What's in store for the MacBook in 2018? The evidence leads us to expect a major update in September or October. Not only could the price come down; we may also see a 13in screen option. We will share everything we know about the 2018 MacBook below.
Back in 2017 Apple updated the MacBook with Kaby Lake chips, and improved the integrated graphics. For the first time the MacBook was a powerful enough machine for us to recommend - despite the lack of ports and the high price. But that doesn't stop us wanting more from Apple's super-slim Mac laptop - and hopefully in 2018 our wishes will be granted.
Here, we will look through the latest rumours relating to the MacBook to see what might be in store in 2018, including details of the Amber Lake processors that may find their way into the new machines.
There are also claims that Apple is set to launch a new 13in MacBook at a lower price (although this rumour could point to a new MacBook Air).
To find out just what we thought of the 2017 MacBook take a look at our 12in MacBook review. And for buying advice related to the current MacBook crop, read our Best MacBook buying guide and Best cheap MacBook deals UK articles.
13in MacBook rumours
There have been rumours that Apple's gearing up to launch a new 13in MacBook soon. The rumours seem to be based on some pretty trustworthy sources, so it seems that this new Mac laptop is definitely in the pipeline. What isn't so clear is whether this is an update to the MacBook Air (which many had expected to be discontinued) or a new MacBook to sit alongside the 12in model.
This new 13in MacBook is said to be an entry-level Mac laptop, with a price to match, so the idea that it would be part of the MacBook lineup seems odd. Having two MacBooks, a 12in and a 13in version - with the 13in version potentially being cheaper than the other smaller version seems very unlikely.
It's also possible that the 13in MacBook could replace the 12in MacBook line up. Then Apple's line up of Mac laptops would include the 13in MacBook, and the 13in and 15in MacBook Pro models. If Apple was to choose this course, we think that it would spell the end of the MacBook Air. This may make more sense than having three iterations of MacBook.
We think that the most likely possibility - based on the fact that when Apple updated the MacBook Pro recently it neglected to update two models at the entry level - is that Apple will add a new MacBook catagory and remove these two non-touch bar MacBook Pro models from the line up. As a result we expect to see:
- 12in MacBook
- 13in MacBook (to replace the MacBook Air and the non-touch bar Pro models)
- 13in MacBook Pro
- 15in MacBook Pro
Another possibility is that Apple will introduce a new, cheaper MacBook that will be known as the iBook. That idea was proposed by Low End Mac and we discuss it in our article about the new MacBook Air here.
2018 MacBook: Release date
If Apple plans to relaunch the MacBook as a 13in model, and update the 12in versions, when is the new MacBook lineup likely to launch?
Apple introduced the 2017 MacBook at WWDC in June 2017, so we were disappointed that no hardware was announced at the keynote on 4 June 2018. But there's still a good chance of an update soon.
There is a possibility of an imminent launch - regulatory filings appeared at the beginning of July hinting that five new MacBook models and five new iPad models will be released to the market soon.
The filings were with the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), and were spotted by French Mac site Consomac. The five Mac model identifiers are A1931, A1932, A1988, A1989 and A1990. The first two, A1931 and A1932, could refer to a 12in and 13in MacBook. The other three filings are thought to relate to the MacBook Pro which launched in July 2018.
One reason why it's thought that these new Mac models could launch soon is the fact that they are listed as running macOS 10.13 - which is High Sierra. It they were to launch in September the theory is that they might be listed as running macOS Mojave which won't arrive until the autumn.
It's thought that the new MacBooks could feature new Amber Lake chips from Intel which are expected to launch in the third quarter - so we could see the new MacBooks as soon as August. There's more information on the processors Apple might use below.
However, we may still not see the MacBook launch until September, in which case it could arrive alongside the new iPhone. Or, the MacBook could arrive even later, at a separate Mac-focused event in October.
However, there may be nothing exciting in store for the MacBook in 2018. A Digitimes report in January 2018 quoted sources who claimed that "Apple has not had a major upgrade to its MacBook product line since the releases of its new MacBook Pro devices at the end of 2016 and has no plan for one in 2018, the US-based vendor is planning to shift orders for models that are already in mass production to Foxconn to save costs and reduce risks,” claims the report.
2018 MacBook: Price
Apple rarely changes the price of its Macs from generation to generation, unless it's a fairly hefty upgrade.
The price of the MacBook didn't change in 2017. It remained at £1,249 - the same price as the entry-level iMac and the entry-level 13in MacBook Pro. You won't currently find another 'new' Mac that's cheaper (at least not until Apple updates the Mac mini or MacBook Air, neither of which have been updated in recent years).
However, the new 13in MacBook (possibly Air) is rumoured to be priced at under £1,000/$1,000, though, so Apple could finally bring down the price of it's lightest line of laptops. The MacBook Air currently costs £949/$999 though, so this won't necessarily be a reduction in the entry price of a Mac laptop.
The prices for the 2017 MacBook are as follows:
- 1.2GHz Intel Core m3 Kaby Lake dual-core Processor, 256GB Storage, 8GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 615, £1,249/$1,299.
- 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 Kaby Lake dual-core Processor, 512GB Storage, 8GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 615, £1,549/$1,599.
Build-to-order options include:
- 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i7+ £135
- 16GB RAM + £180
We'd love it if Apple reduced the price of the MacBook range in 2018, but we think the only chance of that happening is if Apple discontinues the MacBook Air. We also don't think it would be logical for Apple to price the 13in MacBook lower than the 12in model, so, we think that the new 13in MacBook price will start at £1,249/$1,299, while the 12in model could be priced closer to £949/$999 (the same price as the MacBook Air currently).
2018 MacBook: Specs
You can expect that Apple will use the latest, most suitable, components in the next version of the MacBook. We'll examine what's most likely below.
The MacBook currently has a resolution of 2,304 x 1,440 pixels at 226ppi. If the new MacBook gains a 13in version we are likely to see a change in resolution. You can expect that to be something like the resolution of the 13in MacBook Pro, which has a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels.
It's also likely that the new MacBook will gain True Tone, a technology that first appeared in the iPad Pro before arriving on the iPhone and the MacBook Pro. True Tone adjusts the colour and white balance to better suit the environmental lighting, so users should experience less eye strain, and colours should appear more accurate.
It has been said that Apple is looking into the possibility of using an OLED display for the MacBook, at least according to sources at Korean ETNews back in 2016. We doubt that this will materialise in 2018 though.
Apple uses Kaby Lake Y processors in current MacBook line up. The 2017 MacBook features a 1.2GHz m3 Kaby Lake processor (up from 1.1Ghz) in the entry-level model. There are also options for a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 or 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 for the MacBook.
The successor to Kaby Lake is Coffee Lake - with Coffee Lake chips appearing in new MacBook Pro models in July 2018. But there is no Coffee Lake Y series, what processor is likely to be used in the new MacBook?
Well, it looks like Intel’s Amber Lake chips may find their way into the next generation of MacBook. Amber Lake is a very low power line of processors that will be the successor to Kaby Lake Y.
Intel first announced the upcoming chips during Computex in June 2018, and is yet to provide much in the way of information about processors, however a report from Romanian NextLab has details about three Amber Lake Y processors: the Core i5-8200Y, Core i7-8500Y and the Core m3-8100Y.
NextLab found the details of the processors on a regional website for Dell.
It is thought that the Amber Lake processors could arrive in the third quarter of 2018
The details about the leaked processors are as follows:
- m3-8100Y: 1.1GHz (3.4GHz Turbo Boost)
- i5-8200Y: 1.3GHz (3.9GHz Turbo Boost)
- i5-8500Y: 1.5GHz (4.2GHz Turbo Boost)
All three chips are dual-core, use Intel’s UHD 625 graphics, and have a low thermal design point of 5 Watts. This indicates that they will run at a low temperature, making them an ideal candidate for the 12in MacBook.
There's another processor that might get a look in. Whiskey Lake is another successor to Kaby Lake for low-powered devices like the MacBook. Whiskey Lake processors should launch during the summer of 2018 and will include:
- i3-8145U: Dual-Core 2.1GHz (3.9GHz Turbo Boost)
- i5-8265U: Quad-Core 1.6GHz (3.9GHz Turbo Boost)
- i7-8565U: Quad-Core 2GHz (4.6GHz Turbo Boost)
For some time now Apple has been designing it's own system-on-chips - first processor designed in-house was the A4 which found its way into the iPhone 4 back in 2010 (and subsequently the iPad, iPod touch and Apple TV).
There are also Motion Co-Processors, which since the introduction of the M7 in 2013 with the iPhone 5s, have been used to track steps (and later on elevation). Then in 2013 Apple's chips also gained a Secure Element where payment and biometric data is stored.
In 2016 the first Mac gained one of these Apple-designed chips - the T1 chip in the MacBook Pro manages the Touch Bar and Touch ID, as well as the Secure Enclave.
Then in 2017 Apple launched the iMac Pro with the T2 chip. This T2 chip is now being used in the MacBook Pro where it looks after security, storage, audio, image processing, system management and “Hey Siri”. It's feasible that it could find its way into the new MacBook.
Like the one in the MacBook Pro, this Apple-made chip could power a Touch Bar, or it could be used for Face ID should this technology find its way into the MacBook.
But Apple's chip plans could go beyond the current status of these Apple-made chips as small processors that sit alongside the Intel chips. A 9to5Mac report in May 2018 noted that a project codenamed 'Star' could see Apple create it's own ARM-based processor to be used in a "brand new device family" that could see Apple run a derivative of iOS on a Mac.
Could this indicate that a future MacBook could run iOS alongside MacOS? 9to5Mac believes that this new Apple-made chip will be used for a brand new device family that it will run a derivative of iOS. That site points out that the 'Star' project relates to a product with that has “a touch screen, a sim card slot, GPS, compass, is water resistant and it also runs EFI.” EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) is the boot system used by Macs.
As for whether we will see this new MacBook in 2018, probably not: 9to5Mac suggests it could be the "First ARM-based Mac, with a ship date as soon as 2020." This correlates with reports that Apple is thought to be planning to move Macs to their own processors by 2020 (see more about that below).
Apparently the 'Star' prototypes are being manufactured by Pegatron (who manufactures other Apple iOS devices). A small number of units have been shipped to Cupertino for testing by Apple employees.
Reports are suggesting that Apple may actually be planning to move away from Intel and start producing its own processor chips from 2020. As per this Bloomberg report from April 2018, "People familiar with the plans" said that Apple is planning to use its own chips in Mac computers beginning as early as 2020, replacing processors from Intel.
The initiative, code named Kalamata, could see Apple "able to more tightly integrate new hardware and software, potentially resulting in systems with better battery life," according to the Bloomberg report.
This would be the first major transition since Apple moved from PowerPC chips co-developed with IBM and Motorola to Intel in 2006.
The integrated graphics in the 2017 model were the Intel Graphics 615, up from the Intel Graphics 515 in the previous generation.
We expect a similar bump in the 2018 model. The graphics processor shipping alongside the Coffee Lake processor is the Intel UHD 630 graphics.
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 could upgrade the top of the range model to 16GB RAM and keep a 8GB option as a lower-priced model.
When the MacBook launched in 2015 it featured a USB 3.1 port and an audio jack. Other new Macs feature Thunderbolt 3 - which, since it uses the same connector as USB Type-C supports both standards.
The new MacBook could feature the USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3 port, allowing 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.
Whether the audio jack remains is another matter. If Apple wants to use the space for something else, then maybe that port's days are numbered.
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, could allow the company to embed LTE hardware in the new 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.
2018 MacBook: Design
While we are unlikely to see huge physical changes to the MacBook in terms of the design it is possible that a 13in model could be in the pipeline - and this could indicate that the design of the MacBook will change.
Perhaps we will see slimmer bezels, allowing Apple to increase the size of the display by an inch diagonally, without having to increase the size of the laptop significantly.
In addition to that we could see a change in colour options, as was the case with the iPhone 8 which saw the Rose Gold and Gold versions merge into one new gold shade. We expect the new gold version to join the current Silver and Space Grey options.
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.
At present the MacBook is available in one size: 12in - that's the diagonal measurement of the screen, in terms of size, that laptop measures 28.05cm by 19.65cm. You can expect that if Apple introduces a 13in version it will be larger - although it's possible that by shrinking the bezels Apple will be able to cram a larger screen in without making the laptop much bigger.
Just as the 2018 MacBook Pro did, the new MacBook is likely to get a new keyboard design. Although Apple is promoting the new keyboard on the MacBook Pro as "quieter", it seems likely that the design changes were intended to counter issues with the keyboard's 'butterfly' mechanism - with a speck of dust under one key requiring Apple to switch out the whole keyboard in order to return functionality. The problem is widespread enough to have caused Apple to offer to fix affected laptops for free following a class action lawsuit (details here).
It is clear that Apple has been investigating solutions to the issue. The company filed a patent detailing one way to avoid the problem in March 2018. The "Ingress Prevention for Keyboards" patent outlines ways to stop spilt fluid, crumbs and dust from blocking key movement and damaging the circuitry, and, detailing how flaps could block the gaps around each key so that dust and liquids can't get in, it seems very similar to the new keyboards found on the 2018 MacBook Pro.
Over the years Apple has published many patents relating to keyboards that could find their way into future models of the MacBook. One patent applications published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on 2 August (filed by Apple on 28 March 2018) details a "Device having integrated interface system” - which is essentially a virtual keyboard with a transparent top that can change depending on what the user is doing. Such a keyboard would be impervious to dust and debris as it wouldn't have physical keys.
Apparently, embedded sensors in the virtual keyboard could detect where a user's fingers are touching the surface, and how much force is applied. If you are thinking that it would be strange to type on such a keyboard you aren't alone. Apple is suggesting that haptic feedback could be provided to the user, so your fingers should register that a key had been pressed, which might help, although we aren't convinced.
One benefit of such a design is that unusual software buttons and other controls, such as sliders and dials, could be added to the keyboard. This idea isn't completely alien to the Mac - just imagine how the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro could extend to the whole keyboard.
Speaking of the Touch Bar, before the whole keyboard becomes a Touch Bar, it is possible that Apple will expand the Touch Bar functionality around the keyboard in the form of digital paneling, adding touch sensitivity to the areas below and to the right and left of the keyboard, as detailed in another Apple patent.
This isn't the first touch sensitive keyboard related rumour to be attached to the MacBook. 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.
There's another way that the keyboard could change. Back in autumn 2015 Apple filed a patent that appeared to show its design for a Force Touch capable keyboard. The MacBook already has a Force Touch trackpad, which gives electric pulses that feel like clicks, but doesn't actually move. Like on the iPhone, Force Touch means you can press harder for a 'deeper' click and access menus and options within certain apps.
If none of the above changes come to the keyboard, there is one feature that might. Since its introduction in 2016, some models of the MacBook Pro have had a touch bar along the top of the keyboard for shortcuts for everything from menus to emoji.
It would make sense for Apple to introduce this Touch Bar to the MacBook - keeping it to the MacBook Pro has made it such a novelty feature that there aren't that many functions being developed by third parties, but if it was found on more of Apple's Macs it might become more relevant.
One final design change that we don't expect to see soon, but it's interesting that Apple has filed a patent outlining it. A patent discovered by Patently Apple suggests that Apple is working a hinge design that would allow it to make a clamshell MacBook.
According to the patent, the entire chassis of a MacBook would be made out of 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: “The flexible portion may allow the rigid material to be folded in half and thus acts as a laptop clamshell.”
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.