For fans of Apple and notebooks in general, the wait for a Retina MacBook Air has gone on for what feels like an eternity. Apple held an event in October that was accompanied by the tag line "It’s been way too long", which some people quietly hoped referred to the MacBook Air getting a long-overdue Retina upgrade. It didn’t. (Sob.)
As it turned out, the iMac 5K received a pixel-packing panel instead, joining the Cupertino-company’s fleet of Retina products that now includes the iMac 5K, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3 and MacBook Pro with Retina.
Since then, Retina MacBook Air rumours have come thick and fast, and each tidbit of information sent down the wires has made us think about what we would like to see on Apple’s popular ultraportable. While we’re changing our mind more often than the tide goes out, here are a few things that we’re hoping make the grade.
1. A Retina display with a roomy resolution
We’re going to go out on a limb here and assume that the Retina MacBook Air is going to get a Retina display (daring, right?), but how much space on the desktop will it offer?
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina’s 2560 x 1600 pixel-resolution display looked fantastic, but to make it "Retina", Apple effectively stuck to the MacBook Pro’s 1280 x 800 and doubled the pixel count, meaning it offered no more desktop space over its predecessor.
That left it too cramped for some people, who either had to up the resolution to the "looks like 1680 x 1050" option or use a third-party tool like SwitchResX to go even higher. The problem with doing so is that each step up in resolution made image quality very slightly (but noticeably) worse.
Apple managed to fit a huge 5K display on the new iMac 5K, which has the same desktop space as a 2560 x 1440 monitor (the pixels are once again doubled to make it ‘Retina’), so the technology exists.
We would love to see pixel-doubled "Retina" display that has the same amount of room as a 1680 x 1050 pixel-resolution monitor, or even better, 1920 x 1080.
2. A lighter, slimmer design
The MacBook Air set the standard for notebook design when it slipped out of an envelop into Steve Jobs’s palm in 2008.
Its aluminium unibody design went on to inspire a wide range of Ultrabooks in the coming years, and while its stylish, minimal approach has undoubtedly played a big part in the MacBook Air’s success, it has grown more than a little stale.
Intel’s Core M processor is expected to feature in the Retina MacBook Air, which will give the company the opportunity to slim down the machine by making it fanless. That’s because the CPU is extremely energy efficient, running with a low TDP of 4.5 watts, meaning that the space usually reserved for a fan can be used for other components or shaved off altogether.
3. A new charging method
Apple redesigned the power connector for its MacBook models in 2012, giving birth to MagSafe 2 in 2012. It’s worked well ever since, but that hasn’t stopped us from yearning for a more innovative charging method such as inductive (or "wireless") charging, a technology that has brought added flexibility to wearables and smartphones.
Smartphones such as the Nokia 920 and LG Nexus 4 have shown that there’s no easier way of charging a device than dropping it on a charging mat. Laptops such as Dell’s Latitude Z have attempted inductive charging in the past to varying effect, and if Apple were to nail it with its next MacBook, it could spark a trend for others follow.
Another rumour doing the rounds is that Apple will introduce solar charging in its new Retina MaBook Air, which would come in handy for when you’re writing up that all-important report in the garden. It wouldn’t be so useful indoors, obviously. Or if you live in Norway.
4. Dedicated graphics
OK – so this one may be something of an optimistic request (to put it mildly), but a dedicated graphics card in a Retina MacBook Air would have us salivating like a Basset Hound in a butcher’s shop.
Apple has used Intel’s integrated HD 5000 solution for its recent MacBook Air systems, but with discrete GPU-packing gaming laptops such as the Razer Blade 14 and Gigabyte’s Aorus X3 showing that power is coming in increasingly thin packages, we’re not yet ready to give up hope.
If Apple did launch one, it would probably cost you an arm, leg, kidney and your first-born child to afford it. (And it would be probably be worth it too.)
5. The same great battery life
Since Haswell came along, Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air systems have all had best-in-class battery life, reaching up to 12 hours on a single charge under some use cases.
The 11-inch MacBook Air has lagged behind ever so slightly, going for around nine hours before giving up the ghost. Both are impressive stats, but should the Retina MacBook Air come with a high-resolution display, and in the smaller 11.8-inch form factor as it is rumoured to, those could prove two big drains on battery life.
The MacBook Pro with Retina managed to go for around nine hours, and we’d be happy if the Retina MacBook Air lasted the same. Switching to Intel’s battery-sipping Core M processor and making it fanless (lending it more room for a bigger battery) are two major factors that could help it achieve that goal.