Larger MacBook Air Likely as Ultrathin market develops

Posted on 19 March 2012, Last updated on 19 March 2012 by

designstorageIf Apple launches a 15” MacBook Air this spring it will send a strong message to everyone that the time for traditional laptop designs is coming to an end. A report at Apple Insider says it’s likely to happen. Personally, I’m not surprised at all. We’ve already seen Samsung and Acer launch 15” ultra-thins and if the Ultrabook methodology is as cheap as I think it is, traditional style laptops for gamers could get more niche, and more expensive. The same will be true of traditional MacBook Pro.

A launch of the new MacBook Air models hinges on Intel’s Ivy Bridge platform availability so the reported ‘April’ launch could be well towards the end of April with devices being available in May although with Ultrabooks also lining up to use the platform, it will be interesting to see who get’s the first batch.

You’ll see vastly improved graphics in the HD4000 GPU (up to double to 3D power in some benchmarks) and a more efficient silicon design. Apple seems to be doing very well at squeezing in large Lithium Ion batteries to so expect a bump in capacity to bring ‘always on’ nearer to reality. As is often the case with OS X vs Windows on similar hardware, OS X is likely to be more refined given that the OS developers only have to work with a limited range of hardware support.

One thing we won’t expect to hear is the word ‘Ultrabook’ on launch day.

34 Comments For This Post

  1. Dan says:

    I’ve also read that Apple is releasing a new thin Macbook Pro without optical drive… which I would supposed is not as thin as the MBA line, but maybe has dedicated graphics?

    …I’m personally anxious to see the new Samsung Series 9 refresh!

  2. Michael says:

    Of course we will hear the word ultrabook cause the whole ultrabook concept is a copy of the MBA. Apple struggled with loads of expenditure on research and development to give people super thin notebooks and the rest of the world just copied it.

    Sounds the same when Apple perfected the GUI using it in the Macintosh and Lisa and the whole world later also copied it.

  3. Chippy says:

    You’re ignoring the one thing that most Apple fans conveniently overlook when they claim the Ultraboook is a copy of Apples work and that’s the processing and thermal technology that made it possible in the first place.

  4. Shane says:

    The processing and thermal technology that you speak of? Made *current* Ultrabooks possible. Apple was doing it back in 2008 when they got Intel to make them a custom Core 2 Duo that was 40% the size of the original version.

    Credit where credit is due. Without Apple’s MacBook Air, Intel would never have coined the term “Ultrabook”.

  5. Fulvio says:

    Do you think Apple will announce a 13” ultrathin in April aswell?
    Macbook Pro/Air/Whatever :)

  6. rik says:

    Will it have large bezels as well? The 11.6″ MacBook Air has the same (maybe even larger) footprint than the old black/white 13.3″ MacBook. It’s probably going to be heavy too.

    Is there just no market for very portable notebooks with great battery life that doesn’t run on an Intel Atom or equivalent CPU?

  7. Winston says:

    I think our market category is just too small. The focus on thin is really targeting the large “hey look at what I have and you don’t” category. Portability and battery life is not a major requirement for those people.

  8. James says:

    I wouldn’t say portability isn’t a concern at all for them but it’s not easy providing everything at the given price ranges with available technology.

    It’s one of the reasons Ultra Thin & Light laptops have traditionally been very expensive and provided below average performance. All of which is why they were considered only a niche market until now.

    While managing a more acceptable balance is easier to achieve now, there are still compromises as we’ve yet to get to the point that all the specs can be where we want them to be.

    Especially with battery capacities still pretty much unchanged for over a decade and even for low powered devices can still account for a significant percent of total weight.

  9. matt says:

    I’d rather have a thicker notebook with smaller bezels (11.6″ screens for me). The thinness of these notebooks are already in the diminishing returns category. Nothing more than just for people who like showing off their gadgets (of course no one actually cares).

  10. Everett says:

    For people who travel often and are rarely next to a plug, ultrabooks have been pretty disappointing. I guess I completely misunderstood what ultrabooks were supposed to be.

  11. Tsuki says:

    The MacBook Air 11 is actually very light at just 2.2lbs. The only lighter high performance notebook I can think of is the expensive and import only Panasonic J10 without jacket or extended battery.

  12. MURevold says:

    So with this new breed of UB’s coming out based on Ivy Bridge, probably also with Thunderbolt on board … what are the odd’s of external GPU’s coming to market for those that want to dock to an external monitor/HDTV for heavy workloads & gaming?

    Consoles, traditional desktops, custom-built gaming desktops, are all becoming dying markets. Yet interestingly it’s coming at a time when PC gaming is rapidly on the rise. With Ultrabooks & upcoming “Ultratablets” taking the x86/64 market by storm it really seems like this is the time for the Thunderbolt/external GPU combo to emerge.

    ARM still isn’t really a serious contender for complex robust computing/gaming & won’t be for years (if ever) as those markets are focused on the casual.

  13. BrillinField says:

    Apple HATES desktops, but they know their laptops are not powerful enough GPU wise for many professionasl to use in various highend production fields.

    Alot of people already very much believe Apple will abandon their desktops eventually & instead use dedicated GPU’s docked over Thunderbolt.

    I would expect PC vendors to follow suit shortly after or maybe even get their 1st. There is just no way typical desktop towers have any kind of future in the next decade.

  14. James says:

    Apple may abandon desktops but they only represent about 10% or less of the market in that category anyway. So you can’t make conclusions on the whole market based on them alone.

    Problem is while laptops are useful, they don’t offer the full range of performance and capabilities of a desktop. While a similar divide exists between tablets and laptops as well.

    So it’s more likely they will try to merge the platforms. Where each can just dock to transform into the other.

    MS has already pushed for a patent that would do exactly that by allowing the docking to switch to the dock’s more powerful processor. So performance would scale as needed.

    Really, until the typical laptop can run things like cutting edge games and not cost over twice as much as a desktop with that level of performance then and only then can we consider the end of desktops near.

    Never mind ergonomically there is still nothing to beat desktops for comfort while computing for long periods of time.

  15. DavidC1 says:

    Shane :
    The processing and thermal technology that you speak of? Made *current* Ultrabooks possible. Apple was doing it back in 2008 when they got Intel to make them a custom Core 2 Duo that was 40% the size of the original version.
    Credit where credit is due. Without Apple’s MacBook Air, Intel would never have coined the term “Ultrabook”.

    But without Intel’s prototype “Metro” platform, Apple wouldn’t have got the idea either. So while Apple is the first one to get the concept to be successful, Intel has every right to market it as their own to other manufacturers.

  16. Shane says:

    The idea of what? That thin and light is desirable in a laptop? Was there ever a time when these properties were not desirable? Ideas are easy. Execution is what counts.

    Intel doesn’t need to get into a pissing competition over whose “idea” something was. Apple is their client anyway. Intel coined the term in order to encourage other manufacturers to get off their asses and start competing.

  17. Michael says:

    No matter how thin and light the ultrabook is, battery life has not really improved the past so many years. No point having the most beautiful looking ultrabook when half the time, the battery is dead. its like having a Ferrari with no more fuel in the tank. Intel talks so much about thin and light ultrabooks but battery technology improvement remain stagnant. Whatever happened to the one day battery notebook?

  18. Tsuki says:

    Good thin and light laptops have been around way before the MacBook Air.

    The Thinkpad X series for example first came out in 2000.

    Apple was not the first company to make a thin and light notebook, not even the first company to make a good thin and light notebook. They were just the first to market it to consumers instead of executives and IT departments.

  19. Shane says:

    You guys are missing the point. I didn’t say that Apple was the first to do a thin and light notebook. I deliberately dismissed the importance of ideas and I wrote that thin and light was obvious.

    There are many ways to go about building a product. It is an exercise in making the right compromises and picking the right priorities. Why does the Ultrabook spec look like it was lifted straight from Apple’s playbook? How did the Ultrabook come about?

    Intel saw the success that Apple was having with the MacBook Airs. Intel wants PC manufacturers to compete, but it turns out that competing with the MacBook Air is *hard*. In the past, a PC manufacturer would just build a product that would be almost there, but much much cheaper. The MacBook Air, it turns out, is inexpensive. Imagine that. An Apple product.

    So what is Intel to do to help out? It creates a fund. However, if OEMs want in, they will need to build a product that Intel thinks can compete. And Intel basically agrees with Apple’s choices for the MacBook Air. Since, you know, the thing is selling like hotcakes.

    So here were are, with a new category that is called “Ultrabook”. When I first heard of it, I scoffed at the hype and thought that it was all marketing. I thought who cares about creating a new category of clones? Why do we need a name for this? I just want an awesome thin and light notebook. I had a Vaio back in 2003 that was thin and light thank you very much. But it was also very expensive. And had pitiful battery life.

    You’d have to be pretty damn blinkered and defensive about PCs to declare that the Ultrabook spec did not mirror the choices that Apple made for the MacBook Air. Because it was. Intel drew up the specs that way on purpose.

  20. modport says:

    I don’t have a MacBook Air but I do have a MacBook Pro. It would have been nice if these supposed thermal dissipation techniques were used on the MBP. This thing gets extremely hot under load. So hot that I clearly notice the CPU frequency being throttled back due to my longer simulations taking significantly long (doesn’t matter if I’m booted to Mac OS, Linux or Windows) when compared to other notebooks (Thinkpads and EliteBooks) with the same CPU and RAM.

    Under Windows and Linux, I use some software to monitor the CPU temp and it hits the max T_JUNCTION temp pretty quickly. The CPU then gets throttled back to half the frequency.

  21. Tsuki says:

    With things like the Acer M3 being called ultrabooks, it seems like the only universal trait shared between ultrabooks is relatively thin and uses a ULV Intel CPU.

    The ULV CPU part is very important. ULV CPU’s were often found in x86 tablets and ultraportables. They won’t be found there much longer.
    -Traditional ultraportables have pretty much switched to using Standard Voltage CPU’s. A few years back, the majority of ultraportables such as the Toshiba R600 or HP 2510p used ULV CPU’s. Today, most non-ultrabook ultraportables such as the Thinkpad X220 or Toshiba R830 use SV CPU’s.
    -x86 tablets, if they had any life in the first place, are dying because of ARM tablets, with Windows 8 on ARM anticipated to start hammering the last nails on the coffin. Of course there will be people that need legacy x86 tablet applications, but those tablets that still remain such as the Thinkpad X220T, like traditional ultraportables, are moving toward SV CPU’s.

    The main place remaining that ULV CPU’s really make sense is ultra thin notebooks that are unable to dissipate the heat of an SV CPU in heavy load, which really before ultrabooks came around consisted of the MacBook Air. Thus Intel is left with really one customer for their ULV CPU’s. Apple. Intel is faced with three choices, make a chip near exclusively for Apple, lose Apple to AMD or ARM, or make ULV CPU’s popular again. It’s obvious what option they chose.

  22. Morten Andersen says:

    I really hope that the trend develops in the direction of NOT making such small and handy 11,6 machines. In fact, we are many user on the road for whom the extra small size and weight of the 11,6 really matter. Even if it is only a matter of centimeters and grams – the small formfactor is of great importance!

  23. Morten Andersen says:

    Oh, just the opposite meaning came through with my post 17: My hope, need, wish and point was that I HOPE THAT APPLE AND OTHER COMPANIES CONTINUES TO MAKE SUCH SMALL AND HANDY 11,6 INCNES ULTRABOOKS!!! Sorry for my mistake in post 17!

  24. Chippy says:

    +1 !

  25. Adam says:

    Michael :
    Intel talks so much about thin and light ultrabooks but battery technology improvement remain stagnant. Whatever happened to the one day battery notebook?

    If you don’t mind butt-ugly laptops the Thinkpad X220 can currently be purchased in a configuration that gives you 23 hours of battery life. 9 Cell battery + external battery pack.

    I think for most people “all day” is 8-10 hours, though. And I agree with you about battery life being stagnant but I don’t think that’s an Intel issue. -Although they certainly haven’t improved their TDP max power consumption nor actual power consumption and have even decreased it since the original C2D ULV days. -And they’re not going to increase it for Ivybridge either.

    Haswell seems to be the best hope here and Intel is already quoting lower TDP numbers and is REALLY beating the “efficiency improvements” drum with Haswell. They’re even officially breaking off the Ultrabook CPU parts in the Haswell time frame from the normal desktop and laptop parts so we’re REALLY seeing Intel focus on power consumption/battery life in the Haswell time frame. -It’s just a big ship and it takes a long time to get it moving in another direction. (5 – 6 years, apparently)

    3M is currently building up production capability for their new Silicon anode battery technology, and I remember reading an article about a professor who had patented a new materials tech for the cathode end that could also increase battery capacity. -I’ve heard a 40% increase quoted if new materials are used for both the cathode and annode. (But I also heard that the new tech causes battery capacity to decrease faster and that there was an additional 3rd tech required to limit this more rapid battery capacity decline and that it was going to be expensive.) -There’s a LOAD of grants available at the moment for researchers working on battery tech as Obama has made money available for increasing the battery range and life of EV/Hybrid packs and they’re currently using Lithium Ion tech so anything that comes out of that we get in the mobile electronics industry, too. I expect to see a 10-20% battery capacity for the size increase by the time Haswell ultrabook parts are available (guess: summer 2013) to go along with the Haswell power efficiency numbers.

    I’m guessing that 8-10 hours will be quite “doable” by then.

    We should also see very efficient and “good enough” performance (and much better value for the perf) out of the 22nm tri-gate based Atom CPUs around that timeframe, too.

    I’d ordinarily be right there complaining with you about current battery life, but looking ahead just 15 months looks to really, REALLY change things for once.

    I’m surprisingly optimistic.


  26. Michael says:

    Everett :
    For people who travel often and are rarely next to a plug, ultrabooks have been pretty disappointing. I guess I completely misunderstood what ultrabooks were supposed to be.

    They are indeed disappointing. They cannot even do half a day!!!

  27. Chippy says:

    Can we put a weight value on that so I can get an understanding of requirements? 1.5KG 8hrs? 2.0KG 8hrs? 2.5KG 12hrs? Price bracket would help too.

    I’m seeing Ultrabooks as one of the best battery life / weight solutions there is right now. Expensive? Not in comparison with some solutions I was considering 12 months ago!

  28. James says:

    Like Ultrabooks themselves, people’s opinions and understanding of them is still evolving.

    Not everyone gets that there are initial costs to starting a new product segment and a learning curve for those companies that have never made a Ultra Thin & Light laptop before and still some hard choices to make in balancing of features, run time, performance, and costs.

    So first and even some second gen products can be disappointing for those expecting perfection immediately.

    While a lot can change in the coming year between Ivy Bridge and Windows 8, but it’s likely we’ll have to wait till Haswell comes out before we really see systems that can appeal to the majority.

  29. James says:

    Until they make a major break through in battery technology we won’t be seeing anything in this performance range providing a half day of run time without either stacking weight with extra battery capacity or lowering performance to consume less power.

    Even the MBA won’t provide you with a half day of run time either.

  30. Tsuki says:

    I think 10 hours of basic use battery life should be the minimum to be considered all day.

    Weight should be as little as possible obviously. My Thinkpad X220 gets about 10 hours on a good day and it weighs slightly above 1.5kg. The X220 is a fairly thick, durable, full performance device, so for an ultrabook 1.3kg sounds pretty reasonable.

    So an ultrabook with at least 10 hours of battery life with a maximum weight of 1.3kg.

  31. tik2 says:

    I’d rather take the thick X220 than any of these ultrabooks. I guess it makes sense manufacturers are focusing more on aesthetics rather than usage since people more concerned with that are more likely to pay the premium of being early adopters.

  32. James says:

    The X220 is actually only rated to last up to 8 hours with the 6 cell battery with just continuous web surfing use. Though that’s about 2 hours more than other laptops of its class is rated for but Thinkpads also tend to cost more too.

    While the 9 cell and/or battery slice can definitely give it more but it also increases weight and size.

    All of which brings back to the point that Chippy brought up about price point as well as weight.

    Like it or not the technology isn’t there yet to get what we want without some compromises still…

    Though by the time Haswell comes out we might be close enough, we just have to wait another year…

  33. Tsuki says:

    1.5kg already includes the 9 cell. With the small battery its around 1.3kg.

    The MBA11 weighs 1.1kg and has a 35whr battery. The 63whr 6 cell X220 battery weighs .3kg, but there is a lot of stuff in it that isn’t just battery cells. I think its very possible for an 11 inch ultrabook with a 90-100whr battery can weigh around or less than 1.3kg.

  34. James says:

    Tsuki :
    1.5kg already includes the 9 cell. With the small battery its around 1.3kg.
    The MBA11 weighs 1.1kg and has a 35whr battery. The 63whr 6 cell X220 battery weighs .3kg, but there is a lot of stuff in it that isn’t just battery cells. I think its very possible for an 11 inch ultrabook with a 90-100whr battery can weigh around or less than 1.3kg.

    No, the 9 cell makes it weigh a little over 1.6 KG. 1.5KG is with the 6 cell and adding the battery slice adds over a pound extra.

    While you’re still ignoring cost factor as well. Just because 1.3KG may be possible doesn’t mean it’ll be in the price range we would want or as durable.

    The 11.6″ MBA for example is lighter but only gives around 5 hours and relies heavily on custom components like the PCI Express SSD that doesn’t even have a drive casing and soldered components.

    All of which shows it’s not as easy to reach that weight range without making the total system size smaller and shaving off mass that also prevents things like being able to upgrade even just the RAM, etc.

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