Aside from the introduction of the new 12-inch MacBook with Retina display (admittedly a major qualification), 2015 was pretty much a stand-pat year in Apple laptops. Consequently, it’s not too much of a stretch to anticipate that we’ll see some significant upgrades, or even redesigned Apple laptop hardware in 2016.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro got a significant upgrade in March with Intel Broadwell Core i processors, Iris 6100 graphics, claimed 200 percent faster flash storage, increased battery life, and Apple’s new Force Touch trackpad. In May the 15-inch Pro also got faster flash storage, improved battery life, and the Force Touch trackpad, plus an AMD Radeon R9 discrete graphics card and support for dual-cable output to 5120 x 2880 displays on the top-of-the-line model, but the 15-incher was obliged to soldier on with two-year-old technology Intel Haswell processors and Iris Pro graphics due to shipping issues with the newer Broadwell quad-core processors.
Speaking of soldiering on, the now going-on six-year-old second-generation MacBook Air design continues with only a speed bump to 1.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 and optional 2.2 GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 silicon, Thunderbolt 2 support, and the faster flash memory on the 13-inch model in 2015. While the current Air is one of the best and most popular Apple laptop models ever, it’s now the only Mac model left standing with non-Retina displays, and clearly overdue for revamp. Or perhaps not in the case of of the 11-inch MacBook Air, which rumor has it is destined for discontinuation. On the other hand, there are rumors of a possible new 15-inch MacBook Air configuration enclosed in fresh MBA architecture.
I suspect one reason why Apple has hung in with the late 2010 introduced version of the MacBook Air for so long is that its modest resolution displays enable keeping entry-level Airs below $1,000. However with much of the Windows PC competition boasting higher-resolution displays, Apple is pretty much obliged to go Retina with the new 13-inch MacBook Air that is presumably in the works for release sometime this year, with — Apple hopes — the new iPad Pro taking up the sub-$1,000 base price slack.
Another aspect where much of the PC Ultrabook competition has jumped put in front of Apple laptops is in processor technology, with PC notebooks such as Microsoft’s Surface Book already powered by the latest-generation Intel Skylake Core M chips, while MacBooks of all families are still equipped with year-old Broadwell, or even in the case of the 15-inch MacBook Pro — two-year-old Haswell silicon.
Consequently, I suspect it’s a fairly safe prediction that the entire Apple laptop retinue: MacBook, Air, and Pro, will all be upgraded to Skylake in 2016, which will improve graphics performance, boost CPU performance by something like 10 to 20 percent, run cooler, and extend battery life. Also extremely likely will be USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 support across the board.
More speculative is whether Apple will transform the 13-inch MacBook Air into essentially a larger clone of the 12-inch Retina MacBook with a (one runs out of thinness superlatives) blade-like, fanless, form factor, a Lone Ranger USB-C port, and a Retina panel… or, will they maintain the Air as a distinct product line with more powerful chippery and connectivity-expansion versatility.
Another speculative question is whether Apple will enter the hybrid/convertible laptop arena, which market research analysts say will be the fastest-growing portable computer form factor sector this year. Apple has up to now resisted convertible form factors partly out of necessity, as OS X has never been reconfigured to support touchscreen input.
However, Apple filed a patent last year for a laptop device with a detachable display module. Since there has been no indication to date that Apple is working on OS X touchscreen support, will Apple finally be offering a laptop/convertible form factor powered by the iOS? Hopefully a more productivity supportive version of the iOS, which would address some of the iPad Pro’s several serious deficiencies in that department as well.
Such a machine would essentially be iPad Pro technology packaged in a clamshell laptop or convertible form factor. Without the Mac OS it wouldn’t be a Mac, but in my estimation it could be a success, and would likely outsell the big iPad if the price is kept reasonably in check.
Personally, with my current anchor PC, a mid-2013 13-inch Haswell MacBook Air, having passed its second anniversary just over a month ago, based on history, 2016 should be a year in which I start seriously pondering my next system upgrade. What I’ll be looking for, I think, is a newer technology MacBook Air, but there just isn’t enough differentiation between my 1.3 GHz i5 Haswell Air and the current 1.6 GHz Broadwell base model to entice me.
I like the idea of the Retina MacBook’s ultra portability, but the current first-generation model is just too compromised for my needs in an anchor system. A new 13-inch MacBook Air that turns out to be essentially an upsize of the 12-inch MacBook would thus present a conundrum if it shares the smaller machine’s connectivity and expandability limitations.
Of course there’s the 13-inch MacBook Pro — presumably with at least a Skylake upgrade coming. Or perfhaps I’ll just stick with my current MacBook Air for another year. Hopefully, we’ll see some new Apple notebook hardware by The World Wide Developers Conference in June at the latest.