AWT News Update: October 19, 2016 (Apple Event Preview Special Edition)

MacBook Pro Rendering by Martin Hajek

MacBook Pro Rendering by Martin Hajek

It's happening - Apple has officially announced a Mac-oriented event to be held on Thursday, October 27, and we're as excited as we can be. 

In today's special edition, we look at some of the more persistent and logical rumors about the expected MacBook Pro and MacBook Air updates, as well as make some educated guesses about what might be done to refresh the rest of the Mac line. 

Could we see a new iMac? Maybe a new 5K Thunderbolt Display? How about refreshed Mac mini and Mac Pro models? The Mac Pro is really getting long in the tooth, having not had a refresh since 2013. 

Check out this slightly-longer-than-usual podcast and see what we think might come out of next week's event.


The text version of the podcast can be viewed below. To listen to the podcast here, click the play button on the player below.

Hi, this is Steve Sande for Apple World Today, and this is the AWT News Update for October 19, 2016. What can Mac fans expect to see at next Thursday’s Apple Event? Let’s take a look a some of the more persistent rumors in this special edition of the AWT News Update.

MacBook Pro

The most common rumors about the MacBook Pro line is that there will be two new models; one 13-inch and one 15-inch. Both of the devices might feature Intel’s Kaby Lake processor, which will provide a speed and efficiency boost over the previous Haswell architecture CPU. Some pundits think that Apple will use the last generation Skylake architecture chip, but I’m speculating that the reason Apple delayed the release of the new MacBook Pro until October was to take advantage of the newly-shipped Kaby Lake processors. Of course, I’ve been known to be wrong before, and the Skylake CPUs would still provide a speed boost and quad cores at a lower cost than the new Kaby Lake chips.

RAM requirements have been sneaking up lately, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the maximum onboard memory grow to 32GB — double the amount in the existing top-end MacBook Pro. Likewise, the built-in SSD storage will most likely start at a minimum of 256GB, with the top end storage doubling to 2TB.

Next, it’s very likely that the new MacBook Pro models will be even thinner than before, with the usual USB 3, Thunderbolt 2, and HDMI ports giving way to multiple USB Type-C ports. USB Type-C ports can be configured to also handle Thunderbolt 3, so the MacBook Pros would lose thickness, but gain port speed. Of course, that means that HDMI connections would only be possible through adapters or docks.

It’s also very possible that the MacBook Pro could be equipped with 10Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 through those USB Type-C ports. That would provide USB 3.1 peripheral speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, with Thunderbolt 3 (cross-compatible with USB 3.1 Gen 2) providing native speeds up to 40 gigabits per second.

Going with USB Type-C ports would also mean that the MagSafe 2 power port, long a feature of the MacBook Pro, would also go away. Fortunately, several third parties already make MagSafe-like breakaway USB Type-C power cables.

In keeping with Apple’s desire to do away with the old 3.5mm headphone jack, I’m also going to speculate that we’ll see it replaced with a Lightning port. Who knows? Maybe Apple will even throw in a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter like they did with the iPhone 7.

About the keyboard… There have been many rumors about an OLED “Control Strip” above the number keys on the new MacBook Pro keyboards. This will feature software-configurable keys that can change appearance based on what app is being used. It’s also quite likely that Touch ID will finally make an appearance on a Mac with the new MacBook Pro models, although the ability to unlock a Mac with an Apple Watch takes away the necessity for a Touch ID reader.

MacBook Air

The rumors swirling around the MacBook Air all point to the same conclusion — the 11-inch model, which is Apple’s least expensive laptop option, will be dropped from the line. The 13-inch model will remain.

As with the MacBook Pro, it’s highly likely that numerous ports will be removed in favor of USB Type-C ports. On the MacBook Air that means that we’ll probably see three USB Type-C ports replacing the two existing USB 3 and single Thunderbolt 2 ports. If Apple can remove the SDXC card reader (which was only in the 13-inch model) and replace the 3.5mm headphone jack with a Lightning port, it’s possible that the MacBook Air could slim down to less than its current 0.68-inch thickness.

No rumors seem to point to a Retina display in the 13-inch MacBook Air, but it seems odd that Apple would keep one device without a Retina display when they seem to be ubiquitous across the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro lines.

Processor-wise, it would make sense for the MacBook Air to get a speed and efficiency boost from the Intel Skylake processor line. RAM should also see a boost; the existing maximum for a MacBook Air is 8GB; I’d assume that 16GB would be the standard in the new model.

I’m also speculating that the 128GB base flash storage for the MacBook Air will remain, but that the top end will increase to 1TB.

New 5K Thunderbolt 3 Monitor

One area of speculation after Apple discontinued the Thunderbolt Display was that the company might consider a 4K “Retina display” of some sort to replace it. Let’s go beyond that — rumor has it that Apple has been working with LG on a standalone 5K monitor.

As many creative professionals have been moving away from Apple monitors, this would be a good way for Apple to not only gain back the high-end monitor market, but also be able to showcase the video capabilities of Thunderbolt 3.

iMac

If the iMac is refreshed — and the rumors have been scarce about the flagship desktop machine getting an update — I would expect that the changes would be similar to what we’re expecting with the rest of the line.

That means removing those pesky USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 2 ports and replacing them with a line of USB Type-C ports, all configurable for either USB 3.1 Gen 2 or Thunderbolt 3. Who knows? Apple might even get rid of the big power cable and go with something slimmer, since USB Type-C ports can handle up to 100 Watts of power.

Since the existing late 2015 27-inch iMac already uses the Intel Skylake CPU, it might be bumped to the Kaby Lake processor if those CPUs are available in quantity.

While I don’t think Apple is going to be updating the iMac, if they do I’d like to see a total design change. Make it slimmer, like many of the UHDTVs that are available. Get rid of the screen bezel and the aluminum “chin” below the screen, and just make the entire face of the iMac one big edge-to-edge display.

Mac mini

The Mac mini has been neglected long enough. Apple should either drop it from the product line or give it some love this time around. That’s unlikely, as no rumors have come out about any changes for this line.

What could Apple do? The existing model is still running an Intel Haswell CPU, so at least a bump to the Skylake architecture chip would be an improvement. Add in the same changes we’re anticipating for the other devices — USB Type-C ports, Thunderbolt 3, Lightning port — and you’d have a nicely refreshed device.

Mac Pro

Talk about neglected Macs! The Mac Pro hasn’t been touched since late 2013. The top-of-the-line Mac Pro currently uses a 12-core Xeon E5 “Ivy Bridge-EP” processor.

If Apple does anything to this line — doubtful, since there are no rumors floating around — it should at least bump the processors in the Mac Pro to the Intel Broadwell-E (Desktop) Core i7 chips, which boast up to 10 cores and a 25 MB cache.

Toss in the USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a lot of Mac Pro users would be very happy.

That’s all for today; We’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with another edition of the AWT News Update.