For eight years, the MacBook Air has been in our reach, and for eight years it's hardly changed at all. Retina technology never made its way into the display despite the rumors suggesting so being traced back to 2013 or earlier. And it's been over a year and a half since the last minor speed bump, which broad the MacBook Air to Broadwell, rather than Intel's sixth-generation Skylake or seventh-generation Kaby Lake processors.
That means the time is ripe for a new model, a MacBook Air 2016 one might say, and rumors suggest that there could be some radical changes. They might include the retirement of the 11-inch MacBook Air in favor of a new, 15-inch version, expected to arrive sometime in the fall.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The next generation of Apple's entry-level notebook
- When is it out? The rumors point to late October
- What will it cost? Likely to start at £749 (around $899, or AUS$1,399) like today
MacBook Air 2016 release date
If we do, however, it will likely be towards the beginning of October. As MacRumors has reported, integration with the unannounced MacBooks has appeared in early builds of macOS Sierra 10.12.1, which is slated to arrive in the latter half of the month. As Apple CEO Tim Cook suggests, the best we can do right now is to "stay tuned."
However, one series of rumors suggests the MacBook Air may be completely defunct, or at least taking a hiatus. It would make sense given Apple's push for the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement. Plus, there's the 12-inch Retina MacBook to consider, which blows the Air out of the water with in terms of display clarity and portability while the performance gap between the two is beginning to narrow (the MacBook Air beats it by only 3%, according to MacWorld).
MacBook Air 2016 price
The current MacBook Air starts at £749 ($899, AU$1,399) for the 11-inch model and £849 ($999, AU$1,549) for the 13-inch. Apple tends to stick to its favorite price points, but one tasty rumor suggests that, while the prices will remain the same, the sizes will increase – so, you'll see a 13-inch Air at £749 and a 15-inch model at £849 to start.
Then again, that rumor comes courtesy of Digitimes and Digitimes' track record in Apple rumors is patchy to say the least. Economic Daily News believes that the price will go down and up: down for the 13-inch, but up for the 15-inch.
MacBook Air 2016: thinner, lighter, more powerful
Reports from Economic Daily News late last year predicted a "significant refresh" of the Air line-up in mid-2016.
Some rumors predict TouchID fingerprint recognition, but we think that's wishful thinking: the source for that particular prediction also promised that TouchID was coming to the revamped Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad late last year. It wasn't. However, Apple has since filed a patent for a Magic Mouse with Force Touch tech, so the report might have been on the money after all.
In the meantime, if TouchID is coming to the Mac via Continuity in the form of Auto Unlock, which lets users get into their Macs with nothing more than a WatchOS 3-equipped Apple Watch in close proximity.
One feature that will most certainly make its way to the next-gen MacBook Air from iOS, however, is Siri. The virtualized personal assistant on mobile was revealed at WWDC running on an early build of macOS Sierra, the OS X 10.11 El Capitan successor that will presumably arrive alongside the new range of MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 2016 models.
Furthermore, while it's an unlikely scenario – especially on an entry-level MacBook Air – it's also worth considering a patent recently filed by Apple that suggests a MacBook without the physical keyboard. Instead, if this patent gets its way, we could see the intervention of touchscreen keyboards across an entire line of Apple products.
We don't think blazingly fast next-gen SSDs will quite make it to the 2016 Air, though: Intel's Optane SSDs are destined for Macs, but that's likely to happen in 2017 – not this year.
The reversible, versatile port
EDN's sources say the new Airs are significantly thinner and lighter than the current models, with new batteries and cooling systems, Intel Skylake processors and USB-C.
We've already seen USB-C in the MacBook, which owes much of its thinness to removing all the ports, and USB-C in the Air would enable Jonathan Ive to shave a few more millimeters off the Air too.
More recently, DigiTimes has caught word that HP, Asus and Apple are all working on laptops featuring the new USB-C interface standard. Apple in particular, the outlet's sources claim, intends on incorporating them in its next MacBook Air forthcoming 15-inch MacBook Air.
A stylus on a MacBook?
A recent Apple patent suggests the iPad Pro's Apple Pencil may soon be revamped with support for Apple's Magic Trackpad and possibly even the trackpads built into future iterations of its MacBooks. While it may not support the best canvas size for doodling, Apple Pencil could be useful on a Mac for document page-turning in Preview or moving objects around in Photoshop.
MacBook Air 2016: what's so special about Skylake?
The move to Skylake processors should be more significant than the move to Broadwell, as the latter was more about battery life and energy efficiency than performance. According to Intel, the Skylake processors likely to power a 2016 Air are 10% to 20% faster, have 34% faster graphics and last for more than an hour longer than Broadwell processors.
Skylake has some other tricks up its silicon sleeve including support for WiGig and WiDi short-range, high speed data transfer as well as wireless charging. Don't expect those features to be enabled in this year's Airs, but they're likely to turn up in future iterations.
MacBook Air 2016: Retina or no Retina? That is the question
The Air was widely predicted to gain a Retina display last year, but it turned out that the Retina displays channel sources had spotted were destined for the new MacBook. If Apple plans to cut the price of the 13-inch Air it might not be able to afford to stick a Retina in there, at least on the most basic model, although as with the current MacBook Pro it might decide to offer the 13-inch Air in a cheap non-Retina and a more expensive Retina version.
MacBook Air 2016: What we'd like to see
We've said it before: we think Apple is falling behind other laptop firms who have largely caught up and in some respects overtaken notebook Macs. As Kevin Lee put it: "Cupertino's Air and Pro series machines are long overdue for a makeover that goes beyond a simple internal refresh. The design and specs of both models are long in the tooth: the MacBook Air is sporting the same HD screen resolution it has for the last six years."
Some of Lee's suggestions are firmly in the "we wish" category than the "we expect" category - a touchscreen Air seems unlikely when there's the iPad Air and iPad Pros for touchy-feely stuff, and macOS isn't currently optimised for touch - but there's no doubt that the MacBook Air is starting to feel a little old compared to faster, thinner, sharper rivals.
MacBook Air 2016: is it going to get the bullet?
It's possible, although unlikely. The updated 12-inch MacBook that's mentioned is significantly more expensive than the Airs that you see absolutely everywhere. Why kill off a model that's so successful? What's more likely is the end of the 11-inch model, which would leave Apple with a 12-inch MacBook, 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Airs and the 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pros.
Contrarily, KGI Securities analyst Chi Kuo suggests Apple plans to launch a larger, 13-inch Retina MacBook in addition to the current lineup to compensate for the absence of a revitalized MacBook Air. This will leave us with the 2015 MacBook Air as Apple's entry-level model while the MacBook and MacBook Pro variants will occupy the mid and high-end tiers, respectively. This move is speculated to serve as a gradual discontinuation of the MacBook Air lineup in favor of the Cupertino company's more up-to-date devices.
MacBook Air 2016: when will the specs start to leak?
If Apple's gearing up for a September reveal and fall product launch, the leaks should start coming thick and fast any day now. If there's one thing we know about Apple's supply chain, it's that it tends to get awfully leaky once the production lines start work.
What would you like to see in a 2016 MacBook Air? Tell us your must-haves, would-love-to-haves and not-on-your-nellys in the comments.
Gabe Carey also contributed to this article
This article is part of TechRadar's Mac Week. This year marks not only the 10th anniversary of Apple's unibody MacBook, but the triumphant return of macOS. So, TechRadar looks to celebrate with a week's worth of original features delving back into the Mac's past, predicting the Mac's future and exploring the Mac as it is today.
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