- Update: Apple has suggested a replacement for fans of the MacBook Air. Its name? MacBook Pro 2016
For eight years, the MacBook Air has been within reach, and in that time, it's hardly changed at all.
Retina technology never made its way into the display despite rumors dating back to 2013 suggesting it would. And, that goes without mentioning that it's been over a year and a half since the last minor speed bump, which introduced the MacBook Air to Broadwell.
While the window for a proper MacBook Air refresh has come and gone, the existing 13-inch MacBook Air still chugs along. Moreover, according to TechCrunch, it's actually been slightly improved – now with 8GB of RAM instead of 4GB.
Still, it's not quite what we expected from a MacBook Air 2016. We still don't have the Skylake, or even Kaby Lake, processors we had hoped for, but it appears as though Apple is encouraging MacBook Air fans to move towards a, err, more professional future.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The next generation of Apple's entry-level notebook
- When is it out? October 27
- What will it cost? $999 (around £821, or AUS$1,317)
The MacBook Air 2016 release date
Images of a new MacBook Pro first appeared in macOS Sierra 10.12.1, released in late October, showing off Apple Pay compatibility by means of its OLED Touch Bar display. Notably absent were any indications of an overhauled MacBook Air.
On October 27, the MacBook Pro was confirmed in three flavors (ordered from least to most expensive): 13-inch without a Touch Bar, 13-inch with a Touch Bar and 15-inch with a Touch Bar. Of course, without a MacBook Air revealed at all, the 13-inch Touch Bar-less MacBook Pro is being geared towards fans of the MacBook Air.
This makes sense given that series of rumors suggests the MacBook Air may be completely defunct, or at least taking a hiatus. Not only has the iPad Pro swiped some of its market share, but there's also the 12-inch Retina MacBook to consider, which outranks the Air in terms of display clarity and portability.
The 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. While the 11-inch model has been discontinued, the 13-incher keeps its price intact despite some added memory.
A thinner, lighter, more powerful MacBook Air
Reports of a next-gen MacBook Air date back to late last year when Economic Daily News (EDN) predicted a “significant refresh” slated for mid-2016. Other rumors point to TouchID fingerprint recognition to be integrated in a helping of new MacBooks this fall.
While Touch ID was confirmed for the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models donning Touch Bar displays, the closest thing MacBook Air users will see is Auto Unlock. This lets users get into their Macs with nothing more than a watchOS 3-clad Apple Watch in close proximity.
One feature that is a shoo-in for the new MacBook Air, however, is Siri. The virtualized personal assistant on mobile has come to the Mac through macOS Sierra, the OS X El Capitan successor ships pre-installed on every new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 2016.
Blazingly fast next-gen SSDs didn't quite make it to the 2016 MacBooks, though. Intel's Optane SSDs are destined for Macs, but that's likely to happen in 2017 – not this year.
The reversible, versatile port
The new Pros are significantly thinner and lighter than the current MacBook Airs, with new batteries and cooling systems, Intel Skylake processors and four USB-C ports.
We've already seen USB-C in the MacBook, which owes much of its thinness to removing all the ports, and while we expected USB-C in the MacBook Air, the reality is that what we got wasn't exactly what we had bargained for.
Rather, we're still rocking last year's MacBook Air, as it whittles away into obscurity.
MacBook Air 2016: what's so special about Skylake?
The move to Intel's Skylake processors would have been 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 MacBook Pros, but they're likely to turn up in future iterations.
While many notebooks are already moving on to Kaby Lake, Apple stuck with Skylake in the MacBook Pro 2016. The MacBook Air, however, still clings to Broadwell, unfortunately.
MacBook Air 2016: Retina or no Retina? That is the question
The Air was widely predicted to gain a Retina display in 2015, but it turned out that the Retina displays channel sources had spotted were destined for the new MacBook. It's 2016, and not much has changed. Apple may have doubled the RAM, but the MacBook Air still retains a 1440 x 900 screen resolution.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro, on the other hand, boasts a 2560 x 1600 screen while you may be elated to discover a 2880 x 1800 screen on the 15-inch model.
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 our own 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. The updated 12-inch MacBook that's mentioned is significantly more expensive than the Airs that you see absolutely everywhere. Then again, Apple fans are rarely interested in low-cost machines.
What seems to be happening, of course, is the end of the 11-inch model, leaving Apple with a 12-inch MacBook, 13-inch MacBook Air and 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pros.
This leaves us with the 2015 MacBook Air as Apple's entry-level model while the MacBook and MacBook Pro variants occupy the mid and high-end tiers, respectively. This move appears to serves as a gradual discontinuation of the MacBook Air lineup in favor of the Cupertino company's more up-to-date devices.
Gabe Carey also contributed to this article