WWDC saw Apple update the MacBook with faster Kaby Lake chips, and improved integrated graphics.
Here, we examine how the new specs add up, and also look through the latest rumours surrounding the MacBook to see what else might be in store in the future.
To find out how the new MacBook compares to the 2016 12in MacBook take a look at our 12in MacBook review, which covers everything from pricing to performance and design, along with our personal opinions of Apple's MacBook.
2017 MacBook: Processors
The new MacBook features faster processors, now starting at 1.2GHz m3 (up from 1.1Ghz).
There are also options for a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 or 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 for the MacBook.
2017 MacBook: Graphics
The integrated graphics has also seen an update - from the Intel Graphics 515 to the newer Intel Graphics 615.
2017 MacBook: Price
The price of the entry-level MacBook hasn't changed from £1,249. Apple rarely changes the price of its Macs from generation to generation, unless it's a fairly hefty upgrade.
The prices are as follows:
- 1.2GHz Intel Core m3 Kaby Lake dual-core Processor, 256GB Storage, 8GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 615, £1,249.
- 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 Kaby Lake dual-core Processor, 512GB Storage, 8GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 615, £1,549.
Build-to-order options include:
- 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i7+ £135
- 16GB RAM + £180
2017 MacBook: Availability
Predictions about the future of the MacBook
Despite the update to the range, there are still a lot of rumours about future generations of the MacBook.
The main rumour relates to price. Looking ahead to the future, there is a possibility that Apple will reduce the price of the MacBook, turning the range into its entry-level Mac laptop, especially if it discontinues the MacBook Air (read more MacBook Air rumours here.)
There is certainly a place for a lower cost Mac laptop and until now the MacBook Air has fulfilled that role. Many years ago it was the MacBook that was the entry level, with the MacBook Air in the middle, costing more despite its apparently lower specs. There is an expectation that something similar is happening here.
Currently the cheapest Mac laptop is the MacBook Air at £949, however, until October 2016 the cheapest MacBook was the 11in MacBook Air (since discontinued) which cost £749. We'd like to see Apple introduce a new MacBook at the same price point as the 13in MacBook Air and, should the MacBook Air remain we'd like to see it priced around the £749 mark again.
UK prices are a little complicated by currenty flucturations, so we will look at US prices here:
- 13in MacBook Air - from $999
- 12in MacBook - from $1,299
- 13in MacBook Pro - from $1,499
If you can refrain from trying to calculate the UK to US conversions here (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 between products, with the entry-level MacBook being £300/$300 more than the entry-level Air, and the entry-level Pro being £200/$200 more than the MacBook.
If Apple reduces the MacBook price by £300/$300 we will have a new entry-level price that's below the magic £1000/$1000 mark.
Apple's decision to get rid of the 11in MacBook Air makes sense when you consider that it can reduce the price of the MacBook to the level of the 13in MacBook Air without it looking like it's raised the price of entry to the Mac laptop range.
We don't expect Apple to drop the MacBook Air from the line up until it is willing to bring the price of the MacBook below $1000. If does so expect the entry-level MacBook to offer much slower processors and probably less storage than it does currently, though.
We are unlikely to see huge physical changes to the MacBook. The only change in design between the 2015 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. We wouldn't expect to see a colour change unless the iPhone or iPad had a colour change.
The MacBook is already incredibly thin at 13.1mm, and it weighs just 0.9kg, making it 24 percent thinner than the MacBook Air, so we don't expect that to change dramatically in future.
Apple designed chips
There is an 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 about an Apple branded chip continued with 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
A 16GB RAM option
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.
New 15in Screen
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 sell).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 this happens, it will be a big 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.
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.