Now they tell me! Well, actually Apple hasn’t said anything official on the subject, but last week Bloomberg News’s Mark Gurman and Alex Webb cited unnamed “people familiar with the matter” suggesting that a round of Apple notebook processor upgrades to Intel “Kaby Lake” Core silicon may include a speed bump for the venerable MacBook Air price leader machine as well.
Last fall, when the MacBook Air, which hasn’t been upgraded since early 2015, was once again passed over for refreshment when the redesigned MacBook Pro family was announced, pretty near unanimous conventional opinion in the Apple commentariat was that the Air would receive no more spec. refreshes, and would be quietly phased out as sales fell.
I was reluctantly of similar mind, and being underwhelmed by the 12-inch MacBook and the late 2016 MacBook Pro models, especially their so-called butterfly keyswitch technology keyboards, accordingly took advantage of Apple’s annual one-day Black Friday sale to purchase a MacBook Air as a hedge against what appeared to be imminent unavailability of Apple notebooks with decent keyboards.
However, Gurman and Webb report that Apple has been surprised by robust levels of demand for the MacBook Air, the current form factor of which dates back nearly seven years, first unveiled in late 2010. This phenomenon doesn’t surprise me. As a user of Apple notebook computers since 1997, I would rate the current 13-inch MacBook Air one of the all-time greatest Mac laptop designs, along with the 1994 500-Series “Blackbird” PowerBooks. the 1996 PowerBook 1400, the 1998-2000 PowerBook G3 Series (especially the 2000 Pismo model), the aluminum PowerBook G4s, the original unibody Intel-powered MacBook Pros and MacBooks, and the previous to the late-2016 revision Touch Pad MacBook Pros (also still quietly available from Apple in both 13-inch and 15-inch sizes).
My read as a more than satisfied MacBook Air user for the past four years is that a lot of MacBook buyers simply like the MacBook Air better than the current butterfly keyboard models with their exclusively USB-C port connectivity and battery runtime compromised by Apple’s obsessive pursuit of extreme form factor thinness.
Incidentally, more proof that Apple badly bungled the butterfly action keyboard design is that the HP Spectre and the new Microsoft Surface Laptop, which are also ultra-thin 13-inch notebooks whose keyboards get enthusiastically favorable reviews.
The sub-$1,000 starting price of course isn’t hurting either, and performance with the mid-2015 Intel Broadwell processor upgrade and a standard 8MB RAM configuration is reasonably lively. Of course there is the caveat that the 13-inch MacBook Air’s 1440 x 900 display is well shy of Retina spec., I’ve found it quite acceptable for the sort of stuff I do.
Viewed against that backdrop, continuing to offer the MacBook Air and upgrading it to Kaby Lake processors seems a sensible plan for Apple. I’ve seen no mention of a Kaby Lake update for the old school pre late 2016 MacBook Pro models, and the likelihood of that can be considered slim to nil.
If Kaby Lake MacBook Airs do materialize at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference next month, I will definitely be feeling pangs of remorse for having jumped the gun last fall. My Broadwell AIr is a lovely machine, but it would be even lovelier with a state of the art processor.
Indeed, the old MacBook Air has stood up remarkably well against its direct Windows competition, and upgrading to Kaby Lake silicon would restore performance competitiveness, although most Windows machines in the price class or even lower-priced have higher-resolution panels and the real touchscreens that Apple disdains for notebooks. Part of that disdain is presumably attributable to the fact that the macOS, unlike Windows 10, doesn’t have touchscreen input support, with Apple preferring to focus development resources on the iOS that powers its main revenue-generator iPhones as well as iPads. There is reportedly no longer a separate macOS development unit at Apple.
Personally I can live quite happily without touchscreen support in laptops, but it can be handy and convenient, with no downside as long as traditional mouse and keyboard support continues. Indeed, I’m strongly of a mind that the iOS should support Bluetooth mouse input to go with the existing Bluetooth keyboard support, but that’s another movie.