Introduction, release date and design
As the old adage goes: the best things in life are worth waiting for, and Apple’s long-awaited Retina MacBook Air has the potential to be the best all-round MacBook yet.
Apple’s current MacBook Air machines have excellent battery life and portability, but suffer from poor low-resolution TN displays. On the other hand, the MacBook Pro with Retina has an excellent high-resolution IPS display, but is a pound too heavy to be considered ultraportable and has good, but not great battery life.
While combining the best qualities of the two is a no-brainer, balancing power, thickness and battery life is no mean feat, and rumour has it that the Cupertino-based company has been working on a Retina MacBook Air for some time. So long, in fact, that it is one of Apple’s few remaining devices to get a Retina display having been beaten to the punch by the iPad Air, iPad Mini with Retina and more recently the iMac 5K.
Apple’s 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air models were last updated in April 2014 to receive a speed bump and a slight price drop. It was expected that next-generation versions would see the light of day before the end of the year, but various factors have meant that they are yet to arrive.
What is it? A brand new MacBook Air with a Retina display
When will it release? Either late 2014 or, more likely, spring 2015
What will it cost? Likely somewhere between a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina display
Retina MacBook Air release date
It was hoped that the Retina MacBook Air release date would be announced at Apple’s event back in October, which many thought the company would use to show off the new laptop. As we now know, that didn’t happen, as Apple choose to debut the iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3 and iMac 5k.
Although it feels like the Retina MacBook Air’s release date should have come and gone by now, factors such as the delayed availability of Intel’s new Broadwell-series processors means that Apple and other laptop makers have had no choice but to sit tight.
Digitimes reports that Apple’s supplier Quanta Computer is looking to bring in an additional 30,000 workers to help with production of the Retina MacBook Air, in addition to the Apple Watch. Sources close to the company claim that the machine will launch in the first quarter of 2015, complete with Intel’s Broadwell CPU and a 12-inch display that will see it replace the currently 11-inch model (the 13-inch will remain).
Retina MacBook Air design
The Motley Fool report mentioned above points out that it would be unlikely for Apple to stick with the MacBook Air’s current design for the Retina MacBook Air. Because Intel’s Broadwell-U processors are energy efficient, manufacturers can put out even slimmer models as a fan isn’t needed to keep the CPU cool. This presents Apple with an opportunity to update the MacBook Air’s classic design to make it thinner, lighter and more portable.
A report by MacRumours, which points to an anonymous forum post on Weiphone, says that Apple is looking to make the Retina MacBook Air thinner by giving it a new trackpad design that does away with the mechanical element found on current MacBooks. Apple filed a patent application in January 2014 for a buttonless trackpad that uses sensors to simulate tactile touch, which could prove to be the tech behind the update.
According to a website simply called A Tech Website, which cites Apple insiders in the know, a gold Retina MacBook Air is in the works, along with ones decked in space grey and aluminium grey.
Specs and connectivity
Retina MacBook Air specs
It has been rumoured that the Retina MacBook Air will arrive in an all-new size for the series. Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities reckons that Apple will launch a new 12-inch MacBook Air to plug the gap between the 11- and 13-inch models. The biggest drawback to both of them is the display, which tops out at a pixel-resolution of 1,366 x 768 on the smaller model and 1,400 x 900 on the latter.
A blog post by Canalys analyst Daniel Matte claims that Apple will include a 11.88-inch panel on the Retina MacBook Air, which will have a pixel-resolution of 2,732 x 1,536. That would lend it the same 264ppi as the iPad Air. Matte reckons that Apple will use the same display technology it currently uses for its 9.7-inch iPads to cut its panels to the larger size.
According to sources that spoke to Digitimes, Apple is eyeing up a 12-inch Retina MacBook Air because sales of its 11-inch MacBook Air are suffering due to it featuring a similar screen size to its strongly performing iPad devices. A 12-inch model would provide a clear choice between the two while allowing the company to fade out its smallest (and arguably least popular) notebook over time.
As highlighted by Motley Fool, Intel has confirmed that its Core i3, i5 and i7 Broadwell-U chips are scheduled for a spring 2015 launch, which it predicts means early March or April. Those CPUs will be of particular interest to Apple due to their low thermal design power (TDP), which will allow a new Retina MacBook Air to have a high-resolution display without heavily sapping battery life.
Alternatively, Apple may opt for Intel’s Core-M series Broadwell CPU, which is starting to appear in Ultrabooks including Lenovo’s Yoga 3 Pro. They run at just 4.5 watts, a very low number for a CPU, which may not bring any gains in terms of processing power but would likely help prolong battery life.
However, as MacWorld notes, a report by Redmond Pie points out that the Yoga 3 Pro, which features an Intel Core-M CPU, has suffered from sluggish performance which has been reflected by poor benchmark results. That alone may tempt Apple into holding out for Intel’s potentially more powerful Broadwell-U series chips.
It’s highly likely that the Retina MacBook Air will ship with OS X Yosemite should it launch around or before September 2015. The last few versions of OS X, 10.9 Mavericks and 10.10 Yosemite, have been released to consumers in the month of October, so it’s likely that the Retina MacBook Air will come with Apple’s latest OS if it heads to the shelves in time for summer, or just after.
Retina MacBook Air connectivity
In terms of ports and connectivity options, as Lenovo’s Yoga 3 Pro demonstrated, giving a laptop very thin dimensions can leave little room for ports. Jack March (via 9to5Mac) reckons that the Retina MacBook Air will feature "a noticeably thinner design" that will force Apple to abandon the traditional USB port in favour of the forthcoming reversible USB Type-C connector, which would require an adapter to connect peripherals – an unfortunate, but perhaps necessary trade off.
Devices such as the iPhone 5, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, in addition to the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, have all benefitted from the inclusion of Apple’s security-conscious TouchID technology in recent years, which allows users to log into the App Store and pay for services and goods using their fingerprint.
According to Gadget Insiders, Apple may incorporate the technology into a new Retina MacBook Air, which it reckons could launch in 2015. That report doesn’t reveal its sources, so we’re going to take that one with a healthy pinch of salt.