Macworld Australia reports that according to a “well-placed source,” there will be a new MacBook Air (s aapl) model this week, either that or a 27″ Cinema Display.
If that seems like a spurious conflations of rumors, it gets better, or “BTR.” The supposed product identifier is MC516LL/A K87 BETTER BTR-USA, and that “most likely points to a Mac product due to the ‘BETTER’ segment of the product code.”
Before you dismiss this rumor, it should be noted that Macworld’s source is the same one that correctly predicted the last iteration of MacBook Pro updates. That well-placed source combined with 11 months without an update strongly suggest an update is coming soon, so the question then becomes what it will look like.
The MacBook Air was last updated in June of last year, and the biggest change wasn’t specs, but price. The low-end MBA saw its CPU increased from 1.6 to 1.86GHz, but it’s price decrease from $1,799 to $1,499. The high-end model with a 128GB SSD went from 1.86 to 2.13GHz, but saw a price drop of $700 to $1,799. Another price drop seems unlikely, as that would overlap with the 13″ MacBook Pro. Far more likely, Apple will maintain the price of the MacBook Air and update specifications, starting with the CPU.
Because of the minuscule size of the MacBook Air’s logic board and Intel’s (s intc) licensing war with NVIDIA (s nvda), Apple is faced with an interesting dilemma. Apple can either stick with Core 2 Duo CPUs and discrete graphics, or use Intel’s Core series and its wretched integrated graphics. I say why not do both.
The low-end MacBook Air could keep the 1.86 GHz Core 2 Duo and get an updated NVIDIA GeForce 320M GPU. The high-end MacBook Air would get, say, something in a low-voltage Core i7 at around 2GHz and the equivalent of a piece of cardboard that is Intel HD graphics.
While it’s true that would mean cutting one model of MacBook Air off from OpenCL, Clockspeed for clockspeed, the Core i7 crushes the Core 2 Duo. Anyway, a lack of OpenCL would hardly be the biggest performance bottleneck on the MacBook Air.
That would be the 4200 RPM mechanical hard drive. What would make a truly memorable upgrade would be the low-end MacBook Air getting a 128GB SSD standard, a 256GB SSD going into the high-end. Considering the upgrade price for 256GB SSD in a MacBook Pro is $650, don’t count on it. You can count on the MacBook Air getting 4GB of memory standard, which is an important update because the RAM is soldered onto the logic board and cannot be upgraded later.
Besides that, a glass trackpad sans button would update the MacBook Air to match the MacBook Pros. Also, a Mini DisplayPort with audio out like the MacBook Pros seems a likely upgrade.
As interesting as a new MacBook Air would be, no update would be even more interesting, at least from the perspective of those who follow Apple. With the advent of the iPad, the rationale for an ultra-portable Mac starting at $1,500 has become even more dubious. If the MacBook Air is not updated tomorrow, or at the latest by WWDC next month, that will likely signal that the MacBook Air is indeed doomed.