Following the MacBook Air's tenth birthday at the start of 2018, we ask whether there is a future for the no-longer-skinniest MacBook. Will 2018 be the year that Apple removes the MacBook Air from its lineup, or will the company surprise us with a new MacBook Air model? Well, it sounds like we should be prepared for the rebirth of the MacBook Air, so watch this space for the latest news!
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, as well as ongoing speculation that Apple may be phasing out the Air lineup completely (or at least killing it off as a non-Retina machine).
News that a new MacBook Air might be on the way came via KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (who has now left KGI for TF International Securities). He claimed earlier in 2018 that Apple is planning to introduce a new model of the MacBook Air in the spring - and predicted that it would be cheaper. Spring passed without any new Mac laptop, but Kuo hasn't given up hope: he is now predicting that the new machine will launch in the second half of 2018.
So when might we be seeing this heavily anticipated new machine?
The other big question is will it be a new MacBook Air, a new MacBook, or perhaps a new 13in laptop with an old name - we may be seeing the return of the iBook! Read more about that idea below.
For buying advice related to the current Apple laptop range, read our Best MacBook buying guide and Best cheap MacBook deals articles. We also have a Best Cheap Mac article, of which MacBook Air is still an option, for now... You can also see our one-stop guide to the best place to buy any Mac. Also, if you're wondering how the 13in MacBook Pro compares to the 13in MacBook Air read this: MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air.
2018 MacBook Air: Release date
The bad news first: it's possible that Apple won't ever update the MacBook Air again. It certainly hasn't been showing the once-beloved slim laptop a lot of love in recent years.
But there are also reasons to hope. Apple publicly stated that another low-cost machine, the Mac mini, "is still important" to it; since the Mac mini and MacBook Air both use the same generation of processor chips right now, and since both Macs are located in the lower end of Apple's pricing structure, it could be that they will get updated at the same time.
Also, it seems there is a significant market for the MacBook Air, according to Bloomberg sources. "The company [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.
So when will that update arrive? While at KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, in a note published in early March 2018, claimed that Apple was planning to introduce a new model of the MacBook Air in the second quarter of 2018. That sounded like a WWDC update to us, but there was no hardware news at the event; maybe Apple is waiting for a quieter update shortly afterwards. Or perhaps it will happen in the Australian spring...
There had also been some speculation that this new Mac laptop could launch at Apple's Apple's Education focused event on 27 March, but according to a Bloomberg report on 23 March, the new MacBook wasn't near enough to being ready for it to be introduced at the event on 27 March.
According to DigiTimes supply-chain sources, the rumoured 13in Mac laptop isn't expected to ship until the third quarter - which could suggest a September introduction alongside new iPhones, or maybe something sooner if Apple wants to get its new laptop out in time for the Back To School rush.
We're hoping for a pre-September, Back To School-suited, launch - it's been a long time since Apple last updated its range of Macs so an update is long overdue.
It is being speculated that the reason for the delays is a problem with a "key component" which DigiTimes suggested (in April 2018) might be the processor. We talk in more detail about the processor below.
2018 MacBook Air: Price
The rumours about a new 13in MacBook are all pointing to it costing less than $1,000. That price is comparable to the MacBook Air which costs £949/$1000 currently.
This is an increase compared to what the MacBook Air cost at launch. When it launched the entry-level 13in model cost £849. At £949, 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 an 11in MacBook Air for £749. It is unlikely that the new MacBook will see a price as low as that.
We thought previously that it was unlikely that the MacBook Air would ever cost less than £949 - because Apple doesn't actually want anyone to buy it, Apple wants people to see that they can get a better Mac for just a few hundred pounds more. However, it's now looking like Apple would like to improve its entry-level offering.
KGI Securities analyst 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.
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.
Low End Mac suggests that iBook could be a good name to indicate that this Mac is a merger of the iPad and the MacBook, bringing convergence to the two operating systems. That idea might sound crazy, given Apple's Tim Cook's criticisms of convertible tablets for being like "a toaster and a refrigerator", but the company is said to be allowing iOS apps to be converted to run on the MacOS as part of the new operating system that will arrive this autumn (read more about macOS 10.14 here).
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
Ok, so we've said we don't think the MacBook Air will get an update, but if it does 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 may also see USB C.
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 Air on their lower-res screens.
Will Apple enhance the MacBook Air with a Retina display in the future? Possibly.
DigiTimes has claimed LG is set to begin production of 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.
Similarly, the fact that macOS Mojave no longer supports subpixel antialiasing for text, as Adam Banks points out, is bad news for non-Retina screens and suggests that the current MacBook Air will soon stop being sold. But whether this spells the end for the Air entirely, or whether it will be upgraded to a Retina display, is anyone's guess at this point.
DigiTimes writes that Apple will be using the latest notebook processors from Intel in the 2018 MacBook Air.
It is thought that the new MacBooks could use Intel's latest eighth-generation Coffee Lake processors (which would be a big step up from the fifth-generation processors in the current models).
The processors are likely to be low power consumption chips (signified by a U in their name). We could see the i3-8109U (3GHz) dual-core, a i5-8259U with a 2.3GHz quad-core, or a i5-8269U 2.6GHz quad-core.
Another possibility is that the Air could use the same type of Intel processors that the MacBook uses - the Core M series.
However, some reports are suggesting that Apple may be creating its own processors to power the new 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 coprocessors (like the T2 chip in the iMac Pro and the T1 chip in the MacBook Pro) that will be used in a desktop Mac as well as an updated Mac laptop, although it doesn't specify which laptop.
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 chip- one feature it could include is LTE connectivity. Will we have to wait until 2020 before Macs ship with such capabilities?
Digital Trends suggests 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.
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 the 4K iMac so that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. (Read about what might be in store for the iMac in 2018 here).
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.