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13-inch MacBook Air – what will Apple surprise us with next and will it be worth it?

Maybe I was right to wait…

13-inch MacBook Air

A tough call

So it looks like the 13-inch MacBook Air might be about to get more grunt.

A few weeks back at WWDC I found myself in a tough spot. I knew all my Apple bloggers & ‘Tuber friends would be rushing to buy the new 15-inch MacBook Air that was launched at WWDC. Don’t get me wrong…I was tempted too.

Right after the event finished I had one sitting in my basket ready to check out – and there it stayed. I kept returning to my basket and my mouse just hovered over the buy now button, but something in my clicking finger kept holding me back.

I think the reason was two-fold. Firstly I have to buy all the products I write about and review which soon adds up and secondly, it felt slightly disingenuous. I like to write and make videos about products I feel passionate about, ones that I honestly either use or think I could use or ones that I’m just curious about.

The 15-inch MacBook Air fell foul on pretty much all counts.

Same old same old

Call me cynical, but the latest addition to the MacBook Air range looked to me to simply be an Apple Cash cow.

Laptop sales have slowed down dramatically and the only other Mac that Apple gave us at the event was the highly-niched Mac Pro. What they needed was an ‘everyman’s’ Mac to get the tills ringing again and the most popular of all their laptops, the MacBook Air hit the mark. But what could they do to re-package it and make it desirable? What will folks buy?

I know…with the lucrative back-to-school and uni market just around the corner use the exact internals and keyboard and just pop a bigger screen on! Nothing will convince me that conversation didn’t happen at some point. It’s such a lazy product as to be almost laughable.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that it won’t be a great machine – I know it will be because I have the model it’s based on sitting just to one side of me as I type away – the M2 13-inch MacBook Air! It’s a brilliant machine and will handle pretty much anything you throw at it.

I’ve seen the new 15-inch model side by side with mine and yes, the display is noticeably larger – it is a significant improvement and it would be a fine workstation if you don’t already have the M2 13-inch model. The larger display and slightly improved speakers are the only differences.

That larger display brings some added weight and makes it bigger too which I think detracts from one of the MacBook Airs killer body blows – it’s so transportable. The larger and bulkier it becomes the less transportable it gets – and that’s not good.

Keyboard, ports, wi-fi, Bluetooth, camera, media engines and battery life are all like for like with its smaller brother. So with all that in mind, I backed away from the idea of buying it. It wasn’t an easy shout, but it felt the right thing to do.

I’ve watched a few videos on it since and I was right – there’s nothing new to mention about apart from the obvious. It’s a case of re-use last year’s script, insert 15-inch MacBook Air rather than 13-inch MacBook Air and hit record.

It was tough to miss out on the merry-go-round, but news has just broken that I might have made a good call.

Welcome to the M3 era

There was some debate just before WWDC as to whether or not they’d launch the M3 chip at that event.

Given that this was the Apple Vision Pro event I guess it would have been a wasted opportunity to launch M3 there. It would just have gotten lost in the frenzy over the headset and the M3 chip doesn’t deserve that as it’s going to be a pretty big deal.

But it now seems more than likely that we will be getting M3 Macs this year, probably in October and the first Macs we are likely to see it in are the iMac, 13-inch MacBook Pro and, you guessed it, the 13-inch MacBook Air.

So maybe my patience will be rewarded after all. But what’s all the fuss about over M3 and what will it deliver?

The numbers

The M3 chip will herald the advent of the next generation of Apple silicon – the 3nm manufacturing process.

A nanometer measures the smallest dimension used in the semiconductor fabrication that is used to make the chips. The ‘node’ of a chip will help to determine its transistor density, performance and efficiency. In short – the smaller the number the more efficient the chip will be. That’s slightly oversimplified but you get the drift…

We’ve waited a while for this next jump forwards. It was in 2020 when we last saw an improvement from the 7nm chip that was used for the A13 Bionic chip in iPhone 11 and Apple Watch with the S6, S7 and S8 chips to the 5nm chip. The 5nm chip was first used in the M1 series of chips and the A14 Bionic chip.

The 3nm technology should bring the biggest boost to both performance and efficiency since the M1 Apple silicon chip was launched 3 years ago. Because of the extra transistors, it’ll be packing it’ll be able to perform more tasks simultaneously and quicker, while using less power. We’re told the 3nm chip will use around 35% less power even with the improved performance.

And as we head towards the era of greater integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning tasks the more performance our devices can offer the better. The Information reported that these latest 3nm chips will feature up to four dies which could support 40 compute cores. If these impressive claims turn out to be true that will equate to a significant multi-core performance hike over the current M2, M2 Pro and M2 Max chips.

Worth the wait

These stories are starting to gather pace now and Digitimes is now predicting a 3Q23 launch with a full release in Q423.

If that schedule comes to be, surely even Apple wouldn’t have the heart to put the M3 chip in the 15-inch MacBook Air that many will have only just bought. Imagine if your shiny new MBA was rendered as ‘old’ that quickly!

The M3 chip would then be used next year in an updated iPad Pro which would feature an OLED display as well followed by upgrades to the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros with M3 Pro & M3 Max chips with an M3 Ultra being ready for use in the Mac Studio & Mac Pro later next year.

The wishlist

I’m aware that the 13-inch MacBook Air more than some of the costlier Macs is very much built to budget.

Apart from its amazing portability, its price point is the 13-inch MacBook Air’s other great USP. But allow me to dream the dream – what would you think about these couple of minor tweaks to make even more desirable?

If we can’t be afforded the luxury of a third port, then how about moving one of the ports to the other side? It’s a small thing I know, but it’s one of those quality-of-life improvements that would make using the MacBook Air that much easier.

And walking on the wild side for a moment, an SD card reader would be amazing. I know, I know this is not a pro machine, yet it is so capable that it can easily be used for basic video and photo editing work.

At the moment, if I am out on location I have to figure out ways to get RAW images and video clips over to the MacBook Air. Bluetooth pairing the camera is an option or buying an aftermarket USB-C is the other. But as they’ve been guilty of making the MacBook Air range so productive would including an SD card reader break the bank (assuming there’s the space)?

Wrapping up

Other than those two little wishes though, a year on the M2 MacBook Air is still delivering and has a very specific place in my daily workflow.

Having waited and not bought the 15-inch Air this summer I feel slightly smug I must admit! It’s easy to get caught up in trying to review every new product that Apple launches but there was nothing new to say about the M2 15-inch Air.

But an M3, 3nm MacBook Air – well now you’re talking and I promise you that wouldn’t stay in my basket for long!

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