MacBook Air with Retina Display Confusion

March 5th, 2015

The main course for Apple’s media event on Monday, March 9th is well known. You’re going to “Spring Forward” to the official Apple Watch rollout. This is a given, and there are loads of questions yet to be answered about Apple’s contender in the smartwatch market. And what about battery life? Will it be possible to somehow upgrade the watch module to future proof the gadget?

The latter is a key point, because estimates of pricing range as high as $20,000 when equipped with the best watchband. Of course, some are saying we’re all going overboard, and it’ll be much cheaper, but still expensive as watches go. But if someone is paying a four-figure or five-figure sum for a watch, they’d expect that it would last years and essentially remain current. Something that’s obsolete in a year or two wouldn’t make sense for what many regard as a piece of jewelry. Apple’s ads in fashion magazines clearly indicate it would be touted as just that.

But I won’t engage in prolonged speculation so close to the event. It hardly seems sensible, since much of what I write might be obsolete within days. I will, however, probably discuss the expectations along with my guests on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

No matter. The real speculation is about what else might come from the event, that Apple Watch is not going to have all the time for itself. So, then, what might Apple deliver that would merit inclusion in its first media session for 2015?

Questions, questions. Well, it’s very possible that there will be a new MacBook Air, since the last refresh happened last spring. But that update was fairly basic, with a slight performance boost and an overall price cut of $100. By hitting the $899 entry-level sweet spot, Apple may have been at the high end of medium-priced note-book computers, but it appears to have improved sales, particularly to people who might have otherwise considered Macs to be too expensive.

It might have been a more compelling upgrade had Intel released its Broadwell chips, but they were delayed for months and the low-power chips best suited for a slim and light note-book, or a variation of Intel’s MacBook Air lookalike, the UltraBook, were available in quality. So that would appear to improve the prospects for something new in the MacBook Air space, but what?

One fairly consistent line of speculation is that the MacBook Air will enter the Retina display territory with a new 12-inch model. That compares to the current 11-inch and 13-inch standard resolution versions. Supposedly the new model will be slimmer and lighter than the current models, thus possibly replacing both. There are even stories about a gold version, and that it will sport fewer ports to compensate with the thinner design.

Yes, that’s all we need. Fewer ports to make it more difficult to connect your stuff.

Regardless, I’m wondering here whether a Retina display model is intended to replace existing MacBook Airs, or whether they’ll coexist, at least for a while. Certainly if the rumored 12-inch version comes in at a higher price, as you’d expect, Apple would not be inclined to kill the cheaper versions. Besides, isn’t it essentially a new form factor?

Update! Now there’s chatter that this alleged MacBook Air with Retina display is being moved off to the second quarter of the year, perhaps in time for the WWDC in June. Sigh!

The other rumor is about an alleged iPad Pro, with a screen that may be as large as 12.9 inches. That one has been around for a while, and there are almost always excuses to explain why it’s not out yet. The very latest story comes from Bloomberg, a usually respected source, claiming that there have been production problems with the large panels that forced Apple to push release to the fall, or perhaps later.

Sure, it sounds perfectly reasonable, but it may just be another one of those excuses that appears when a rumor is not about to be vindicated. So blame Apple for the alleged delay in an unannounced product, and see what happens. Maybe if the media makes the claim often enough, Apple will listen and produce the thing.

So do you by any chance remember all those stories about an Apple connected TV? I remember claims they were being sampled, and perhaps they were. Apple may build a number of prototypes to test production techniques of different design approaches to see what’s practical. At the end of the day, it doesn’t mean the product will ever see the light of day.

So if there’s no Apple TV set, what about Apple’s former hobby, Apple TV? Aside from a minor processor production change, which didn’t alter performance, Apple TV has persisted unchanged since 2012. That change improved resolution to 1080p, same as Blu-ray. Well, not quite the same, as streaming video, due to the higher level of compression, doesn’t actually match Blu-ray, though it’s real close if you aren’t very critical.

Considering its age, the current Apple TV seems old, and sales of Roku are reportedly higher, though some 25 million copies of Apple’s streamer have reportedly been sold over the years. But what sort of changes can you expect if recent rumors about a new model are true? Adding extra channels, such as HBO’s upcoming streaming service, don’t require a new model. As I’ve said in the past, a video streamer’s interface can get real busy real fast as more channels are added, so an elegant way to integrate this potential mess could be a real improvement, but interfaces on current hardware can also be changed.

A possible improvement would be 4K or Ultra HD support, and possibly more onboard memory to handle the larger video files. More powerful graphics, perhaps with support for Apple’s Metal technology, now part of current iOS gear, would allow for gaming.

Questions and more questions, but we don’t have to wait very long for the answers.

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