If you have designs on acquiring an 11.6-inch MacBook Air, you’d likely be best advised to make your move soon, as it appears the smaller Air model is on the bubble. On the other hand, if you’ve been wishing for a larger MacBook Air than the current 13-inch top-of-the-line model, your wish may soon come true. According to the Taipei, Taiwan based Chinese language Economic Daily News’s Xie Yili, a major redesign of the MacBook Air, whose current form factor dates back to October, 2010, is expected to be unveiled next year in flagship 13-inch and 15-inch configurations. That appears to indicate that the 11.6-inch Air will be discontinued, crowded out by the recently-released 12-inch MacBook with Retina display and iPad Pro.
There does appear to be redundancy in Apple’s offering three different 12-ish inch panel portable devices, although the 11.6-inch Air, the 12-inch MacBook With Retina display, and the iPad Pro don’t really overlap in capability as much as might be superficially apparent. As I’ve contended previously in this space, the iPad Pro is nowhere near close being a satisfactory replacement for a laptop running OS X, Windows, or Linux, and the 12-inch MacBook is underpowered and under-ported compared with even the smallest MacBook Air, especially if the latter is optioned up with Core i7 power.
Presuming the Xie report is accurate, discontinuation of the 11.6-inch MacBook Air with its low resolution screen that helps make possible an $899.00 starting price, also begs the question of what model will fill the role of Apple’s entry level laptop going forward.
It’s plausible that Apple sees the $799.00 base iPad Pro as its portable device entry in that price range, with the 13-inch MacBook Air becoming the price leader Mac laptop, although its one dollar short of $1,000 starting price is unlikely to survive a shift to a Retina grade high-resolution panel in the new redesigned model. The MacBook Air is currently the last non-Retina Apple AIO device, and going Retina with the redesign might well push it to entry level price parity with the Retina MacBook.
The Economic Daily News’s Xie Yili cites industry supply chain insider reports that the new MacBook Air will be even thinner than existing models, offer higher performance, and debut next year at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), likely to be produced by longtime Apple collaborator Quanta.
Xie says supply chain sources are very optimistic about the strength of projected Apple notebook shipments for next year, and that this new machine to replace the existing volume-seller MacBook Air is expected to incorporate full redesigns of major components such as the metal chassis, the internal battery modules, panels, cooling modules, and so forth.
Not addressed in the Taiwanese report is whether the MacBook Air redesign will include a detachable touchscreen display making it convertible between clamshell laptop and standalone tablet modes, currently the fastest growing PC device category. I think that’s doubtful since OS X has not been ported to support touchscreen input so far as we know, but Apple did file a patent application for a convertible laptop device earlier this year.
On the other hand, there have been rumors of an Apple A-series ARM chip powered iOS laptop being in the works, which would fit into Apple’s philosophy of keeping its desktop and touchscreen operating systems distinct while enabling the company to enter the convertible hybrid device space, and also taking the 12-inch MacBook Air’s place as its entry level laptop. Albeit not with a Mac.
Apple will be taking a big risk if it’s not working on bringing a detachable hybrid device to market. International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker reports that the worldwide tablet market recorded 12.6 percent lower shipments in in the third quarter of 2015 (3Q15), marking a fourth straight quarter of sales decline in the category. IDC notes that in response to the ongoing tablet slump, the industry is seeing growing vendor interest in new form factors, with detachable tablets becoming a clear focus for many. The IDC analysts say that while detachable tablets have held just a single digit percentage of the overall tablet market, they expect that share to increase dramatically over the next 18 months. Meanwhile, they note that while Apple still holds top position in the worldwide tablet market, “the days of deifying the iPad as the ultimate tablet may have come to an end,” with Apple’s self-cannibalization and increasing competition from PC vendors with detachable tablets both contributing to a decline in iPad shipments.
Blogger Paul Thurrott reports that while Apple is still the dominant tablet vendor domestically with 34 percent of tablet sales, Microsoft, with its full desktop Windows 10 compatible series of Surface and Surface Pro tablet PCs and the detachable Surface Book, has roared from nowhere to number two player with 19 percent of the market. It seems probable that the Surface is selling well thanks in large part to its capability of supporting standard Windows applications appealing to the enterprise market particularly, making it a practical one-device solution to replace a separate PC and tablet — something the iPad Pro isn’t for serious productivity-focused users.
It will be fascinating to see if a new thinner, lighter MacBook Air can compete effectively with the anticipated onslaught of detachable Windows PCs.