Hey, we didn't say revolutions were always good.
Over the past two years though, the Air has fallen behind its competitors. The system's low-resolution display, generic design and relatively anemic specifications have turned the former revolutionary into a tamed budget option. Apple is due to refresh the system however, and we've heard a few rumors that hint at what the company might do with the next version of the MacBook Air.
12 is the new 13
The most dramatic rumor making the rounds says that Apple will introduce a new 12-inch model to its lineup. This model would entirely ditch the mechanical mouse button integrated into the current touchpad, and may use force and optical sensors to offer a new slew of touch gestures.
While adding a 12-incher may seem superfluous, there's reason to think that this rumor has merit. The current 13-inch MacBook Air is a bit large for its size because of the relatively large bezels surrounding its display. As already evidenced by the 11-inch MacBook Air, Apple has room to reduce the overall width of the system without compromising the size of the keyboard. A thin-bezel 12-inch model could be nearly as small as the 11-inch MacBook Air, but could still provide a more usable display and a larger touchpad.
Does this mean that the 11-inch and 13-inch models could go the way of the dinosaur? The rumors don't comment on that, but we believe that at least one of them will remain. We think a thin-bezel 12-inch model that incorporates other rumored advances would sell for a couple hundred more than the current 13-incher, giving Apple an incentive to keep one of the existing Airs as a budget option. If anything disappears, it'll be the 11-inch Air model, which is arguably the company's least appealing laptop.
Fanless for the win
Attached to the rumor of a 12-inch model is a claim that Apple may go fanless with the new Air, but won't be switching to ARM processors to make this happen. Taking out the fan assembly would make the system silent and help Apple set a new benchmark for thin-ness.
Going fanless isn't unprecedented. HP already has a passively cooled 13-inch dockable, the HP Spectre 13t x2, which was made possible by packing it with an Intel Core i5-4202Y CPU. That processor's thermal design power of only 11.5 watts makes the inclusion of a cooling fan unnecessary. In fact, HP's fanless dockable was the coolest, quietest PC we've ever reviewed. There's no reason why Apple couldn't use a similar Intel chip to create a fanless MacBook Air.
However, if Apple were to go down this path, the new MacBook Air wouldn't be much quicker compared to its predecessor. We doubt buyers would mind though, as the Air has never sold on performance, and a fanless version could be very thin indeed. The tablet portion of the HP Spectre 13t x2 is only .27 inches thick, and it contains all the processing hardware. We doubt a fanless 12-inch MacBook Air would be that thin, but a thickness between three-tenths and five-tenths of an inch would seem likely should Apple ditch the fan.
Retina. Finally. Please?
The likely announcement of a new MacBook Air has re-kindled rumors that Apple will bestow it with a Retina display. This time around however, the addition of Retina seems almost mandatory. Virtually every competitor has at least a 1080p display, and some (like the Toshiba Kirabook and the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro) have gone beyond that. Apple is now playing catch-up.
We think the timing of the new 12-inch MacBook Air rumor syncs nicely with Apple's decision not to introduce Retina in the MacBook Air last year. If Apple retained separate 11-inch and 13-inch models, it would have to come up with two separate Retina panels. Though that's far from impossible, it's certainly more expensive. If Apple introduces a single new, 12-inch model with Retina instead, the company would reduce its costs and be able to reveal an "all-new" Air, rather than a mere revision of older hardware.
The rumor mill says that a 12-inch MacBook Air with Retina could have a display resolution of 2304×1440. This unusual resolution would give the display a 16:10 aspect ratio, like what's found on the MacBook Pro, rather than the "widescreen" 16:9 found with previous MacBook Air notebooks. Switching to the taller ratio would be a good choice, because it would allow for more usable display space and a larger touchpad (if the screen is taller, the lower half of the laptop must be longer, too).
The 2304×1440 panel would come to a 226 PPI, which is slightly less dense than the MacBook Pro 13 with Retina. Apple could also stick to the more conventional resolution of 2560×1600, but this would result in a density of 251 pixels per inch, which could throw off the carefully-tuned high resolution graphics Apple has built into Mac OS X.
Individually, these rumors seem mundane. However, when digested together, we think they paint a clear picture. It seems like Apple is likely to release a 12-inch, fanless MacBook Air with a 2304×1440 Retina display. Though it won't be much quicker than past MacBook Air notebooks, it will make up for that by wearing an absurdly thin chassis and sleek, thin-bezel design. With that in mind, we think the entry-level price for the 2014 MacBook Air will be between $1,199 and $1,399.
The current 11-inch and 13-inch models may remain, though if one does get the axe, it'll likely be the 11-inch MacBook Air. If that happens, the 13-incher could see a minor revision and a possible price drop to $999.
If all of this comes true, the new 2014 MacBook Air may be a worthy successor to the original. The 12-inch MacBook Air could be much thinner than any competitor, offer a superior display, and modernize the look and feel of the aging laptop.
Rumors are rumors though, so all of this may turn out to be wishful thinking, but we very much hope they do come true.
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