Apple's MacBook Air. Source: Apple. 

Digitimes recently reported that a 12-inch, potentially Retina, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) MacBook Air is set to go into high-volume production during the third quarter of this year. This suggests that Apple may launch these new machines early in the fourth quarter in an attempt to capitalize on the Christmas shopping season. Will this new MacBook Air be a game-changer?

Don't forget that the Mac is strategic
if you look at Apple's MacBook sales, they're not exactly big top- or bottom-line movers. Apple's crown jewel is the iPhone, with the iPad in distant second. To illustrate this point, in the most recent quarter, Apple sold 4.14 million Macs, which generated revenues of about $5.5 billion. At the same time, Apple sold 43.72 million iPhones and took in a whopping $26.06 billion in sales from that. The iPad wasn't too shabby either, selling 16.35 million units and netting $7.61 billion in revenue.

The Mac isn't a huge part of Apple's top line, and it's likely that the gross margin profile of the Mac versus, say, an iPad or an iPhone is much lower given how commoditized the PC business is.

But even though Mac isn't directly the biggest contributor to Apple's top and bottom lines, it is strategic. The more Apple can get people into its software ecosystem, and the better that all of Apple's devices work together, the less likely that a current Apple customer will defect to alternative platforms. Apple already brought out a lower-cost iMac and reduced the price of the entry-level MacBook Air by $100 to $899 to that end.

The new MacBook Air could drive further share gains
A new 12-inch MacBook Air (particularly with a Retina display) could further win share against Windows-powered notebooks and convertibles, as customers looking for a notebook with a "PC first" focus have nowhere else to go thanks to Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy. With an updated physical design (perhaps even a fanless one), the Mac OS X Yosemite operating system, and a launch roughly coincident with the next-generation iPhone and iPad, such a device could be even more successful than the prior iterations of the MacBook Air were.

Foolish bottom line
With production beginning in Q3 per Digitimes, it won't be too long before we see what Apple has up its sleeve with the next-generation MacBook Air. With all of the improvements and ecosystem features that Apple is bringing to Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, it's hard not to be excited about the products launching this fall. The new MacBook Air may not be the flashiest of Apple's new products, and it may not be a game changer, but it's an integral part of the Apple product family and ecosystem.

Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.