Apple doesn’t break down its earnings by product, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Cupertino, Calif.’s most famous Inc. is printing money by selling the MacBook. Going by specs, it’s the company’s most entry-level laptop if you ignore the MacBook Air (and I’ll explain why you should below), but its starting price of $1,299 is far above what you’d expect to pay for an entry-level ultraportable from a rival like Dell or Lenovo.

The reward for opening your wallet a bit wider to buy the MacBook is innovation. Apple puts a feature in a product, and other companies scramble to mimic it. To wit: ultra high resolution displays, USB-C, feather-light chassis, all-day battery life… The list of Apple firsts or near-firsts stretches on into the tech graveyard, which admittedly fills up with alarming frequency.

The portent of that graveyard is also why we’re expecting Apple to give the MacBook a refresh this year, likely at the company’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) next month. While the MacBook remains unique three years after its rebirth in 2015, competing designs have made some of its features look antiquated by comparison. Here’s how we expect—or, more accurately, hope—Apple will remedy these deficiencies.

Slim It Down

You could level many fair criticisms at the MacBook, but bulkiness is not one. With a 12-inch screen and a weight of just 2 pounds, it’s an eminently portable machine. Still, the specs bely at least one antiquated design principle that we hope Apple will address: the border around the screen, or bezel. The drive to trim bezels has arrived in every corner of the consumer tech industry, from Apple’s own iPhone X to giant 4K televisions.

As thin as the MacBook’s black bezel is compared with the bezels on the MacBook Air and previous generations of the MacBook Pro, it’s still distracting when you’re watching a video or using a full-screen app. For a glimpse of just how much bezel Apple stands to lose, check out the Dell XPS 13 or the unabashed MacBook clone Huawei MateBook X Pro. Around the screen edges, the pixels on both of these systems appear to merge with thin air.

But the thinnest of bezels comes with a major downside: There’s no room for a traditionally placed webcam centered above the screen. Dell’s solution is far from ideal, with a camera mounted below the screen where it mostly looks up your nostrils. Huawei’s solution is creative but even less ideal, with the lens hidden inside a dummy key on the keyboard, where it’s obscured by your knuckles when you’re typing. So here’s to hoping that the 2018 MacBook has thinner bezels, but only on the sides, to accommodate a camera up where it belongs, atop the panel.

In addition to keeping the webcam in the same spot, it’s possible that Apple will add infrared sensors to the camera so that MacBook users can log in to their macOS accounts and authenticate Apple Pay purchases using face recognition. This capability already exists on both Windows PCs and iPhones, so a face-recognition-enabled webcam would be a clear example of the 2018 MacBook playing catch-up using technology with which Apple already has expertise.

Regardless of whether or not Apple changes the bezel width, our most wished-for feature for a redesigned MacBook is an extra USB port. We’ll take any USB option, whether it’s USB-C (more likely) or USB 3.0 (next to impossible), as an improvement over the current single USB-C port that all but requires MacBook owners to purchase a dongle in order to connect more than one peripheral to the machine at once.

Rev It Up

The entry-level MacBook is currently available with an Intel Core m3 processor, an anachronism considering that Intel has switched all of its latest efficient laptop chips to the Core i3, i5, and i7 families. (You can upgrade to a Core i5 or even a Core i7 model for a “modest” $250 charge.)

It’s almost certain that Apple will use new CPUs in the putative MacBook 2018, but it could choose one of two distinct approaches. The most likely would be to introduce chips from Intel’s latest eighth-generation lineup. A Core i5 or i7 that uses the Kaby Lake-R or Coffee Lake processor architecture offers major performance and efficiency gains over the seventh-generation chips that are in current Apple laptops. Moving forward a generation would likely let Apple maintain the MacBook’s excellent battery life while boosting the performance of each model configuration.

A second (but much more remote) possibility is that Apple’s own CPUs could be ready in time for a MacBook 2018 launch. Apple is rumored to be working on its own chip designs, but the process is likely still in the early stages, with possible completion by 2020.

As for storage and memory, the current base configuration’s 256GB SSD and 8GB of memory are a bit on the low end but still perfectly acceptable among midrange ultraportables. It’s a toss-up whether or not Apple will stick with these offerings or double them to 512GB and 16GB of memory.

A New Display…and Perhaps a New Air?

If Apple does manage to slim the MacBook’s bezels this year, it might allow the company to either shrink the chassis or increase the size of the screen to 13 inches. As mentioned earlier, the MacBook is already plenty small enough, so we’re betting that if Apple slims the bezels, part of the benefit from that will be to install a new, larger screen with at least the same resolution as the current Retina display. This display is otherwise excellent, so pretty much the only other change we’d like to see is increasing the brightness to 500 nits to match the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s brightness.

A new screen size would also open up an intriguing hole in the lineup, into which Apple could slot a brand-new version of the MacBook Air. The current one is the subject of much speculation, since it received a minor CPU refresh last year but still contains woefully outdated components, including an Intel processor that’s several generations old. This situation leads us to recommend the MacBook over the MacBook Air as the best entry-level Apple laptop, but Apple clearly sees value in the Air as a way to entice bargain hunters.

So, if the engineers in Cupertino have been really busy this year, we’re hoping they’ve cooked up both a muscled-up MacBook 2018 and a totally redesigned (and maybe cheaper?) MacBook Air 2018.

Our Apple Pie-in-the-Sky

While we’re speculating on total redesigns, we might as well go all in and transmit some pie-in-the-sky requests to the Apple spaceship. We don’t expect the company to include the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar on the MacBook, both because it’s mainly useful for professional-level apps like Final Cut Pro X and because we can’t see how there could be room for it. However, we would like to see the new MacBook include a touch screen like its Windows competitors. This almost certainly won’t happen, since it would require touch support in macOS, something that doesn’t currently exist.

We’d also like to see a redesigned keyboard with more key travel. The current butterfly-switch design means the keys are very sturdy, but they’re also quite stiff and hardly move at all when you strike them. Whether you love the keyboard or hate it, it’s a necessary compromise to keeping the MacBook so thin. What’s more, Apple has invested a considerable amount in improving the design (the first generation of the keyboard was prone to errors and resulted in a class-action lawsuit), so we suspect that the shallow keys are here to stay.

Whatever happens with the ostensible MacBook 2018, one thing is clear: Don’t buy a current-generation model right now unless you find one at a hearty discount. If you need an ultraportable right now, consider a brand-new competing Windows model like the Dell XPS 13, which will offer much more bang for your buck. If, on the other hand, you simply must have a Mac, put off your trip to the Apple Store until after WWDC, when you’ll know which of our likely, remote, and impossible MacBook predictions come true.



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