13-inch MacBook tipped to offer entry-level Retina this year

Apple will crowd out the aging MacBook Air with a new MacBook, its most affordable yet, according to supply chain reports today. The MacBook Air is currently Apple's most affordable laptop, priced from $999. However, it's also one of Apple's oldest designs, most notably when it comes to the display.

Indeed, it's the only non-Retina display model in Apple's range at the moment. It's also looking long in the tooth when it comes to specifications: the last refresh was in mid-2017, with a slight processor bump to an Intel Core i5 dual-core and 8GB of RAM as standard. However, it still pales in comparison to Apple's other notebooks.

That, according to Digitimes Research, is all due to change in 2018. Apple is said to be readying a new, entry-level MacBook, which would adopt a 13.3-inch 2,560 x 1,600 display just like the similarly-sized MacBook Pro. It'll be using LG Display for those screens, too, the report claims, after giving up on efforts to source cheaper panels in China.

The key part will be the new notebook's price. According to the report, Apple is aiming the new entry-level MacBook at the same price point as the MacBook Air, "or slightly higher," which would suggest somewhere in the region of $999. The 12-inch MacBook starts at $1,299, as does the MacBook Pro 13-inch.

Quanta Computer and Foxconn Electronics are tipped as the manufacturing partners for the new Apple laptop, with production tipped to begin at the end of May or the beginning of June. That paves the way for a predicted on-sale window at the end of Q2 2018. According to Digitimes, Apple has ambitious sales goals for the new notebook. It's apparently expecting six million to be shipped in the year, though analysts are a little more pessimistic since they're not sure the Cupertino firm can quite nail the price.

There are still plenty of lingering questions about the reported update, though it does fit in with earlier whispers about Apple's plans. For a start, it's unclear whether Apple will brand this new notebook as a MacBook, or as the new MacBook Air, or retire the Air name altogether. Analyst chatter earlier this month predicted the new 13.3-inch machine would indeed be the new MacBook Air, but reports in January leaned the other way, suggesting that Apple would do away with the Air brand altogether and simply offer either MacBook or MacBook Pro models.

Whatever the branding strategy, it's a lucrative space for Apple to play in – and one with a few potential hazards. The MacBook Air has been perennially popular in the company's line-up, for both its affordability and its slender design, even if the ports on the latter have grown outdated in comparison to Apple's broad adoption of USB-C elsewhere in its line-up. However, one of the key points of appeal for the MacBook Air has been its keyboard, since it's the only remaining notebook in the company's range that doesn't have the new, low-profile keys that have proved so controversial among typists.