Ahead of the 2017 back-to-school shopping season, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) updated the 13-inch MacBook Pro with new processors from Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) known as Kaby Lake. The Kaby Lake chips were, in effect, faster versions of the Skylake chips that had powered the previous generation of 13-inch MacBook Pros. These were still dual-core processors, but those cores ran at higher speeds.
Intel also upgraded the media engine in moving from Skylake to Kaby Lake, which effectively meant more efficient playback of certain types of video files. This upgrade represented a welcome generational improvement, and customers seemed to respond well to this year's Mac product lineup, but it was hardly a game changer.
However, the upgrade Apple is likely to bring to next year's 13-inch MacBook Pro computers could be a big deal for performance-hungry users.
Kaby Lake to Coffee Lake is a big deal
Apple's next-generation 13-inch MacBook Pro computers are likely to use Intel's next-generation mobile processors, known as Coffee Lake. The Coffee Lake chips suitable for the 13-inch MacBook Pro are expected to see several enhancements, with the most notable improvement being a move from two processor cores to four.
There's a good chance that, in situations that don't require that all four processor cores be used simultaneously, the Coffee Lake chips will be modestly faster than their Kaby Lake counterparts, as the former is expected to be built on a more advanced chip manufacturing technology.
From a marketing perspective, Apple could have a field day -- a migration from two cores to four is something easy to communicate to the general public, and the benefits can be easily demonstrated.
Moreover, it's probably not unreasonable to think MacBook Pro buyers tend to value performance improvements more than typical notebook computer buyers do. MacBook Pros, after all, are often used for processor-intensive tasks, such as audio and video processing.
On top of the easy quad-core marketing point, it seems reasonable to expect that reviews of the upgraded 13-inch MacBook Pros will highlight the dramatically improved performance of the devices.
In short, the next 13-inch MacBook Pro should enjoy a huge performance upgrade next year and such an upgrade seems like something the MacBook Pro customer base will value. This could lead to, perhaps, a slight acceleration in MacBook Pro demand as users of older-generation MacBook Pro computers feel compelled to upgrade.
How about form factor changes?
The notebook computer product category is a mature one, so the opportunities for major form factor changes are limited. The last big overhaul for the 13-inch MacBook Pro -- as well as for its larger, 15-inch sibling -- came in late 2016 with the move to the Skylake processors.
Those then-new MacBook Pros were slimmer and included Apple's Touch Bar -- an OLED display strips that replaced the traditional function keys on the keyboard. They also enjoyed upgraded displays, with richer color saturation and higher brightness.
Given how substantial those changes were, and given how long Apple typically waits to make significant form factor changes in its Mac lineup, I doubt that the new Coffee Lake-based 13-inch MacBook Pro machines will see much of a form factor change -- if it gets one at all.