Apple's 12in MacBook was last updated in June 2017. Since then Apple has updated the MacBook Air but left the MacBook untouched. Is there a future for the petite super-slim laptop or will Apple focus on the Air instead? In this article we round up the latest leaks and rumours relating to the 2019 version of the 12in MacBook, including its release date, price and next-gen processors.
It's now almost two years since the MacBook was last updated, and an update is long overdue - not least because of criticisms of the keyboard. We're now looking to June's WWDC as the next most likely time we'll see a new MacBook, although Apple could simply update the Apple store with new models without fanfare.
There are currently some discounts available on the MacBook if you don't want to wait for the new model. You can purchase the 2017 MacBook from Apple itself, as well as John Lewis, KRCS, Currys PC World and other resellers. Check out our best MacBook deals article for more advice.
Apple tends not to substantially change the price of its Macs from generation to generation, unless it's a fairly hefty upgrade.
The price of the MacBook didn't change when Apple last updated it back in 2017. It remained at £1,249 in the UK - the same price as the entry-level 4K iMac and the entry-level 13in MacBook Pro.
Prices for the 2017 MacBook are as follows:
- 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 Kaby Lake, 256GB, 8GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 615: £1,249/$1,299.
- 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 Kaby Lake, 512GB, 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
With the new MacBook Air starting at £1,199 it's possible that the 12in MacBook price could come down. It is odd that a more powerful and larger-screened Mac currently costs less. However, the MacBook has always had a high price: it appears you pay a premium for a smaller and lighter laptop.
While we think we are unlikely to see much in the way of physical changes to the MacBook in terms of the design, 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.
The MacBook is already incredibly thin at 13.1mm, and it weighs just 0.9kg, making it 24 percent thinner than the old MacBook Air - but in comparison to the redesigned MacBook Air that launched in 2018 the MacBook is only a fraction smaller (28.05cm x 19.65cm, 0.92kg compared to 30.41cm x 21.24cm, 1.25kg). Perhaps it's time for it to shrink a bit more...
In addition to that we could see a change in colour options. While Apple failed to update the MacBook at the 30 October event it did remove the Rose Gold version shortly after. Now the MacBook is available in gold, silver and Space Grey.
Could the MacBook ever come in colour choices that match the iPhone XR? Yellow, red or blue, for example? Probably not, but given Apple's history of offering colourful computers it's not completely out of the question.
At present the MacBook is available in one size - a screen size of 12in, while the laptop itself measures 28.05cm by 19.65cm. It's possible that by shrinking the bezels Apple will be able to shrink the size of the laptop even more.
The only issue with reducing the size of the laptop is if it means the keyboard also shrinks. One benefit of the current dimensions is that it accommodates a full-sized laptop. Speaking of which...
Just as the 2018 MacBook Pro did, and the new MacBook Air, the new MacBook is likely to get a new keyboard design.
Although Apple promoted the Pro's 2018 keyboard as "quieter", the design changes seem at least partly intended to counter dust issues with the older butterfly mechanism. The problem was widespread enough that Apple offered to fix affected laptops for free following a class action lawsuit.
Apple has clearly been investigating solutions to the issue. In Mar 2018 the company filed a patent detailing how flaps could block the gaps around each key so dust and liquids can't get in, and this seems similar to the new keyboards found on the 2018 MacBook Pro.
Since its introduction in 2016, some models of 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 many functions being developed by third parties, but if it was found on more Macs it might become more relevant.
Even if the Touch Bar doesn't arrive Touch ID is likely to, as it did with the MacBook Air.
You can expect that Apple will use the latest (albeit most suitable) components in the next version of the MacBook. We examine what's most likely below.
The 12in MacBook currently has a resolution of 2,304 x 1,440 pixels at 226ppi.
It's possible 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 colour and white balance to better suit environmental lighting, so users should experience less eye strain, and colours should appear more accurate.
However, the MacBook Air that launched in 2018 didn't include it, perhaps so Apple could keep the price down or because the company felt that the technology was less relevant to non-creative professional use.
Apple is considering an OLED display for the MacBook, at least according to sources at Korean ETNews back in 2016. We doubt this will materialise in 2019, though.
Apple uses Kaby Lake Y processors in the current MacBook lineup. 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, so what processor is likely to be used in the new MacBook?
One option is Intel's Amber Lake chips. Amber Lake is a very low-power line of processors and a successor to Kaby Lake Y.
Intel first announced the Amber Lake chips during Computex in June 2018. Romanian site NextLab was one of the first to obtain 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.
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 5W. 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. Whiskey Lake processors 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)
However, despite the arrival of these new chips, a DigiTimes report in August 2018 suggested that the new MacBook will use the new 8th-gen Kaby Lake chips (successors to the 7th-gen Kaby Lake processors that arrived in 2017 and are used in the MacBook line currently).
The Kaby Lake refresh optimises for video and speeds up tasks considerably, so the fact that it has the same name as the 2017 processor shouldn't indicate that it's not a significant update.
Furthermore, news of Intel's successor to Coffee Lake - Ice Lake - has now hit. These processors are being built using the 10nm process and, according to MacRumours, could be paired with Sunny Cove microprocessors and Intel's new Gen11 integrated graphics.
Reports suggest 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.
The initiative, codenamed 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.
For some time now Apple has been designing its own system-on-chip components: the 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 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 and the new MacBook Air, 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.
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 its 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 this new Apple-made chip will be used for a brand-new device family that will run a derivative of iOS. That site points out that the 'Star' project relates to a product with that has "a touchscreen, a SIM card slot, GPS, compass, is water-resistant and also runs EFI." EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) is the boot system used by Macs.
As for whether we will see this new MacBook in 2019, probably not: 9to5Mac suggests 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.
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.
It's also possible that the new MacBooks could use Intel's new Gen11 integrated graphics that will support 4K video streams and 8K content creation as per this MacRumours report.
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.
As it did with the MacBook Air in 2018, 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 is likely to 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. Maybe that port's days are numbered.
Future tech and features
These features are unlikely to appear any time soon, but patents suggest that Apple is at least interested in developing these ideas which may, or may not, come to a future MacBook. You can also read our predictions for the 2019 MacBook Air.
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.
Keyboard & Touch Bar
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.
Designer Furkan Kasap has created some renders of how such a keyboard might look if Apple was to develop it in this way. His design sees the keyboard being replaced by a display.
There's 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".