Apple’s revolutionary MacBook release in 2015 has us wondering when the rest of the notebook line is going to receive the same treatment. With a new design, heavily optimized internals, and an odd place smack in the middle of Apple’s laptop offerings, there’s a lot of room for the Air and Pro models to find their own niche.
Unfortunately, Apple is traditionally tight-lipped about upcoming product updates and releases, which makes speculating on rumors a bit more difficult. Still, there are a few certainties based on previous launch experience with Apple, as well as some ideas about the next big move for the brand.
If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that Skylake is coming to Cupertino. In fact, the last update to Apple’s laptops should have coincided with the Skylake launch, but a delay on Intel’s end led to a variety of older chips across the line.
It wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the current chips in the MacBooks weren’t so old. The MacBook Pro 13 is powered by a quad-core Broadwell chip that’s nearing a year old at this point, and that’s the newest of the bunch. The reintroduced 2015 MacBook is powered by choice of two Core M chips, both of which come from the end of 2014. The 15-inch MacBook Pro is, ironically, the oldest of all, with a Haswell chip that released in the third quarter of 2014.
And along with that update will come not only performance improvements, but also smarter power usage that will help extend the MacBook’s already length battery life. That includes more powerful integrated graphics, enabling 4K output on some devices that previously didn’t have it. In the case of the upgrade from Haswell in the 15-inch pro, that will be particularly dramatic.
Puget Sound Systems tested the highest-end desktop CPU from each family, and found that the Skylake chip “should be anywhere from one percent to ten percent faster.” Even more impressive is the power usage, which consistently drops wattage across the board compared to older chips, while keeping core temps noticeably cooler.
Our own tests back up these results. The Dell XPS 13 from early 2015 scored 2585 for single-core and 5025 for multi-core running a Broadwell i5-5200U. The upgrade to Skylake bumped those scores to 2884 for single-core and 5960 for multi-core, about a fifteen percent increase.
They’re not huge, but these improvements are going to make a big difference in the power and battery life that users will actually notice. This time around, the difference is less ethereal than it has been in the past.
Lighter than air
While some reports have suggested a bolstering of Air offerings in new sizes, similar rumors last year turned out to be the first rumblings of the new MacBook line, and I think we’re seeing history repeat itself.
While Apple will want to continue offering an entry level model, the line between the MacBook Air and MacBook is a thin one. Furthermore, Apple has been pushing the redesigned MacBook in a big way, which leads me to believe the Air line will be replaced by the MacBook. The MacBook Air hasn’t seen a design update in a long time, and it’s likely a revamp would bring it closely in line with the USB Type-C obsessed MacBook, anyway.
If Apple does drop the Air, it will mean new offerings in the sub-$1,000 laptop point for Apple to replace it with. Some of that cost-cutting from the current $1,300 base model would come simply from the fact that it’s now second-generation hardware. In true Apple form, the brand could also continue selling the older models at a cheaper price than newer versions.
More pixels, better pixels
In another move to simplify the offerings in the MacBook line, it may finally be time for the Retina display to finish its slow march across the Apple offerings. Laptops are increasingly moving away from 1080p displays into higher resolution territory, and the MacBook and MacBook Pro, while sporting Retina displays, have fallen short of the highest PPI offerings, even by Apple standards. At least on the Pro models, it’s not hard to imagine an update with Retina HD, bumping the PPI from the low 200s to the ~300 PPI in the smaller devices.
If Apple is moving away from the Air, then it’s important that it expands the panel size in the existing MacBook line. Dropping the Air leaves us with just the 12-inch MacBook, and 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pro models, and it’s likely users will want a slightly larger option without paying a premium for the high-end performance of the Pro line.
But improving displays isn’t all about the resolution, and a few other advancements may find their way into the redesigned MacBook lineup. The most obvious next move for Apple’s MacBook lines would be to begin including OLED displays.
We’ve only seen them on a handful of systems so far, so their introduction would make waves. Still, it’s a chance for Apple to offer new technology that has a tangible effect on everyday computing. OLED is expensive, so it likely would be an optional extra, or only appear in one or two models.
New designs might lead to fewer USBs
Frankly, it’s time for Apple to redesign the aging MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines. It’s been years since a legitimate update, and in that time everything from the iPhone up to the iMac has seen some sort of design update.
Along with those changes, it’s incredibly likely we’ll see the introduction of the USB Type-C port across every laptop in the MacBook line. The MacBook option of only including that port seems a little drastic for all systems, especially when considering the MacBook Pro’s popularity for media creation and editing. Those users tend to need common ports, and lots of them, to achieve true productivity.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t be featured on newer MacBooks. It wouldn’t be surprising for Apple to lean even more heavily on the new standard for both computing and mobile solutions, in particular for replacing the Mini DisplayPort and HDMI ports found on the current generation of products.
The traditional USB ports are a bit more of a sticking point, and until Type-C rolls out to a lot of accessories, or adapters are more easily accessible, it’s not likely that we’ll see Type-C stand on any MacBook Pro.
The light of day
The MacBook was announced at press conference last year in March, and it’s extremely likely this year’s Mac updates will come around the same time, with laptops shipping not long after. If there’s a delay, or if Apple is just feeling cheeky, this announcement could be pushed back to WWDC in June.
More important than the launch date is the price. The big question is what Apple plans to do about its entry level product. The Air’s days seem numbered, but it’s also the company’s best selling laptop. Apple would have to lower the price of the MacBook if the Air is cut.
As for the Pro line — don’t expect to see much difference. While they may receive a design update, the hardware inside the Pros isn’t going to change substantially, over than the update to Skylake. Apple has no reason to lower the price, so it probably won’t.
Guess and check
Trying to guess what Apple is doing is like trying to predict the weather. While history, rumors, and people standing downwind might hint about the next big move, we just won’t know until Apple decides to share that information.
Still, history is usually a good indicator of what’s to come, more so with MacBooks than iPhones or iPads. Importantly, expect there to be new features and updates the likes of which we couldn’t possibly predict when Tim Cook takes the stage to unveil the latest and greatest. If it didn’t have those mysterious, potentially game-changing touches like only Apple can pull off, it just wouldn’t be the same.