Is a new MacBook Air just around the corner?

MacBook Air
MacBook Air

Rumors started circulating Wednesday that Apple's about to pull the trigger on a refresh to the MacBook Air, equipping it with a moderately faster processor and bigger battery. The update could arrive next week when Apple is expected to show off the Apple Watch at its Spring Forward event in San Francisco. Is a faster processor and bigger battery all Apple needs to keep up the MacBook Air's momentum?

A recent post on MacRumors points to a Chinese site that purportedly has screenshots of the system profile of a new MacBook Air that carries the model identifier "MacBookAir7,2." Apple's current MacBook Air model is identified as "MacBookAir6,2."

The profile information presented on suggests that the new MacBook Air is equipped with an Intel "Broadwell" processor. If it's true, this would mark the first time a Mac model is equipped with the new processor. Two years ago the MacBook Air was the first Mac model to feature Haswell processors, so the progression makes sense.

Broadwell is the latest generation of Intel Core processor, based on the "Haswell" processors currently in most Macs. Intel first expected Broadwell chips to go into production early last year, but it wasn't until January, 2015 that Intel revealed the whole line, including the chips likely to make it into the next generation of Macs.

Rumors have bounced around for months that Apple is on the verge of releasing a Retina MacBook Air, the first MBA model equipped with a Retina display. The information posted to the Chinese site indicates that this particular Mac is operating at the standard MBA resolution of 1440 x 900, which would suggest it is not, in fact, a Retina model. That doesn't preclude the existence of a Retina MacBook Air, however. To that end, the Wall Street Journal claims that a 12-inch Retina MacBook Air is already in production and should be released to retail sometime in the second calendar quarter of 2015. It's also a likely candidate for the Broadwell processor treatment.

When Broadwell ultimately comes to the Mac, don't expect huge changes just because of the new processor. The MacRumors article suggests the MacBook Air will get a 200 MHz processor speed boost (from 1.4 to 1.6 GHz), with faster integrated graphics than last year's model.

Broadwell will introduce some efficiency improvements too. This new MacBook Air model purportedly has more battery capacity than its predecessor. Current MacBook Air models can operate continuously for up to 12 hours between charges. PC ultrabooks are already exceeding that in some cases, so it behooves Apple to keep the MacBook Air as power-competitive as possible.

Whether Apple introduces a refreshed MacBook Air at next week's Spring Forward event or waits, Apple's product cycle suggests that a MacBook Air refresh is coming soon. If you're in the market for a new lightweight Mac laptop, I'd recommend waiting just a bit to see what's coming.

Peter Cohen