Rumor Has It: Apple to Refresh MacBook

macbook_whiteAppleInsider’s Kasper Jade today reports that Apple (s aapl) has new plans for its workhorse laptop, the MacBook. This will be the first time since the product’s launch in 2006 that the company’s entry-level Mac has received a complete design update.

The MacBook is the best-selling computer in the history of the company. It introduced many of the features we take for granted in today’s high-end MacBook Pro machines. The MagSafe connector and latchless lids might be expected of Apple’s laptops these days, but they originally debuted in the diminutive MacBooks more than three years ago.

The report claims that the MacBooks were slated to be discontinued, but that at a redesign the company will “solidify them at the base of the Mac maker’s notebook offerings for the foreseeable future.”

There is no news as to what the redesigned MacBook might look like, but if Apple is to position the machine as a low-cost, entry-level device while keeping it distinct enough from its 13-inch MacBook Pro cousin, it seems unlikely it will be made using the same unibody extrusion process.

A carbon fiber composite would make sense, given this 2006 patent application filed by Apple. It describes a method for producing a carbon fiber composite used as an exterior shell for electronic devices. Of particular note is mention of a “scrim” layer designed to improve the cosmetic finish of the material.

Furthermore, there was talk last year of Apple planning to replace at least part of the MacBook Air’s aircraft-grade aluminum body — specifically, the bottom cover — with the tough-but-light carbon fiber material. While the latest updates to the Air continue to use an all-aluminum body, it is conceivable the carbon fiber plans will see the light of day in the new MacBook.

As for the refreshed internals, there’s only speculation, guided by the assumption Apple will want to position the new MacBook as an affordable (read “cheap”) machine:

Apple is expected to achieve these markdowns through largely existing tactics, such as using lower-end components and previous-generation Core 2 Duo chips and architectures from Intel Corp. Battery life should receive a boost from cutting-edge technology that recently found its way into the company’s other notebook offerings, while high-end legacy features like FireWire connectivity are likely to be sacrificed in the tradeoff.

[Apple] toyed with the prospect of throwing an Intel Atom processor into the existing white MacBook enclosure as [an] interim solution aimed at delivering a low-cost Mac portable for those consumers eying a Mac but hit hard by the recession.

Interestingly, Jade explains that this idea was dropped earlier in the year right around the time when Apple “solidified the forthcoming Newton web tablet for a first-quarter 2010 rollout”.

If Apple prices the new MacBook around the same $999 mark as the current machine — which it most probably will — what will that mean for the price of the tablet? Whatever the outcome, it sounds as though Apple has a clearly defined product/feature differentiation in mind for these devices, despite their similar price points.

It’s all just speculation, of course. But it’s nice to see that Apple is potentially breathing new life into an old and trusted friend.