New MacBooks coming soon; will it be Air or Pro or both?

Sections: Laptops, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Rumors

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It’s a pretty safe bet Apple will soon announce a 15″ laptop with a thin wedge form factor, and powered by Intel’s forthcoming Ivy Bridge Core i CPUs, likely before mid-year. The operative conundrums for Apple laptop watchers and fans like me are 1.) whether this new 15-incher will be called a MacBook Air, a MacBook Pro, or perhaps both; 2.) whether Apple will continue offering both a 13″ MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, and 3.) whether they will they keep selling the late 2008 form factor 17″ MacBook Pro model for power-user professionals, or eventually transition the 17-incher to a thin, wedge, form factor as well.

The 15-incher has been the central focus of recent rumor speculation, with some dissonance over whether it will be an Air or a Pro. Will Apple just choose to scuttle the MacBook Pro category except for the big 17-incher?

Theory #1: MacBook Pro To Be Displaced By 15″ MacBook Air In April?

Electricpig’s Adam Bunker reported this week that he heard from an anonymous vendor at a U.K. Mac accessories trade show that Apple is likely to launch a 15″ MacBook Air in April, “effectively killing the MacBook Pro for the average consumer.” Bunker acknowledges that similar rumors have been around for some time, but says he found hearing it very positively affirmed by a premium Mac accessory maker specializing in MacBook docking solutions pretty convincing.

If the unnamed vendor’s projection is accurate, Bunker says the 15″ MacBook Air will sport ports on both sides, no optical drive, and no Ethernet port, and while his source wasn’t certain this new Air would completely replace the 15″ MacBook Pro (also saying Apple might continue the 17″ model for high-end pro users), he was fairly sure the new machine will debut in April.

Theory #2: Ivy Bridge 15″ MacBook Pro With Thinner Form Factor Coming In April?

A day later, How To Arena’s Faheem Saeed reported he’s received a tip from a reliable source in a Far East Asian supply chain that Apple is planning to release a thinner 15″ MacBook Pro by the end of next month, to be powered by Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 and Core i7 processors.

Saeed’s source maintains that this new MacBook Pro will be thicker than currently available MacBook Airs but thinner than the current MacBook Pros.

Theory #3: Slimmer MacBook Pro 13″ and 15″ Already In Production

Digitimes’ Aaron Lee and Jessie Shen reported Friday that according to unnamed sources at its supply chain partners, Apple has already begun production of revised, slimmer MacBook Pro models in both 13″ and 15″ models that omit the internal optical disc drive, in anticipation of initial monthly shipments of 100,000-150,000 units, eventually climbing to 900,000 units monthly.

Ditching the optical drive enables thinner form factors, the sources indicated, but notwithstanding their slim profiles, these new devices will still feature more advanced specs than the MacBook Air in terms of CPU performance and storage capacity. No details are provided on whether these machines will have Ivy Bridge CPUs or support RAM expansion.

I pick Theory #3 by preference.

Personally, and this is pure deduction, I’ve remained unconvinced that a 15″ MacBook Air would necessarily replace the 15″ MacBook Pro, although a certain redundancy would remain, as it has for several years now in the 13″ category, where for a time there were three 13″ MacBooks (including the current tandem of 13″ MacBook Air and 13″ MacBook Pro, along with the erstwhile white polycarbonate MacBook). The Digitimes report indicates that a 13″ MacBook Pro will survive the next update round, which pleases me, especially if they can keep the price subdued. The current 13″ Air 128GB (1.7GHz Intel i5) costs $1,299.00, compared to $1,199.00 for the 13 inch Pro, which packs a 500GB hard drive and 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 CPU.

As the late Steve Jobs predicted in October, 2010, the MacBook Air represents the future of the laptop, and not just for Apple, as Intel’s PC Ultrabook push demonstrates. That said, if I was shopping for a new laptop right now, I would probably still go for the current 13″ MacBook Pro for its greater storage capacity, better connectivity, RAM expansion potential, and optical drive included in the lower price. I’m pretty certain I could get along very happily with an external optical drive, but Apple makes you pay extra for that, on top of what is already a hefty price-premium for the MacBook Air. There are also still too many other compromises imposed by the current 11.6″ and 13″ Airs for them to be really adequate platforms for professional work, such as the small storage capacity of their solid state drives, their limited and non-upgradable RAM capacity, and their limited connectivity, all of which render the current MacBook Pros more attractive to power users and content creators.

However, I’m not shopping for a new laptop right now, and by the time I am, I expect that all of the choices will be along the lines of the MacBook Air, hopefully with at least upgradable RAM. The wait to learn how the next phase for Mac laptops will play out is hopefully almost over.

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  • pixel

    I seriously hope there is a real gigabit ethernet port. Some people use these machines professionally and visit customer sites that don’t have wireless networks. Yea, sure, there is a usb dongle but it’s 100Mb/s. Some things absolutely require gigabit!