On occasion I try to predict what products Apple is going to release based on rumors. On occasion (ok, always so far), I’m wrong. But you know what they say – “if at first you don’t succeed…” So here we are, try, trying again with another prediction, this time about Apple’s March product release.
There are a few things that Apple is expected to release at a March event targeted for the 8th, but I want to focus on one, or two, of the announcements – the updated MacBook Air / 13″ MacBook Pro. This is what I’ve seen rumored so far:
- An updated MacBook Air with a flatter, non tapered design, a larger mini-LED display with thinner bezels, an M2 SOC, MagSafe, and possibly loss of the “Air” branding
- A mostly not-updated 13″ MacBook Pro with an M2 chip but no other updates
I think it’s reasonable for Apple to drop the “Air” brand and return to the plain MacBook branding last used for 2015’s ill-fated 12″ MacBook. The MacBook Air rumors sound reasonable because:
- The M1 has been out for 15 months, so it’s due for an update. It’s a scaled-up version of the A14 SOC in the iPhone 12, so it makes sense that an updated version based on the A15 SOC would follow the release of the iPhone 13 last fall. The A15 is 10 – 20% faster than the A14 and the M2 is rumored to be similar. It still won’t come near the performance of an M1 Pro / Max, keeping Apple’s Pro machines safe from cannibalization.
- As Apple did with its first Intel machines, the first M1 machines used the same physical designs as their predecessors. Apple’s M1 iMac and new MacBook Pro have been redesigned with a new aesthetic so it makes sense for the next Air to join them with a flatter design and slightly larger display. MagSafe is back so it isn’t a stretch to see Apple include it in their consumer notebook.
The 13″ Pro rumor makes no sense at all:
- The 13″ Pro is rumored to include no physical design changes. It will still have a Touch Bar, which Apple has effectively disowned by not including it in the 14″ and 16″ Pros. It will still have limited port options, despite Apple’s claims about how much Pro users want extra ports in its 14 and 16″ MacBook Pro marketing. It won’t have a high-contrast mini-LED display with a fast refresh rate, improved speakers, or an improved camera.
- It won’t include an M1 Pro SOC, limiting it to a single external display and max 16 GB RAM. It also won’t include extra GPU cores or encoding / decoding units for pro workloads.
- In fact it won’t be very Pro at all, delivering only slightly better sustained performance than an Air in an old design at a higher price. If the Air does indeed adopt a display with thinner bezels then it will most likely offer a higher resolution than this “Pro” as well. Who wants to buy that?
The M2 13″ MacBook Pro makes no sense. What does make sense is Apple fusing the overlapping Air and 13″ Pro into a single model: the good ‘old MacBook (2022). In that case it makes sense to drop the Air branding. Give it a new enclosure, a slightly larger screen, probably better speakers, an improved camera, but keep the 13″ form factor. Perhaps provide a better cooling design, but still without a fan. Skip mini-LED; that’s for Pros.
That keeps the difference between consumer and Pro very clean:
- Pros have Pro and Max SOCs with support for multiple displays, more than 16 GB RAM, and encoding / decoding acceleration
- Pros have fans and thicker cases for better cooling
- Pros have high-refresh rate mini-LED dipsplays
- Pros have more ports and a card reader
- Pros have the best speakers
Consumer models have none of these, and that’s OK because they start at the consumer-friendly price of $799 for a 128 GB model with fewer cores and go up with options.
What If I’m Wrong
Given my track record, I probably am. I think it would be nuts but the only reason I could see Apple keeping the 13″ Pro and just bumping the SOC is to smooth out price points in it’s lineup.
Prior to the M1, Apple offered two 13″ models – one with two Thunderbolt ports for $1299 and one with four for $1799. The 16″ Pro followed at $2399. Apple’s current lineup has the Air at $799, $999, and $1249, the 13″ Pro at $1299 and $1499, the 14″ Pro at $1999, and the 16″ Pro at $2499. The previous lineup had fewer models with a $500 – $600 jump between each. Right now Apple has more options in the mid-range separated by about $250 before jumping $500 to the 14″ Pro.
If it was to eliminate the 13″ Pro there would be a $750 price jump between the new MacBook and the 14″ Pro which would leave a very large gap that Apple may have challenges filling. It could offer pre-configured MacBooks with 1 and 2 TB storage but those would look odd when the 14″ Pro comes with half or a quarter the storage at a higher cost. If Apple can’t offer additional hardware options not available on the lower MacBook, then it may keep the 13″ around with an M2. Having a barely-brighter display and better thermals might be enough to keep folks happy until the 14″ Pro can drop in price.
A second possibility is that Apple doesn’t announce a new MacBook
Air at all and waits until May or June. In that case an updated Pro would make a little more sense to tide people over until the new combined model can launch. Perhaps swapping an M2 for an M1 is easy and worth the manufacturing change, but even then it’s only for a few months. It’s still odd to release your new SOC in an otherwise dated machine. Apple has invested heavily in the marketing of its custom silicon and this would be a pretty sad way to introduce the second generation.
We’ll know soon enough; March 8 is only a couple weeks away.