2017 MacBook Pro, 12-Inch MacBook (And Maybe MacBook Air) Refresh: What To Expect

With the MacBook Pro, 12-inch MacBook, and possibly the MacBook Air due for a refresh in June at the WWDC, let’s dig down a little and set expectations.

Here’s what Bloomberg said this week:

The MacBook Pro will get a faster Kaby Lake processor from Intel Corp., said [sources]…Apple is also working on a new version of the 12-inch MacBook with a faster Intel chip. The company has also considered updating the aging 13-inch MacBook Air with a new processor as sales of the laptop, Apple’s cheapest, remain surprisingly strong, one of the people said.

–Bloomberg

If accurate, for the most part, it’s a routine internal refresh — i.e., silicon.  The 12-inch MacBook could possibly get tweaks/changes beyond that. A refresh to the aging ancient MacBook Air would be a surprise, as Apple — when it announced the new MacBook Pros — seemed to imply that the cheaper non-Touch-Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro would take the MBA’s place.

 But getting back to silicon, this is the anticipated bump-up from Intel 6th Gen Intel “Skylake” processors to 7th Gen “Kaby Lake.” And that’s what analysts and observers I heard from believe (more on that below).

Kaby Lake is an “optimized” version of Skylake: For all you chip heads out there, Kaby Lake is still 14-nanometer not 10-nanometer as was originally expected. So, it’s a break from Intel’s heretofore “tick-tock” manufacturing/design practice. Kaby Lake is an “optimized” version of Skylake (not a new 10nm process or traditional “tick”).

That said, it makes sense for Apple to upgrade. All of the Windows 10 laptops I use have the Kaby Lake processor. And you do see modest performance improvements, as pointed out by PC World.  Importantly, Kaby Lake has new transistors for handling 4K video (offering a decent performance improvement) and supports USB 3.1 Gen 2, among other upgrades.

Linn Huang, an IDC analyst: iterative. “I believe Apple’s refresh on the entire MacBook lineup will be closer to iterative bump than design overhaul,” Linn Huang, an IDC analyst, commenting on the Bloomberg report, told me in an email. “The company will get a wave of loyalists upgrading to the newer revs at launch, but I don’t think the purported refresh moves the needle far in either direction for Apple,” Huang said.

Not “strategizing” in response to Microsoft Surface Laptop: “While Microsoft launching its own notebook certainly raises the competitive stakes, I don’t think Apple is strategizing around it,” Huang said. “At $999 with some curious spec choices for a premium priced product – Windows 10 S and lack of USB-C for starters – the Surface Laptop portfolio has some maturing to do,” Huang added.

Daniel Matte, an independent blogger at Tech Specs and former Canalys analyst. “Kaby Lake is indeed a minor update, but it brings important features like more efficient video decode,” he told me in an email.  “It’s worth noting that Apple won’t be able to update the 15-inch MacBook Pro with AMD’s Vega, since it won’t be available yet,” he added.

Coming price drops on Skylake MacBook Pros: The coming months will be a great time to get killer deals on Skylake 13- and 15-inch Touch Bar MBPs. If retailers like Best Buy stick to script, expect to see hefty discounts in the neighborhood of $200-$300. And I would argue those deals would be worth checking out as most consumers and professionals (at least those not obsessed with cutting-edge performance) would be satisfied with Skylake.

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