MacBook: What's coming next

In 2015, MacBook kicked off the current generation of Apple laptops. In 2016, the MacBook Pro took another big step forward. So — what's coming next?

In March of 2015, Apple introduced the all-new 12-inch MacBook. Not Air. Not Pro. And certainly not at the old, white, plastic MacBook's pricepoint. More shocking was its ports — or more precisely, its lack thereof. Gone was MagSafe, Apple's convenient, tumble-preventing, dent-saving connector. Gone was old-school USB-A. Nowhere was Thunderbolt. Instead, Apple introduced USB-C.

These changes came to 2016's MacBook Pro, too, along with an OLED-screen Touch Bar in lieu of function keys and a gorgeous Wide Color display.

So, what's next for the MacBook lineup?

When will Apple update the MacBook?

Here's the previous update schedule:

  • March 2015: MacBook with Intel Broadwell CoreM
  • March 2016: MacBook with Intel Skylake CoreM and rose gold color option
  • October 2016: MacBook Pro with Intel Skylake Core i5 and i7 processors
  • June 2017: MacBook and MacBook Pro with Intel Kaby Lake processors

Apple could drop new MacBooks or MacBook Pros at any time — and if the updates are iterative, we could wake up to a press release and an updated web page any morning.

A bigger update, like to Intel's next-generation Coffee Lake processors, probably won't come until 2018 at the earliest.

Will the next MacBook get Touch Bar and Touch ID?

Touch Bar has proven to be divisive: Apple anticipated high attraction levels for Touch Bar, but while some people like it, many others do not. So, will Apple stick with Touch Bar the way the company did with USB-C, and push it out across the line? Or will Apple retrench and rethink its approach to touch? We'll have to wait and see.

Touch ID, on the other hand, is such a convenience on the 2016 MacBook Pro that not expanding it to all other portable Macs would be a letdown. The only reason it might not is price point: It requires a secure, dedcated processing and display system — think embedded Apple Watch just for Apple Pay — so it adds about $200-$300 to the bill.

It's possible Apple could do what it did with MacBook Pro and offer MacBook (Escape) and MacBook (Touch Bar) options, the former with traditional function keys, the latter with OLED. Otherwise, fingers crossed Apple can figure out how to save a few dollars elsewhere and get Touch ID in and under budget.

And a Force Touch Bar, right?

Love the way you think! Touch Bar is begging for Force Touch, but it's unclear if the technology is ready for the next generation of MacBook Pro or MacBook.

What about Face ID?

Face ID for the MacBook and MacBook Pro seems like something that has to arrive sooner rather than later. It's already rumored for iPhone 8, after all. The only real question is how long would it take to propagate from phones to laptops?

Windows already does facial recognition to unlock, and it'd be great on a Mac. That way, Apple Watch Auto Unlock, Touch ID, and Face Unlock could be in a three-way race!

Could Apple ditch the keyboard entirely for a multi-force-touch surface?

That rumor has been around for a while. The idea of doing to the laptop keyboard what Apple did to the smartphone keyboard is compelling for a number of reasons — and terrifying for a number of reasons as well!

At some point, tactile simulation technologies could be advanced enough to trick out brain into feeling keys, dials, nobs, and other dynamically changing controls where none really exist, but we're probably not there yet.

More USB-C?

Apple wanted to create a MacBook that was entirely wireless. Since wireless charging wasn't an option, though, Apple had to include at least one wire. So, it made that wire a multi-tasker. USB-C can both charge and carry data. Since one was infinitely more than none, that was enough, right?

Wrong. Not only isn't wireless charging a thing yet, MacBooks still don't have LTE, and Bluetooth still isn't good enough to support real, diverse peripherals. The future, as always, is a beautiful lie.

The MacBook Pro does this right, with its two to four USB-C ports; it seems only natural that the MacBook should follow in these footsteps. There are no doubt power and design constraints that may make two USB-C ports more challenging than one in a MacBook, especially when it comes to where they can be mounted on that tiny motherboard. But it's a challenge worth exploring.

In a perfect world, I'd love to see them on both sides, like the higher-end MacBook Pro, so I can charge from either side. I'd settle for them both on one side. It would show Apple can still bring us the future — but in a way that mitigates the real pain points of the present.

And they'd be USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, right? RIGHT?

Look, no blogger should ever substitute their fantasies for engineering realities. But if Thunderbolt 3 is possible on MacBook Pro, it'd be outstanding to have it on MacBook. Consistency is absolutely a customer-facing feature.

You mentioned LTE, any chance...?

I've always suspected getting LTE in a MacBook was more about the extortion-level licensing fees Qualcomm charges than any real philosophical or technical hurdles within Apple. The current round of lawsuits only deepens those suspicions, as does the rumors that Apple is working on its own LTE modem.

I very much hope we get LTE-equipped MacBooks — and soon. We may just have to let the lawsuit dust settle first.

How about next-generation Intel Coffee Lake processors?

If and when Coffee Lake is available in the types of chipsets Apple uses in MacBook and MacBook Pro, there are a few things to look out for:

  1. Coffee Lake will allow for a higher number of cores per processor. Previously available primarily on the higher-end Xeon line, pressure from AMD's Ryzen Threadripper has gotten intel to push desktop chips up from 4 cores and 8 threads to 6 cores and 12 threads.
  2. Faster memory speeds.
  3. Updated Thunderbolt and USB support. Thunderbolt 3 still doesn't support even older DisplayPort standards. We'll see if Coffee Lake fares better.

Any chance new laptops could run on ARM, use iOS, have a full multitouch display, and support Apple Pencil?

This is more of a strategic decision for Apple than a technical one. Both MacBook and iPad Pro tackle the problem of ultra-light computing from different directions. Currently, macOS lacks a touch-first interface and that would take time and resources to build out (see Windows 8). Arguably that time and those resources would be better invested in making iOS a better primary computing platform on iPad and larger screens in general.

iOS also lacks a pointer system, though adding selection (like on Apple TV) and cursor (like in text editing mode), seems like far less work. (Again, not an engineer, so everything seems both easy and impossible to me!)

A MacBook that's essentially an iPad Pro with a proper keyboard, SurfaceBook-style, would be incredibly interesting to me. Apple prototypes everything, so we'll have to see what's interesting to them.

But it'd be killer at coffee shops and on planes. I'm just saying...

Jet black? (Product) RED?

Ha! I knew that was what all this was coming to!

MacBook is currently the only laptop from Apple that comes in color. (Sorry, MacBook Pro, silver and space gray aren't colors). Gold debuted with the original and rose gold came last year.

I'm not sure if the Jet Black process scales or holds up to MacBook. I'd love to see it, microabrasions, and all. (Product Red) at that size would be a lot of red. Maybe too much red?

Apple treats color finishes like features because that's how we treat them. We get as excited for new colors — more excited even — than we do for new configurations.

Personally, I'd like to see how Apple would handle Space Blue or Space Purple.

What do you want to see from the next MacBook?

The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is a bold new machine that pushes the future of displays, ports, and input, but it's also one that risks leaving many traditional Mac users behind. Whether that's ultimately good or bad, we'll have to wait in see. For now, it's your turn. What do you want to see in Apple's next Mac laptop?

Updated September, 2016: Intel Coffee Lake, Face ID, and more new rumors added.