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The logic of a 12-inch MacBook Air

Sections: Features, Laptops, MacBook Air, Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Opinions and Editorials, Originals, Rumors

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Rumors of a 12-inch MacBook Air in the pipeline persist, with sometime in calendar Q1 2015 frequently projected as the likely announcement date. The rumors point to an even slimmer, fanless, MacBook Air with a Retina display, powered by Intel’s latest-generation Broadwell or Core M 14 nanometer downsize its Haswell CPU microarchitecture. Other traditional Apple laptop announcement time slots are late April-early May, and during the World Wide Developers Conference in June. The choice of a 12-inch display for the new MBA is intriguing, since the current Air models bracket that dimension with 11-inch and 13-inch panels.

MacBook Air

So, is Apple fixing to supersede both current MacBook Air size categories and replace them with a single 12-inch screen, or is something else afoot?

When I bought my mid-2013 Haswell MacBook Air, I was torn between that model’s bigger screen and more extensive connectivity and the 11-incher’s compact footprint. In a way, it’s a similar conundrum as obtained for a year between the first generation iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina Display (recently renamed “iPad mini 2)—similar power and performance in slim and slimmer form factors.

Apple has now put some distance between the current iPad Air 2 and mini 3 models by passing over the mini for an A8X system on chip speed bump the Air 2 got, making the latter the indisputable king of the hill in iPads.

Anyway, I’m glad I went with the 13-inch MacBook Air, since elements displayed become smaller and smaller with increased screen resolution, and my eyes—now well into their seventh decade—prove less and less amenable to focusing on small stuff.

Another reason I ultimately chose the 13-inch MacBook Air instead of its smaller sibling is screen aspect ratio. I’m not a fan of the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio favored by seemingly hordes of folks for whom watching movies on their PCs, tablets, and even smartphones seems to be a front line priority. Personally, I rarely watch entertainment video on small screen devices, and much prefer traditional 4:3 display proportions. Indeed, I would be even happier with a square or even slightly portrait oriented aspect ratio in a laptop or tablet, since what I value more is less scrolling in a landscape display orientation.

I was gratified to read that T-GAAP’s E. Werner Reschke agrees with me. As he observes, the11-inch MacBook Air “… is really light and compact. However, if you have ever worked at an 11″ MacBook Air for anytime, without an external monitor, you and the scroll fairy are very good friends,” adding “… the downside to the 11-inch MacBook Air is screen real estate in the vertical direction. The width of the MacBook Air must be wide enough to match the keyboard.”

Reschke anticipates that A 12-inch MacBook Air would allow for more screen size mostly in the vertical direction, making it a much more attractive proposition for users who do a lot of writing. It would still be light and compact, but with more working room allowing users to be even more productive. I agree.

Another point to ponder is whether it would replace the now legacy 11 and 13- inch MacBook Air as entry level units and Apple’s price-leader and education laptops, or will both be superseded by the new 12-inch MacBook Air, which would (among other things) make Apple an all-Retina display laptop shop?

I think it’s improbable that the now more than four-year-old form factors of the current MacBook Air models will be continued for much longer in any case, as they are already one of the longest production life laptop models Apple has ever built. This raises the question of whether Apple will be content to proceed with just a 12-inch Air plus the two sizes of Retina MacBook Pro, or if, as Werner Reschke suggests, “maybe Apple has a 14″ MacBook Air hidden inside Apple Labs?”

MacBooks

That’s an intriguing notion. Apple hasn’t offered a 14-inch screen laptop since the 14-inch G3 and G4 iBook sold alongside its 12-inch sibling in the early-mid ’00s, and discontinued in early 2006 in the changeover to Intel processor silicon.

iBook

Fourteen inches was also the panel size of one of the best Apple laptops ever—the 2000 PowerBook G3 Pismo and its Lombard and WallStreet antecedents. A lineup of 12-inch and 14-inch Retina MacBook Airs seems logical to me, but whether that will materialize is just speculation at this point.

PowerBook

A 12-inch addition to, or replacement for, the current late 2010 MacBook Airs, on the other hand, appears to be a near-certainty for sometime in the New Year, and will mark the return of the display size one of Apple’s best-loved laptop models ever—the 12-inch PowerBook G4 of 2003-2006, which was also Apple’s last pre-Intel model sold. With a 12-inch iPad also rumored to be coming in 2015, a 12-inch panel comeback could be one of the marquee Apple product design themes of the coming year.

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