As the MacBook Air celebrates its tenth anniversary, we ask whether there is a future for the no-longer-skinniest MacBook. Will 2018 be the year that Apple removes the MacBook Air from its line up, or will the company surprise us with a new MacBook Air model?
In this article, we round up all the rumours, hints and clues about the hoped-for new MacBook Air release, including tech specs, new features, design, as well as speculation that Apple may be phasing out the ‘Air’ lineup completely.
It looks like a new MacBook Air might be on the way! KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims Apple is planning to introduce a new model of the MacBook Air this spring – and you can expect it to be cheaper. Read on to find out more.
For buying advice related to the current Apple laptop range, read our Best MacBook buying guide and Best cheap MacBook deals articles. We also have a Best Cheap Mac article, of which MacBook Air is still an option, for now…
2018 MacBook Air release date
The bad news first: it’s possible that Apple won’t ever update the MacBook Air again. It certainly hasn’t been showing the once-beloved slim laptop a lot of love in recent years.
But there are also reasons to hope. Apple publicly stated that another low-cost machine, the Mac mini, “is still important” to it; since the Mac mini and MacBook Air both use the same generation of processor chips right now, and since both Macs are located in the lower end of Apple’s pricing structure, it could be that they will get updated at the same time.
In any case, it seems there is still a significant market for the MacBook Air. According to Bloomberg sources before WWDC 2017: “The company [Apple] has also considered updating the ageing 13in MacBook Air with a new processor as sales of the laptop, Apple’s cheapest, remain surprisingly strong,” wrote Bloomberg before WWDC.
But when will that update arrive? According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, it could be this spring. He claims that Apple is planning to introduce a new model of the MacBook Air in the second quarter of 2018.
That could fit with the announcement in mid March that Apple will hold an education-focused event on 27 March 2018. The pervasive education theme – the US event is being held in a Chicago high school – could mean that no new hardware is announced at all; we might just hear about education discounts and software for computer science students. But we think there will be at least one new hardware product.
Perhaps the two most suitable Apple products for students are the iPad 9.7in and the MacBook Air, and this would be a great time and opportunity to show each a bit of love.
Backing this up, DigiTimes reported on 12 March that a new 13in MacBook will be launched in Q2. While it’s not clear whether this is an update to the MacBook Air, or the MacBook range, the report does claim that it will be a new entry-level Mac priced in the same ball park as the MacBook Air.
And according to the DigiTimes report, LG is set to begin production of screens for this new MacBook with a resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels at the end of May or early June. So a June release to coincide with WWDC is theoretically possible.
2018 MacBook Air: Price
When it launched the entry-level 13in model cost £849. At £949, it now costs £100 more than it did then. To make matters worse, before the 11in MacBook Air was axed in October 2016, you could get an 11in MacBook Air for £749. So the cost of buying a MacBook Air is now £200 more than it would have been two years ago, but the machine is essentially the same.
Considering the place of the MacBook Air in Apple’s product line up we feel that it is over-priced at almost £1,000 for what is essentially a three-year-old computer. However, we don’t think we will see the price fall any further if Apple does update it.
We thought previously that it was unlikely that the MacBook Air would ever cost less than £949. Because Apple doesn’t actually want anyone to buy it, Apple wants people to see that they can get a better Mac for just a few hundred pounds more.
However, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes that Apple is going to update the MacBook Air and reduce the price. He claims that by introducing a new model of the MacBook Air, at a lower price, Apple will be able to push MacBook shipments up by 10-15 percent this year.
A DigiTimes report in March suggests that a new 13in MacBook will be priced at a similar level to the MacBook Air – and that it will come with a Retina display. This new entry-level Mac could replace or succeed the MacBook Air.
The MacBook Air may remain as a hook that allows Apple to sell the MacBook or MacBook Pro to potential customers. If a customer currently wishes to buy a MacBook Air it’s potentially an easy sell to suggest that they pay £100 more to get a better Mac. For this reason, we think it is unlikely that Apple will significantly reduce the price as it will make the other, more expensive, models less attractive.
Rather than drop the price of the MacBook Air, for a long time we have thought it more likely that Apple will drop the price of the MacBook or the 13in MacBook Pro and discontinue the MacBook Air.
This theory is based on a bit of Apple history: When the MacBook Air initially launched it was quite overpriced for the specs, just like the Retina MacBook is now. At the time the MacBook Air launched in 2008 the entry-level Mac laptop was the old MacBook models – the ones that were aluminium, then white and black, and then eventually aluminium again.
Over time the price of the MacBook Air was reduced and those older MacBook models disappeared from the lineup.
It seems likely that the same will happen with the new MacBook models eventually replacing the MacBook Airs, at a lower price.
Until Apple is ready for the MacBook price to drop to below £1,000, bringing it into line with the current entry-level Air, you can expect the company to keep selling the Air. As soon as the MacBook price comes down, expect the Air to vanish.
Although, by keeping the MacBook Air in the line-up, Apple is able to continue to sell the MacBook and MacBook Pro models at a higher price.
Another possibility is that Apple will drop the MacBook Air range replacing it with a lower priced MacBook Pro. In January 2017, DigiTimes cited Chinese site Economic Daily News and said Apple is going to drop the price of the non-Touch Bar 13in MacBook Pro and discontinue the MacBook Air.
In 2017 the 13in MacBook Pro price didn’t drop, but what Apple was offering at the entry-level price did improve – previously the 13in model was an older generation, but in 2017 the entry-level model gained the same Kaby Lake chips as the other MacBook Pro models.
While there are a lot of reasons why it looks likely that Apple will not continue to sell the MacBook Air, there is one reason why the Air could survive. Apple would need to shave £250 off the price of the entry-level MacBook or 13inMacBook Pro to bring it under £1,000/$1,000 (it’s currently £1,249/$1,299). Until the company is prepared to reduce the price of the other MacBook models by that much we don’t expect it to remove the lower cost model from the lineup.
Perhaps this year isn’t the year to lose the MacBook Air, though – instead Apple can celebrate the existence of the now decade old machine. Watch Apple’s Steve Jobs unveil the MacBook Air at Macworld Expo San Francisco on 15 January 2008:
2018 MacBook Air: Specs
Fundamentally, the MacBook Air hasn’t changed a lot over the past few years, aside from increased RAM (4GB-8GB) in April 2016 and faster processors (1.6GHz – 1.8GHz) in June 2017.
It’s the fact that Apple has essentially been updating the Mac with what would have been build-to-order options on the original 2015 model, rather than bringing the components into line with other Macs in the range, and other computers on the market, that has fans vexed.
The current model offers 12-hours of battery life, a 1.7-centimetre (at the narrowest point) design and weighs 1.35kg. Thanks to the updates post its 2015 launch, it now offers 8GB RAM along with 1.8GHz i5 Broadwell processors as standard. You’ll also find the option of either 128GB or 256GB flash storage and Intel’s HD Graphics 6000 cards.
We don’t expect those specs to change much if Apple updates the MacBook Air, other than the introduction of a new processor and integrated graphics card. We may also see USB C. Read on to find out more about what the new MacBook Air might offer.
When Apple updated its MacBook Air in March of 2015, we had been convinced that the company was about to give the laptop a Retina display. Instead, it launched a brand-new MacBook line that’s super-thin, super-light and does offer that high-resolution display, but does that mean Apple won’t enhance the MacBook Air with a Retina display in the future?
Well, it seems that the MacBook Air may finally be getting a Retina display. DigiTimes is reporting LG is set to begin production of screens for a new 13.3in MacBook (we assume, a MacBook Air) with a resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels at the end of May or early June. The MacBook Air currently has a resolution is just 1,440-by-900 pixel.
Find out what a Retina display is here: What is a Retina display?
It’s possible that a new MacBook Air could ship with chips that are a successor to the Kaby Lake generation, but that would be unlikely unless the MacBook Pro also saw an update to that generation of processor.
The Air could also theoretically use the same type of Intel processors that the MacBook uses – the Core M series.
We assume the next MacBook Air will feature USB-C ports – which helpfully double up as Thunderbolt ports, a report from Taiwanese website DigiTimes seems to confirm our theory. It claims that Apple is planning to release a MacBook Air with USB-C ports in future, but doesn’t provide a launch timeframe for the upgraded laptop.
“Currently, Apple has decided to adopt the USB Type-C interface for its MacBook Air, while Asustek Computer and Hewlett-Packard (HP) are upgrading one of their notebooks’ regular USB port to the Type-C. Lenovo, Acer and Dell are still evaluating the option,” according to that report.
This seems a logical step; the MacBook has just one USB-C port and the new MacBook Pro also features this connection type. It would still represent a bold move overall for Apple, however it’d mean all of its laptops would no longer support standard USB-A connections, a move sure to annoy a few people, but ultimately shape the future of mobile computing.
Touch ID and Force Touch
We expect this feature to come on the Air model – if it isn’t discontinued!
There are also reports to suggest that it’ll boast Touch ID within its Trackpad, which may also get the Force Touch upgrade that was given to the 13in MacBook Pro back in March 2015 and comes with the new MacBook.
Touch ID is the fingerprint sensor that’s built into the Home button of the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and beyond. It’s also used to make Apple Pay more secure and with the recent announcement of Apple Pay coming to Mac as part of macOS Sierra, this rumour makes a lot of sense.
According to an Independent report, Touch ID for the Mac line would require a dedicated chip to be built into the device.
The rumour started with Taiwanese blog AppleCorner, which cited sources in the supply chain. Apparently, the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad may get a biometric update too, enabling users to make Apple Pay payments on the web, but both those accessories were updated alongside the launch of the 4K iMac so that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. (Read about what might be instore for the iMac in 2018 here).
The current MacBook Air specs
Apple last updated the MacBook Air at WWDC in June 2017 (read our MacBook Air (2017) review here). However, the update was only change was that Apple switched the 1.6GHz Broadwell processor for a 1.8GHz Broadwell processor. Broadwell is the generation of Intel processor from 2014/2015.
So essentially the ‘update’ to the MacBook Air in 2017 just made a build-to-order option on the 2015 model standard.
It’s unclear why Apple hasn’t updated the generation of Intel processors used in the MacBook Air since 2015. It would be understandable if the price had dropped on the model in reflection of its lowly status, but the price is still high – and since the demise of the 11in MacBook Pro in 2016 the price of entry is £949 (it used to be £749).
Like the MacBook Air update in 2016 (increased from 4GB to 8GB RAM as standard), this was a minor and frankly disappointing update. However, given that everyone was expecting the MacBook Air to be killed off for good, the fact that it remains offered some consolation to its fans.
Will the MacBook replace the MacBook Air?
Other reports are suggesting that Apple is planning to ship a 13in MacBook in 2018 – and at the same time discontinue the MacBook Air.
According to a DigiTimes report in January 2018, the company that currently provides LCDs for the MacBook has seen an increase in orders – including orders for a 13in display. The suggestion is that Apple is planning to ship a 13in MacBook in 2018, replacing the MacBook Air.
The demise of the MacBook Air has been predicted for some time. Back in October 2016 Apple removed the 11in MacBook Air from sale along with the legacy MacBook Pro with SuperDrive, which had been lurking in the Apple Store for some years. While the 13in MacBook Air remained, it hasn’t been significantly updated since March 2015, apart from a move to offer what were originally the build-to-order 8GB RAM and processor options as standard.
Another reason for Apple to ditch the Air is design: it’s just not as groundbreaking now as it was ten years ago when it launched. When the MacBook Air first arrived, its biggest selling point was its thin and light design, hence the name, but the MacBook and MacBook Pro now outshine it in those areas. Plus, for those looking for ultimate portability there’s the iPad Pro with a 12.9in screen.
In terms of weight the MacBook Air weighs 1.35kg while the MacBook Pro weighs only a fraction more at 1.37kg and the MacBook weighs just 0.92kg. If Apple continues to sell the MacBook Air maybe it should drop Air from it’s name.
It’s not all bad, though. The MacBook Air is both more powerful and £300 cheaper than the MacBook. It is the only Mac laptop that is available for less than £1000. For that reason we do still recommend it, although you might do better buying a refurbished MacBook Pro if you need a Mac that costs less than £1000.
Given that the MacBook Air is Apple’s lowest cost Mac laptop you’d think it would be its most popular model, and yet, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (back in 2015), the 12in MacBook is Apple’s best-selling computer, closely followed by the 13in MacBook Pro. See more MacBook rumours here.
So we it looks like the 13in MacBook Air will be replaced, but we don’t think that will happen before the price of the MacBook and potentially the entry-level MacBook Pro, is reduced. History indicates that this will be the case: the last time there was a Mac laptop that had more advanced specs than a more expensive model was when the MacBook Air launched alongside the old white and black MacBooks. Those models were eventually discontinued and the price of the MacBook Air reduced.
We hope that the same will happen, with new 12in MacBook models being priced lower than they are currently and replacing the 13in MacBook Air as the entry level MacBook, while the more advanced specs will be provided by the 13in MacBook Pro.
We’ll be updating this article as more information about a new MacBook Air emerges so check back from time to time for the latest news.
Wondering which MacBook is best for you? Read: MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro comparison review: 13in Apple laptops compared