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Will Apple Update the MacBook Air at WWDC 2014?

By Ashraf Eassa – Mar 31, 2014 at 9:35AM

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With Apple's yearly developers conference fast approaching, could Apple introduce a next-generation MacBook Air at WWDC?

Source: Apple.

There's absolutely no doubt that Apple's (AAPL -0.55%) MacBook Air product is sorely in need of a refresh. While the Mavericks operating system, coupled with the wonderful all-day battery life are both superb selling points, the chassis and -- more importantly -- the 1366x768 twisted nematic (TN) display are in need of a long-overdue refresh. While last year's MacBook Air launched at WWDC 2013 in June, will Apple be able to refresh its system at this year's WWDC 2014?

The Broadwell question
In order to do a radically new industrial design (perhaps one was a passively cooled CPU, as suggested in Apple's Next MacBook Air Could Be Fanless), Apple will need a next generation processor that not only performs better but consumes less power by doing so. Obviously, the Intel (INTC -1.23%) Haswell-ULT processor found inside of the current MacBook Air is a very fast, power-efficient chip that was the key enabler to very high battery life. It would then naturally follow that the next MacBook Air would use the successor to Haswell, known as Broadwell.

Intel's Haswell processor, found in the MacBook Air. Source: Intel.

The problem, however, is that Intel had problems ramping its 14-nanometer manufacturing process (upon which Broadwell is built) to full production, which meant the product development cycle was thrown off by about three months. While the 14-nanometer Broadwell has likely entered production, and while Apple has likely managed its inventory situation to allow for a transition to a new platform, it's still unlikely that Apple will be able to get a system with Broadwell ramped to market by the end of Q2.

So, the new MacBook Air will likely come later... unless it is Haswell based
If the new MacBook Air is Broadwell based, then it'll probably be more along the lines of an August/September launch unless Intel and Apple have been working exceptionally closely to get Apple chips before anybody else (Apple did have Haswell well before everybody else). If it is Haswell based, but in a new industrial design, then some sacrifices on performance would likely be made if Apple decides to go with a passively cooled design -- something Apple would likely be very hesitant to do.

Frankly, with the 13" Retina MacBook Pro still doing quite well for users in need of a premium 13" MacBook, Apple is probably in no rush to update the Air, especially in an already-difficult PC environment. Why shouldn't Apple try to milk as much as it can out of a given design until it can offer something that's unequivocally better, especially given that the current designs are already enough to drive market share gains?

Foolish bottom line
The odds of Apple introducing a next-generation MacBook Air at WWDC 2014 as it did last year are pretty low. Without the next-generation Broadwell chip from Intel to enable more performance in an even more attractive form factor, there wouldn't be a point to refreshing the MacBook Air by June. Who knows, though? The Apple/Intel relationship is rather deep, and if Apple really wants a Broadwell-based MacBook Air out in June, then these two companies could work together to make it happen.

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Intel. We Fools may not 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.

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