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Will Apple's 12-inch MacBook Air Use One Port to Rule Them All?

By Chris Maxcer
Jan 8, 2015 7:13 AM PT

There is a hot new MacBook Air rumor that's got the tech press all in a flutter, and get this: It's not about a long-awaited Retina display for the MacBook Air. Instead, the rumor claims that Apple's redesigned MacBook Air will be remarkably smaller, with a 12-inch screen -- and just one port.

Will Apple's 12-inch MacBook Air Use One Port to Rule Them All?

The rumor comes from 9to5mac.com's Mark Gurman, who reported that the new MacBook Air design will drop the current MacBook Air's USB 3 ports, as well as do away with the SDXC card slot, Thunderbolt port, and MagSafe 2 charging connection.

The replacement? A single USB Type-C port that's capable of connecting to multiple kinds of devices, including storage and displays. Plus, the USB Type-C port will be capable of charging the new 12-inch MacBook Air, too.

No standard USB 3 ports? And just one port to rule them all? Wow. Sounds crazy, right?

Out With the Old

Not really. In Apple's long pursuit of thinner hardware design perfection, it consistently has jettisoned "aging" standards. The first Mac went with a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive when the 5.25-inch drive was more common. Then Apple ditched the 3.5-inch drive before much of the world seemed ready to lose it, moving toward CD drives and USB ports in the bubbly iMac.

Then CD/DVD drives bit the dust, conspicuously left out of the MacBook Air years ago. Now, few people seem to mind. More recently, Thunderbolt ports replaced FireWire ports in various MacBooks. Of course, who can forget the first iPhone, which ditched physical keys to create a whole new touchscreen standard for smartphones everywhere?

So just one port? Believable.

There's more, though. The 12-inch MacBook Air will be smaller than the 13-inch version but just a quarter inch taller than the 11-inch MacBook Air, while being a quarter inch less wide, according to Gurman.

To pack the 12-inch screen into that small footprint, Apple apparently has reduced the bezel and squished the keyboard keys more closely together. The keyboard now fits edge-to-edge across the body of the laptop. The function keys across the top have been tweaked to allow for a power button, and the trackpad no longer "clicks" with movement.

But Is It True?

All-in-all, Gurman has a decent track record on the rumor front -- as rumor reporting goes -- and he's been a fixture at 9to5mac.com for years. What's really interesting about this rumor, though, is that it doesn't appear to have come from someplace in Asia out of Apple's supply chain. No, "sources within Apple, who have used internal prototype versions of the upcoming computer, have provided in-depth details about the machine," Gurman reported.

Again, if true, wow. Apple enjoys an extraordinarily tight ship. Few leaks actually come out of Cupertino, in part because each new product is kept hidden on a stunning need-to-know basis, with locked divisions and covers.

However, a new 12-inch MacBook Air has been rumored for months... and might even have been slated for release last fall, had Intel been able to deliver its Broadwell chips in volume back then. Consequently, while a rumor from directly inside Apple seems unthinkable, the likely long-term activity around a 12-inch MacBook Air could have resulted in one pair of eyes too many -- an inside-Apple source with or without some sort of ax to grind or thrill to chase.

The currently underappreciated USB Type-C port standard is ripe for Apple to utilize. Like the Lightning system on the iPhone and iPad, a USB Type-C works with reversible plugs. Plus, it's thin, and Apple is obsessed with slimming down its products.

Apple works with multiple prototypes, Gurman acknowledged, and the version reported to him might simply have been one of many.

Yet with the new thinner design, there's not a lot of room for other ports, he pointed out.

How About a Hub?

To make a single port workable for consumers who want or still need to connect their MacBooks to devices like printers or storage, Apple could produce a small and light hub accessory -- or build ports into the power brick as part of the charging cord itself. Such a hub is easy to imagine, and it could work like an old-school dock.

More to the point, if Apple does make such a declarative move to USB Type-C, then even non-Apple fans will start seeing USB Type-C products arrive faster than they would have without Apple becoming a catalyst to faster adoption.

Where Oh Where Did the Retina Screen Go?

The big question, though, is what happened to the Retina display? Gurman didn't mention it all, which seems surprising, since Retina seemingly has been the key to the 12-inch MacBook Air rumor for months.

It's hard to imagine a 12-inch MacBook Air -- or any new MacBook -- without a Retina display in 2015 -- unless the MacBook Air is intended to be a low-cost, entry level machine. Depending on price, Apple could replace the 11-incher easily enough. Seems odd, though, that it would let a new product enter the world in 2015 without a Retina-class display.

All-in-all, if the one-port USB Type-C rumor is true, then Apple's MacBook Pro line will likely incorporate the ports and get slimmer, too. Eventually, this could lead to a simplified Apple MacBook lineup that offers just a single 12-inch MacBook Air along with a slimmer 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro, covering three core niches.


TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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