It has been widely rumored that Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) next-generation MacBook Air laptop will feature Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) next-generation Broadwell family of processors -- something DigiTimes reported this morning. However, those who have followed Intel's public statements know that Intel is planning for Broadwell's follow-on, known as Skylake, to be ramping significantly during the second half of 2015.
Given that Skylake is likely to bring substantial performance and power benefits over the Broadwell family of processors, what could this mean for Apple's MacBook Air products?
Early 2015 launch... with a back-to-school refresh?
Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that Apple will, as DigiTimes suggests, go into production and launch Broadwell-based MacBook Air systems during early 2015 and then do a refresh for the back-to-school shopping season. Apple could reuse the same chassis it plans to introduce with the Broadwell models, but swap in a newly designed logic board to support the Skylake platform.
What does history tell us?
Since Intel delayed the launch of its Broadwell family of processors because of yield issues, Apple's MacBook Air family saw only a modest improvement this year over last year, with slightly faster versions of the same Haswell processors found in the mid-2013 MacBook Air models. However, there is actually a precedent for Apple updating its MacBook Air to feature upgraded components at irregular intervals.
For example, the "early 2008" MacBook Air model featured either a 1.6GHz or a 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo with 4MB of L2 cache. The "late 2008" model saw an upgrade to either a 1.6GHz or 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo chip with 6MB of L2 cache. The device saw an upgrade yet again to either a 1.86GHz or 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo with 6MB of L2 cache for the "mid 2009" model.
Apple stuck with the "mid 2009" Core 2 Duo CPU configuration with the "late 2010" (despite the availability of the newer Core i3/i5/i7 processors), but then it moved to the latest Sandy Bridge architecture for the "mid-2011" model. After that, Apple moved to Intel's 22-nanometer Ivy Bridge for the "mid 2012" model, and then to the 22-nanometer Haswell for the "mid 2013" and "early 2014" models.
The release history of the various MacBook Air models shows that Apple seems to be OK with updating the laptop at irregular and shorter-than-one-year intervals. At the same time, Apple seemed to be fine sticking with the Core 2 Duo for the "late 2010" model even with the broad availability of the more power efficient Core i-series processors available at the time.
Given its clear focus today on performance across all of its mobile product lines, I doubt Apple will accept having anything but the best in terms of performance relative to the competition. If the thin-and-light designs from the Windows camp broadly deploy the Skylake in the second half of 2015, I believe Apple will update the MacBook Air to include it.
Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.