According to re/code, Apple (AAPL 1.48%) is set to hold an iPad event on Oct. 16. Re/code also reports that the company will be releasing a next generation "retina" iMac. Notably absent from the report, however, is any mention of a next generation MacBook Air.
Is there any hope that Apple could surprise customers with a new MacBook Air alongside the new iPads and the new iMac? My guess is that the answer is "no."
What chip will the new MacBook Air use?
I have speculated in the past that Apple may choose to adopt Intel's (INTC -0.25%) Core M for its next generation MacBook Air. The argument for that was that Apple would be able to put out a fanless system while, at the same time, offer good performance.
However, it's important to understand that the Core M processor, which is optimized to operate in a 4.5 watt thermal envelope, probably can't offer the same kind of performance that a 15-watt chip from the prior generation of chips could offer. Furthermore, if given a 15-watt power envelope, a chip based on Intel's new technologies is probably going to be much faster than the prior generation 15-watt chip.
All in all, this suggests that Apple may potentially choose to not go with a fanless design for the next MacBook Air, and will, instead, choose to improve performance over the prior MacBook Air.
Why does this mean that Apple won't be refreshing the MacBook Air in October?
According to a leak from VR-Zone China, Intel is planning to launch its next generation Broadwell-U processors -- that is, the direct successors to the family of processors that powers the current MacBook Air and Ultrabooks -- at CES in January 2015. Obviously, if the new chips that would power a potential MacBook Air won't launch until January 2015, then it's unlikely that Apple will launch new MacBook products with the chips until then at the earliest.
What will Apple's MacBook product launch schedule look like?
It's actually a little bit tricky trying to figure out exactly how Apple is going to play this. According to CPU-World, which cites Chinese VR-Zone, Intel's launch schedule for its Broadwell -- that's fifth-generation Core -- processors looks like this:
- Core M "F" stepping in Late December/January 2015 (4.5-watt chip for fanless clamshells/hybrids)
- Core i3/i5/i7 for Ultrabooks with GT1 and GT2 graphics in January 2015
- Core i3/i5/i7 for Ultrabooks with GT3 (i.e. faster) graphics in February 2015
- Core i3/i5/i7 for higher power and performance systems ("Broadwell-H") launching somewhere in the range of July to September
Because Apple used the Core i5/i7 with GT3 graphics in the 2013 MacBook Air products, it stands to reason that Apple will use the corresponding Broadwell parts -- meaning new MacBook Air laptops at some point late in the first quarter of 2015 to early second quarter 2015.
The timing of the Broadwell-H parts suggests that the 15-inch MacBook Pro won't get an upgrade until either the third or fourth quarter of 2015. Note that the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro uses either a Core i5-4308U or a Core i7-4578U, so Apple could potentially refresh the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro alongside a potential Air, and update the 15-inch model at a later date.
Foolish bottom line
It will be very interesting to see when Apple actually releases its next-generation Mac products. The Intel chip release timelines give us a pretty good clue as to when the new Mac products will show up, but there's no guarantee that Apple will launch shortly after Intel makes its new chips available. That being said, Apple was one of the first manufacturers to adopt the 2013 Intel Core processors, so it seems likely that the company will also hop on board the Broadwell bandwagon as quickly as it can.