Apple plans to release a new replacement for the MacBook Air (and possibly the current MacBook) with a Retina display later this year, according to a report in Bloomberg. More surprising: the report also claims an updated Mac mini is right around the corner.
The report comes from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who has built a reputation recently on breaking news of major Apple initiatives and products before they are announced. As always, his report cites "people familiar with" Apple's plans.
The new Mac mini would be geared more toward pro users than its predecessor, the report says, with more powerful specifications but steeper pricing. The previous Mac mini is something of a cult hit with independent software developers; this report suggests Apple will double down on that. That would move the Mac mini further away from one of its original purposes—cheap consumer home theater PC—likely because that product category has been replaced by devices like the Apple TV or various Roku dongles and boxes, among other things.
Since the Mac mini wasn't updated for a long time, users began to suspect that the writing was on the wall for the device. But Apple has previously promised that's not the case. In an email to a customer late last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the Mac mini wasn't dead. He wrote:
I'm glad you love the Mac mini. We love it, too. Our customers have found so many creative and interesting uses for the Mac mini. While it is not time to share any details, we do plan for Mac mini to be an important part of our product line going forward.
The last major update to the Mac mini was not well received by users and critics. Released in 2014, it eliminated the quad-core CPU option, frustrating pro users with steep performance needs. It was also less serviceable and upgradeable, and we lost the Mac mini server configuration—and one 2.5-inch drive expansion bay. And here's a tidbit that demonstrates just how woefully out of date the 2014 Mini is: it only supports 4K displays or TVs at 30Hz.
The new MacBook
And then there's the new MacBook. The wording of the report implies that the new machine will merge the MacBook Air and MacBook product lines, borrowing the industrial design of the MacBook Air and the high-resolution display of the MacBook. (Hopefully it doesn't borrow the MacBook's lack of ports.)
The basic design of Apple's MacBook Air has been essentially unchanged for several years. It is the only Mac in Apple's current lineup to lack what the company deems a "Retina" (HiDPI) display. It is also currently the only Mac laptop to have full-sized USB-A ports instead of the new USB-C standard and the only one without the butterfly keyboard design.
On the other hand, today's MacBook offers the new keyboard design and USB-C, but it only has one port, which you probably have to use to plug in the power adapter. It's also very expensive for such a limited machine: it starts at $1,299. These two machines are presumably targeted at a similar market, so it makes sense to combine their strengths in one product if that is feasible.
According to the Bloomberg report, the new MacBook will have a 13-inch screen and similar dimensions to the MacBook Air, but it will reduce the size of the bezels around the screen. The report does not provide many more details, except to say that Apple hopes this machine will make a dent in the education market.
Recently, Chromebooks were reported to have more than 60-percent market share in K-12 institutions in the United States. Apple's attempts to push the iPad as an alternative have only been successful in some schools and at certain grade levels, and its current MacBook is simply too expensive for most schools to consider.
When Apple has released Macs in the fall previously, it has typically done so in October, but nothing is certain. We might find out more at a likely event in September, where Apple will probably announce new iPhone models. (This Bloomberg report also briefly reiterates past reports that Apple will introduce three new iPhones this year, along with two new iPad Pro models.)