With my mid-2013 13-inch MacBook Air closing on its third anniversary come November, I’m in system upgrade mode. Actually the Haswell CPU equipped Air is still doing a fine job, but my good wife is finding her 2003 17-inch PowerBook running OS X 10.5 Leopard is hitting more and more limitations these days (although it still does amazingly well for a 14-year-old computer) and she will take over my number two system — a late 2008 aluminum MacBook running OS X 10.11 El Capitan — when I upgrade to a new work laptop.
Preferably, I would like my upgrade to incorporate some significantly newer technology, particularly Intel’s current Skylake CPU and perhaps a Touch ID and Force Touch trackpad and a USB-C port.
Conventional wisdom among prognosticators speculating on the direction Apple will take with next-generation notebook evolution has been leaning toward projected discontinuation of the MacBook Air models (and presumably also the currently still-available 2008 form factor non-Retina MacBook Pro with its antiquated hard disk drive and on-board optical drive) and rationalization of the lineup around an expanded ultrathin MacBook family and redesigned MacBook Pros. That scenario would give Apple an all-Retina display notebook range and a slimmed-down (literally and figuratively), less confusing array of sub-14 inch portable computing alternatives. Ben Lovejoy of 9To5Mac maintains that “At some point — be it 2016 or 2017 — we’re going to have an ultraportable range called the MacBook, and a revamped beefier range retaining the MacBook Pro label”.
He may well be right, but a downside of dropping the MacBook Air is that Apple would be left with no laptop selling below the psychologically significant $1,000 price point threshold. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is perhaps expected to take up some of the slack. However, that strategy is seriously flawed by the fact that adding a decent amount of memory, a Smart Keyboard, and an Apple Pencil stylus will push the cost of a nominally $799 base 12.9-inch iPad Pro well over $1,000, and that even thus-equipped, an iOS device is still emphatically not a satisfactory replacement for a real OS X (or for that matter Windows 10) laptop.
Another pertinent issue is users reporting that the keyswitch action of the sliver-thin keyboard in the 12-inch Retina MacBook causes typing pain, and is too uncomfortable for long-form composition or production work.
Consequently, there’s a good news/bad news dynamic attached to recent rumors that a redesigned MacBook Pro family likely to debut at the World Wide Developers Conference next month will be lighter and thinner than the current MacBook Air line, since that could indicate that it will come with a version of the keyboard technology used in the MacBook, essentially rendering it unusable as a production tool for those of us who struggle with fending off typing pain and repetitive stress injury (RSI).
In a widely reported financial note this week, usually reliable KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo paints a somewhat different dynamic, with the new MacBook Pros getting TouchID, USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, and an OLED touchbar, but not arriving until Q4/16. No detail about that OLED touchbar, but it sounds a bit gimmicky, and I continue to think Apple needs to develop full-boat touchscreen support for its laptops and a touch-compatible version of OS X to go with. This week International Data Corporation (IDC), is reporting that Western European shipments of ultraslim convertibles and detachables posted positive growth (44.7%) to account for 18.4% of total consumer shipments and 21.9% of commercial devices in 16Q1. That’s up from 9.2% and 16.3% respectively a year ago. IDC says the trend is even more significant in the context of a contracting market. The Western European PC and tablet market contracted by 13.7% YoY in 16Q1, with total shipments reaching 18.2 million units, with commercial segment demand dropping 5.2% YoY and consumer demand falling by a whopping 18.6% YoY.
Meanwhile IDC says detachable shipments grew 190.4% on a YoY basis in Western Europe, from about 500,000 to 1.5 million units over the course of a year, and despite a 12.9% decline in PC sales in Western Europe, convertible notebooks grew by 12%, driven by consumer demand. Just sayin’.
Neurogadget’s Costyra Lestoc cites recent rumors that the forthcoming MacBook Pro 2016 will be, as noted above, lighter and thinner than the current MacBook Airs, and $300 cheaper than the current MacBook Pro line. Lestoc says the 2016 Pros are projected to continue with 13-inch and 15-inch models to be unveiled, he thinks, at the WWDC.
In an earlier post, Lestoc suggested intriguingly there is a high chance of a new MacBook Air 2016 will be unveiled then as well, also in 13-inch and 15-inch variants featuring Touch ID integrated into the Trackpad, supporting: Force Touch technology and it will vote in 15-inch and 13-inch variants. This device will be powered by Intel’s Skylake processor, as well, which is 10 to 20 percent faster and has 34 percent faster graphics, as well as providing significantly longer battery charge intervals. No mention by Lestoc of a Retina display for these speculative new MacBook Airs, which one deduces will lose the 11-inch version and may stay non-Retina in order to preserve a sub-$1,000 Apple laptop option with a possibly lower-priced 13-inch model.
However KGI’s Kuo says MacBook Air development will be allowed to stagnate, with continuation of mildly breathed on, if at all, current specifications, serving as price leaders with the 11.6-inch model soldiering on. He also predicts a companion 13-inch version of the MacBook to compliment the 1 12-incher, which. seems odd given the closeness in size, although that extra inch might make room for a second USB-C port.
Lestoc does cite a MacWorld prediction that Apple will equip the new MacBook Pros with current state-of-the art NVIDIA’ and AMD GPUs, and will be available in a rose gold color option. That appeals appeals to me, and it’s looking like my next system is likely to be a new 13-inch MacBook Pro provided it ships with a decent keyboard. So much the better if the price gets cut, although I’m more than a little skeptical about the likelihood of that.