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What next for the outstanding MacBook Air – M3 possibly?

It sounds likely that we are about to get a 15-inch MacBook Air – what can we expect?

M3 MacBook Air Next

What’ occurring?

The M3 chip is coming in less than two months at WWDC in a 15-inch MacBook Air – fact. Well, according to some it is at least. But, with something soon looming, I thought I’d briefly look back at my 10 months with my M2 MacBook Air and later I’ll look ahead to what’s coming next for the entry-level laptop Mac.

To be honest with you, for much of the past ten months, I really didn’t get the most out of my MBA. After I’d bought it and reviewed it, the Air kind of just sat at the end of the studio – it was there just to read emails and that was about it. And I’m now realising what a waste that truly was.

When at the studio space, until recently, I’d still been using my 2015 iMac for the bits I needed to do there – things like light Lightroom tasks, simple Photoshop edits and recording the audio for my videos in Audition. A few weeks back though, just for giggles I thought I’d just see how the MacBook Air compared.

I loaded Creative Cloud back up onto it and it has flown. Apple silicon at work ladies & gentlemen. This is £1200 lightweight notebook walking all over a highly spec’d 27-inch iMac. Proof of just how far we’ve moved on in seven years.

The test of time

The Midnight Air colour I chose on my MacBook Air has lasted well over the past ten months and is scratch free even around the ports. The threat of fingerprints was not ever really an issue either – but I think if I were to buy another in the future (the 15-inch for example!) I’d probably go with a more tame, safe, boring conservative colour. It would just fit in better with my other gear.

The display though is really, really good. Early on there were these misleading headlines that the Air’s display was not as bright as the MacBook Pro. The 1600 nits brightness though on the Pro is MAX brightness for HDR content only. But most of the time we consume SDR content and for that the displays are identical at 500 nits. Of course, the Pro wins with its 120Hz ProMotion display with its smoother scrolling – and the blacks are a bit better. But the Airs display is great. It’s colour accurate and exactly what you’d expect from a modern Mac. But of course, we may be about to get something even better and certainly bigger – and soon!

Wrong for a reason

The spec on mine isn’t perfect and isn’t what I’d have chosen if I’d had the choice. The trouble for me was I needed to get my MacBook Air on the day of release to make content on it. The only models you could buy from Apple on pre-order were the basic spec models.

Mine has 8GB of unified memory and 512GB of storage. The storage isn’t a problem as I can always use external storage for video projects, but the 8 gigs of RAM is a problem. I reckon 16GB of RAM and the 10-core GPU & 8-core CPU chip would have been the sweet spot. It’s not as if this is ever going to be a heavyweight content-creating machine, but a bit more RAM would just give it the headroom it needs when I’m using Photoshop or Lightroom.

Apart from all that though the two USBC ports have been fine particularly as we got MagSafe charging back. I don’t really care how it charges, but having MagSafe back in these post-Ive days means that both USB-C ports are now freed up to use all the time. Battery health seems good to me but I am trying to let it cycle more these days and not just leave it plugged in the whole time. Wi-fi & Bluetooth is all good.

But I don’t want to waste too much time talking about last year’s model I’m sure you know all about that by now, no, I’m more excited about what we MAY be getting soon – ever so soon.

The future beckons

So what on earth is going on with the M3 chips and the MacBook Air? From everything we are hearing it’s pretty locked on that, we’ll be getting a 15-inch MacBook Air soon – and by soon I mean WWDC at the latest but possibly even sooner.

Facts on panels in the supply chain don’t get much better than those coming from Ross Young. He’s gone on record saying that the 15-inch Air is still on course to get released maybe even before the month is out. With Mac sales in a slump, Apple would love to get the cash registers ringing again, and a 15-inch Air could be just the ticket. Production of the panels was ramped up in March Ross tweeted which again would suggest that something is about to break.

But if we do see a 15-inch MacBook Air by WWDC it will almost certainly mean that it will come with an M2 chip. A processor was spotted in developer logs last week that will be going in the 15-inch Air and it has 8-CPU cores and 10-GPU cores – in other words, the M2 chip I was just talking about.

The specs of the Macs found in these logs were running macOS 14 which is the OS they’ll be announcing at June’s WWDC, but they could easily ship first with Ventura and then update later on. macOS 14 probably won’t be out until late summer but that is only a small point and certainly nothing they’d hold up releasing the new MacBook Air for. The resolution of the display we are told will be equal to that of the 14-inch MacBook Pro – just not quite as sharp.

Bigger changes will be coming down the line though with the transition to a 3-nanometer production process which will allow for even more performance and better efficiency too.

I know it’s not the news that you wanted – I’m sure you wanted me to give you the best of both worlds which would have been an M3 chip inside a 15-inch MacBook Air by WWDC – but I just can’t see that happening. It just doesn’t fit in with the rest of their plans this year.

You see apart from the 15-inch Air, two other Macs are due for release by the summer before the M3 3-nanometer chip machines come along – those being the Mac Pro and an update to the 13-inch MacBook Pro (yes it’s still around!).

Plans

So putting it all together I reckon that the M3 3-nanometer chip won’t be ready until the fall and first we’ll see it in the iMac which has not been touched at all since its launch and then in the 13-inch MacBook Air. Then early next year we get the more powerful versions of M3 – the Pro, Max and Ultra chips.

If you are wondering why they would release the new bigger 15-inch Air in the summer with only an M2 chip – simple – they make more money. There’s that slump in sales I mentioned, and there is a lot of interest in the 15-inch MacBook Air right now. So that would give them a mid-year financial boost, then come say November they could release the smaller cheaper 13-inch Air but with a 3-nanometer M3 chip just in time for Christmas. Genius!

The only way I see we get an M3 earlier than the fall in a MacBook Air is if they downgrade it and base it on the A16 Bionic chip which would still be 5-nanometer anyway and would just be another stopgap – an M3 chip in name only in other words.

Design-wise I’m sure the MacBook Airs will look almost identical to what we have now. The Air’s makeover was done last year – the next generation will be all about that larger display, even more speed and the move to 3-nanometer architecture. Although if they could find a way to an SD card slot in it…just saying…

Wrapping up

Do you think Apple would release both sizes of the Air at WWDC with the 5-nanometer M3 chip, or go the route that I think makes more sense and release the 15-inch Air now with M2 and then start to use the proper M3 3-nanometer chips through the entire range come the fall?

As I said, I have fallen back in love with my MacBook Air over the past few weeks and I’ve realised just how quick quiet and efficient it is. I think the final nail in my iMacs coffin was when the fans kicked in when I was typing a script in Ulysses. I knew then that the old Intel machine was creaking.

The 15-inch MacBook Air sounds as if it could tick some important boxes. The panel would be that bit bigger and maybe big enough to not always want to hook it up to a larger external display, but unlike the MacBook Pro would still be light enough to be portable.

I realise how stupid I’ve been to not have been using the MacBook Air way more than I have been and if they do release the 15-inch Air by WWDC not only will I get my hands on one, but I’ll also learn from my mistakes and be sure to use it a whole lot more often as well.

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