Contrary to earlier rumors, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) did not refresh its current generation MacBook Air models with an updated Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) processor. Now there's a new rumor floating around (via MacRumors) that Apple will launch a brand new 12-inch Retina MacBook Air at an event scheduled for March 9.
The timing would certainly work
Although the Retina MacBook Air is reportedly set to use Intel's Core M processor, I think that there is a strong possibility that it uses next generation Core i5/i7 processors. When Intel first launched its 14-nanometer Broadwell lineup, the variants with the smaller die sizes were available first, with the more powerful versions expected to arrive in systems by the end of the first quarter.
As you might recall, the current MacBook Air models make use of Intel Haswell processors with the larger graphics configuration. If Apple isn't going to go fanless by using the Core M processor, then I would expect the next MacBook Air to feature the higher-performing configuration of the latest Broadwell-based Core i5/i7 processors.
A much needed update
Although Apple has continued to report strong Mac sales, the latest crop of PCs built around Intel's new Broadwell chips look quite compelling. If Apple doesn't release an updated MacBook Air sooner rather than later, then it might risk market share loss, particularly as the current MacBook Air models have been outclassed by Windows machines in at least one prominent and well-documented way: the display.
The display on the current MacBook Air features a much lower resolution screen than its Windows counterparts. The display is also a lower quality twisted nematic, or TN, panel, which provides inferior color reproduction and viewing angles to IPS displays, which are common in higher end Windows machines. Apple uses IPS displays in its higher-end MacBook Pro family.
By updating its MacBook Air lineup, the company can essentially neutralize any of the hardware advantages that competing systems come packed with. Further, since customers seem to prefer Mac OS to Windows 8/8.1 given the strong share gain Apple has seen for many quarters now, having competitive hardware coupled with Mac OS seems like the right way to maintain or even grow market share.
Given that the PC market is generally expected to be flat to slightly down this year, growing market share will be important to growing total Mac revenues.
What's the deal with the other Macs?
Given that the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro uses fundamentally the same silicon as the MacBook Air (just configured to deliver more performance at higher power consumption), I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple update that model to new Core i5/i7 processors as well. Unlike the new MacBook Air, though, I don't expect a fundamental change in the rest of the specifications or in the industrial design.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is unlikely to see an upgrade as Intel has signaled that the higher-performance quad-core Broadwell parts that would be suitable for such a machine won't arrive until mid-2015. Once those chips do become available, though, I would not be surprised if Apple just does a straight CPU upgrade with very little else changed.