Pre­dict­ing the Macbook Air re­place­ment

What can we ex­pect from Ap­ple’s oft-ru­mored ul­tra­portable lap­top over­haul? We have some ideas.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JA­SON CROSS

Over the last year we’ve seen sev­eral ru­mors from re­li­able sources stat­ing that Ap­ple plans to in­tro­duce a new low-cost Macbook ( go.mac­world.com/ lcmb). Ba­si­cally, it’s aim­ing to re­place the beloved (but ag­ing) Macbook Air ( go. mac­world.com/mbar), and prob­a­bly make the Macbook ( go.mac­world.com/mb17) ob­so­lete in the process.

This makes a lot of sense: both the Macbook and the Macbook Air are in need of an up­date. The ru­mors say the new prod­uct will launch this year; we think that’s likely to hap­pen at an as-yetu­nan­nounced Oc­to­ber event.

With­out fur­ther ado, here are our pre­dic­tions as to what we can ex­pect from a low-cost (for Ap­ple) Macbook Air re­place­ment.

THE NAME: MACBOOK (NO AIR)

From a prod­uct po­si­tion­ing stand­point, Ap­ple has dropped the “Air” moniker from its core prod­ucts. Air­ports are gone, the ipad Air is gone, and the cur­rent “Air” prod­ucts are ac­ces­sories that em­pha­size wire­less ca­pa­bil­i­ties (Air­pods, Air­power) rather than “look how thin and light this is.”

We think there will be a sin­gle prod­uct that re­places the cur­rent 12-inch Macbook and the old Macbook Air, and it will prob­a­bly just be called the “Macbook.” (Ap­ple may call it the “All-new Macbook!” on stage.) This stream­lines the Mac, Macbook, ipad, and iphone prod­uct lines into two tiers each: ev­ery­day and pro. You’ve got the imac and imac Pro, Macbook and Macbook Pro, iphone (6.1-inch LCD model) and iphone XS (5.8 or 6.5-inch OLED model), ipad and ipad Pro.

THE DIS­PLAY: 13-INCH, 2560X1600 PIXEL RETINA

The big up­grade to the new Macbook is sup­posed to be the jump to a Retina dis­play. Cer­tainly, the 1440x900 res­o­lu­tion of the cur­rent Macbook Air is way be­hind the times, es­pe­cially for a thou­sand-dol­lar note­book.

It prob­a­bly makes sense for Ap­ple to up­grade its last re­main­ing non-retina prod­uct. Even the $329 ipad ( go. mac­world.com/ip97) has a dis­play res­o­lu­tion of 2048x1536!

The most cost-ef­fec­tive thing for Ap­ple to do is prob­a­bly to take the ex­act dis­play used in the 13-inch Macbook Pro ( with­out Touch Bar) and use that in this lower-cost lap­top. That means it’ll be 13.3 inches, 2560x1600, up to 500 nits of bright­ness, and DCI-P3 color gamut—but no True Tone.

Those big sil­ver bezels around the dis­play on the Macbook Air would go, too. Ex­pect black bezels, roughly the size as those on the Macbook or 13-inch Macbook Pro.

THE PRO­CES­SORS: WHISKEY LAKE AND/OR AM­BER LAKE

In­tel just re­cently an­nounced its new 8th-gen­er­a­tion U-se­ries and Y-se­ries pro­ces­sors, code-named Whiskey Lake and Am­ber Lake ( go.mac­world.com/wlal), re­spec­tively.

Com­pared to the ex­ist­ing Macbook Air, one with a Whiskey Lake pro­ces­sor would be a huge im­prove­ment. The cur­rent base model fea­tures a Core i5-5350u, with an op­tional Core i7-5650u up­grade. Those are fifth-gen­er­a­tion Core pro­ces­sors with a 15-watt TDP (ther­mal de­sign power). The eighth gen­er­a­tion, by com­par­i­son, dou­bles the core count (to 4 cores, 8 threads) and greatly in­creases graph­ics per­for­mance, all at the same TDP.

Am­ber Lake, the Y-se­ries pro­ces­sors, are made for smaller ma­chines that have stricter ther­mal con­straints and tougher bat­tery life con­sid­er­a­tions. They have a TDP of just 5 watts, cut the cores/threads back down to 2/4, and re­duce clock speeds com­pared to Whiskey Lake. If Ap­ple in­tro­duces an 11-inch Macbook, it is likely to only be avail­able with Am­ber Lake (Y-se­ries) pro­ces­sors.

But even the 13-inch model might start with some­thing like a Core i5-8200y ( go.mac­world.com/8200) as the base model, with the more pow­er­ful Core i5-8265u ( go.mac­world.com/8265) as an up­grade. This wouldn’t be a cost-sav­ing mea­sure, as In­tel lists the for­mer with a “rec­om­mended cus­tomer price” of $291 while the lat­ter is only $297. Ap­ple al­most cer­tainly doesn’t pay those prices, but the rel­a­tive dif­fer­ence is still small. Rather, ship­ping a 13-inch thin and light lap­top with a Y-se­ries In­tel pro­ces­sor will al­low Ap­ple to of­fer ex­tremely long bat­tery life.

THE WIRE­LESS: 802.11AC, BLUE­TOOTH 5

One of the ad­van­tages of In­tel’s new Am­ber Lake and Whiskey Lake pro­ces­sors is a new in­te­grated gi­ga­bit-class 802.11ac mo­dem with sup­port for 2x2 MIMO. Ap­ple may drop the Broad­com net­work­ing mod­ule in fa­vor of us­ing In­tel’s in­te­grated one, if it’s fast enough, both to save costs and re­duce com­plex­ity.

How­ever, Ap­ple’s big into Blue­tooth 5, and that means it ei­ther needs to use a third-party chip (per­haps again from Broad­com) or its own W2 wire­less chip. The W2 also pro­vides Wi-fi con­nec­tiv­ity, but tops out at 802.11n, giv­ing speed and re­li­a­bil­ity that would be sort of lack­lus­ter for a lap­top in 2018.

Ap­ple has shipped its new Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 4( go.mac­world.com/ aws4), which in­cludes a new W3 wire­less chip in­te­grated into the Se­ries 4’s S2 SIP, pro­vid­ing even bet­ter en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and sup­port for du­al­band 802.11ac. Could the com­pany also use that in the new Macbook?

No mat­ter how it gets there, you can al­most cer­tainly ex­pect 802.11ac dual-band net­work­ing with 2x2 MIMO and Blue­tooth 5 in the new Macbook.

THE SIZE AND SHAPE: LIKE A THIN­NER, TA­PERED 13-INCH MACBOOK PRO

The 13-inch Macbook Air is 12.8 inches wide by 9 inches deep. The 13-inch Macbook Pro shaves about eight-tenths of an inch off the width and six-tenths of an inch off the depth—it’s got a much smaller foot­print, de­spite the screen be­ing the same size. It’s all about those smaller bezels, and we ex­pect the new Macbook to have sim­i­lar di­men­sions. How­ever, it won’t be shaped like the Macbook Pro, with equal thick­ness all around. We think Ap­ple will stick with the dis­tinc­tive ta­pered front edge of the Macbook Air and 12-inch Macbook, to re­duce weight and make the lap­top feel much thin­ner.

THE KEY­BOARD AND PORTS: 2ND-GEN­ER­A­TION BUT­TER­FLY, USB-C ONLY

Peo­ple love the old chi­clet key­board still in use on the Macbook Air. The odds of

see­ing it on a newly de­sign lap­top are next to zero, we’re afraid. It’s all about the thin­ner, low-travel “but­ter­fly” key­board now, and you can ex­pect the typ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of the new Macbook to be just like that of the new 13-inch Macbook Pro. Ap­ple will es­sen­tially use the same key­board, com­plete with sil­i­cone dust mem­brane ( go.mac­world.com/slmb).

The click­able track­pad is go­ing away too, in fa­vor of the new Force Touch track­pad. For­tu­nately, that has been bet­ter-re­ceived by Ap­ple fans.

Hop­ing for a Magsafe con­nec­tor and USB-A ports? So are we, but real­is­ti­cally we have to ad­mit that Ap­ple is just plain done with those tech­nolo­gies. The new Macbook will have USB-C ports and only USB-C ports, more’s the pity. We can only hope that Ap­ple will in­clude at least two ports, be­cause the sin­gle USB-C port on the cur­rent 12-inch Macbook ( go.mac­world. com/bsmb) is a huge pain in the butt.

THE PRICE: START­ING AT $899

Time and again, the ru­mors say that the new Macbook will be a “low-cost” lap­top. For Ap­ple, low cost means some­thing dif­fer­ent than it does for other lap­top mak­ers. Ap­ple just isn’t go­ing to make a $599 lap­top, as much as we may want it to.

How­ever, given the tech­nol­ogy we’re prob­a­bly look­ing at here, it seems like Ap­ple can still make plenty of money at a start­ing price of $899, $100 less than the cur­rent Macbook Air. Such a con­fig­u­ra­tion would have 8GB of RAM, and Ap­ple might even slim down to a 64GB

SSD to help re­duce costs, though that won’t leave a lot of free space (maybe 40GB or so on a fresh new lap­top). If so, it will be the only lap­top Ap­ple of­fers that doesn’t start at 128GB.

Ap­ple re­ally needs to do some­thing to shake up Macbook sales, and pric­ing is per­haps its big­gest op­por­tu­nity to drive de­mand. Con­fig­u­ra­tions with added RAM, stor­age, or faster pro­ces­sors would ramp up the price quickly, and most new Mac­books would sell in the more prof­itable $1,100 to $1,300 price range, but be­ing able to ad­ver­tise a slim, modern, faster, Retina Macbook for

$899 would get a lot of on-the-fence buy­ers into the Ap­ple Store.

UN­KNOWN: T-SE­RIES CHIP, CEL­LU­LAR, AND TOUCH ID

Ap­ple is keen to in­clude bio­met­ric iden­ti­fi­ca­tion on its prod­ucts. Still, adding Touch ID to a low-cost lap­top is a pretty tough hill to climb. It re­quires the in­clu­sion of a T-se­ries pro­ces­sor (like the T1 found in the orig­i­nal Macbook Pro with Touch Bar or the T2 found in the imac Pro [ go.mac­world.com/ t2mp]). Touch ID or Face ID re­quire the se­cure en­clave in those chips, at a min­i­mum. And Face ID would re­quire a Truedepth Mod­ule, which is even more ex­pen­sive than a Touch ID sen­sor. Ap­ple didn’t even see fit to add it to its ex­pen­sive new Macbook Pro this year.

We think, even­tu­ally, in­clud­ing some­thing like T-se­ries co-pro­cess­ing and se­cu­rity chips is go­ing to be stan­dard on all Macs, but they cur­rently add too much cost to be con­sid­ered for a sub-$1,000 Macbook.

Ap­ple has also been re­miss to add cel­lu­lar con­nec­tiv­ity op­tions to Mac lap­tops, de­spite Win­dows ma­chines hav­ing those op­tions for years. The new Whiskey Lake and Am­ber Lake In­tel chips work to­gether with In­tel cel­lu­lar modems and ESIMS for cel­lu­lar con­nec­tiv­ity, and it would be a re­ally neat op­tion to of­fer as a higher-priced up­grade. His­tor­i­cally, Ap­ple seems con­tent to let Macbook users eas­ily con­nect to their iphones if they need ac­cess on the go. ■

The big sil­ver Macbook Air bezels (left) are likely to be re­placed by slim­mer black bezels as in the Macbook Pro (right).

The 13-inch Macbook Pro sit­ting on top of a Macbook Air, show­ing its smaller foot­print.

The new Macbook is al­most cer­tainly go­ing to have this key­board.

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