 Mac could have built-in LTE connectivity.
This would place them in direct competition with the new 'always connected' Windows 10 PCs, which are laptops with built-in cellular connections.
One such machine is the HP Envy x2. That laptop uses Snapdragon 835's X16 LTE modem so that it can keep users connected all the time.
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.
Back in 2016 Apple added a new keyboard design to its MacBooks and later the MacBook Pro gained the same 'butterfly mechanism'. Unfortunately, there have been issues with design - with a speck of dust having the potential to stop a key from registering, and the fix requiring a complete keyboard replacement, read more about the MacBook keyboard problems here.
The good news is that Apple appears to have found a fix for this issue with a slight change to the keyboard in the new MacBook Pro, so this shouldn't be an issue with the new MacBook Air.
Touch ID, Force Touch and the Touch Bar
It's likely that the new MacBook Air will gain Force Touch for its Track Pad - an upgrade that that arrived on the 13in MacBook Pro back in March 2015 and is also available on the MacBook.
There have been reports that suggest that the new MacBook Air will boast Touch ID, with a fingerprint sensor built into the Home button of the iPhones - or as part of a Touch Bar added above the keyboard (more likely). Touch ID is a feature on iPhones and iPads from the iPhone 5S, to the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, where it's used to make Apple Pay more secure. However, since Apple added Face ID to the iPhone X, there is a possibility that facial recognition may be the solution for identification, with the FaceTime camera being utilised for this.
A patent discovered by Patently Apple seems to indicate that Apple has found a way to build a MacBook chassis from a single piece of material that bends in the middle thanks to a "flexible portion" which it refers to as a "living hinge".
In the patent application, Apple describes how: "An enclosure for a laptop may be created from a rigid material having a flexible portion defined around approximately a midpoint of the material. The flexible portion may allow the rigid material to be folded in half and thus acts as a laptop clamshell."
It explains that: "A top portion may support a display screen and a bottom portion may support a keyboard, trackpad, and the like, while an interior defined by sidewalls of the rigid material may house a variety of electronic components in accordance with conventional laptop computing devices. In this manner, the enclosure (or a portion thereof) may be created from a single rigid material, while still providing flexibility and bending for the enclosure."
Apple to discontinue the MacBook Air?
It's still possible that Apple could discontinue the MacBook Air, instead dropping the price of the MacBook below $1,000/£1,000.
That theory is based on a bit of Apple history: When the MacBook Air initially launched it was quite overpriced for the specs, just like the Retina MacBook is now. At the time the MacBook Air launched in 2008 the entry-level Mac laptop was the old MacBook models.
Over time the price of the MacBook Air was reduced and those older MacBook models disappeared from the lineup.
Another possibility is that Apple will drop the MacBook Air range replacing it with a lower priced MacBook Pro. 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.
In 2017 the 13in MacBook Pro price didn't drop, but what Apple was offering at the entry-level price did improve - previously the 13in model was an older generation, but in 2017 the entry-level model gained the same Kaby Lake chips as the other MacBook Pro models.
Perhaps this year isn't the year to lose the MacBook Air, though - instead Apple can celebrate the existence of the now decade-old machine. Watch Apple's Steve Jobs unveil the MacBook Air at Macworld Expo San Francisco on 15 January 2008:
MacBook to replace the MacBook Air?
The demise of the MacBook Air has been predicted for some time. Back in October 2016 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 a move to offer what were originally the build-to-order 8GB RAM and processor options as standard.
Another reason for Apple to ditch the Air is design: it's just not as groundbreaking now as it was ten 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 iPad Pro with a 12.9in screen.
In terms of weight, the MacBook Air weighs 1.35kg while the MacBook Pro 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 its 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. See more MacBook rumours here.
So it looks like 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.
We'll be updating this article as more information about a new MacBook Air emerges so check back from time to time for the latest news.
Wondering which MacBook is best for you? Read our MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro comparison review.
You might also like to read our Apple rumours and predictions for 2018.