Things didn’t go exactly as I’d expected at WWDC. I spent the week before the show at Computex, talking to PC OEMs, who had all just launched their Haswell ULT based Ultrabooks. With a couple of exceptions however, the bulk of Haswell ULT systems weren’t scheduled to ship until later this year. Even the Acer S7 I snagged while in Taipei was still a pre-production unit, with final hardware due out in the next month. Based on what I saw in Taiwan, and Intel having seeded me an Iris Pro machine the week before, I assumed that the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is what would get the Haswell treatment first. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

In hindsight, the move makes sense. Apple will sell far more MacBook Airs than rMBPs. The Apple/Intel relationship is looking very healthy these days, so it’s also not surprising that it would have supply and early enough access to Haswell ULT to launch the MBAs at WWDC with almost immediate availability. The Haswell ULT shift didn’t require a new chassis for Apple, which meant a less complex development process.

From the outside, the new MacBook Air looks nearly identical to its predecessor. There's a second mic opening on the left side of the machine now, but otherwise you'd be hard pressed to tell this year's model apart from the previous generation. Internally, nearly everything has changed.

The battery is higher capacity, with no increase in weight. Making better use of that larger battery is Intel's new Haswell ULT silicon. Since we're talking about a ULT part, the PCH moves from the motherboard to the CPU package - creating an emptier motherboard than we've seen in previous years:

The 2013 13-inch MacBook Air Motherboard, Courtesy iFixit

It's clear to me that the MBA is due for a more significant redesign, but this is not the year for that.

Alongside Haswell comes a brand new PCIe SSD, 802.11ac support and LPDDR3 memory. All at a price equal to, if not less than last year's models:

2013 MacBook Air Lineup
  11.6-inch 11.6-inch (high-end) 13.3-inch 13.3-inch (high-end)
H: 0.11-0.68" (0.3-1.7cm)
W: 11.8" (30cm)
D: 7.56" (19.2cm)
H: 0.11-0.68" (0.3-1.7cm)
W: 12.8" (32.5cm)
D: 8.94" (22.7cm)
Weight 2.38 lbs (1.08kg) 2.96 lbs (1.35kg)
CPU 1.3GHz dual-core Core i5 1.3GHz dual-core Core i5
GPU Intel HD 5000
Display Resolution 1366 x 768 1440 x 900
Ports Thunderbolt, 2x USB 3.0, headphone jack Thunderbolt, 2x USB 3.0, SD card slot, headphone jack
Networking 2x2:2 802.11ac 2x2:2 802.11ac
Battery 38 Wh 54 Wh
Price $999 $1199 $1099 $1299 

We've been over the MacBook Air chassis thoroughly in the past so I won't go through it again here. Build quality remains excellent. The clickpad and backlit keyboard never give me any troubles either. It's sad that we're still having clickpad issues elsewhere in ultraportables but this is one area where Apple's vertically integrated advantage is apparent (as is the company's willingness to spend a little extra on even the little details).

The only thing that hasn't changed, that perhaps should have is the display. The MacBook Air retains the same 1366 x 768/1440 x 900 panels from last year, while much of the competition has moved to at least 1080p IPS in the 13.3-inch form factor. This year at Computex we saw a number of systems move to 2560 x 1440 13.3-inch panels, at least as an option, however I'm expecting those systems to be priced more in line with the 13-inch rMBP rather than the MacBook Air. Admittedly, I don't know the right solution here.Ultra high resolution panels drive cost and power consumption up, the latter which can be offset by going to a larger battery - but then you have a 13-inch rMBP. Perhaps the right move for the MacBook Air would be for Apple to move to IPS panels at least? Or maybe we see a merger of the 13-inch MBA/rMBP, and something new entirely replace the 11-inch model.

The CPUs
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  • biassj - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Yes, I hope they have cheaper option. I really don't care about touch screens also pointless IMO if it's not a Tablet/Hybrid. I use Windows 8 with desktop just fine.
  • weiran - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    1080p seems like a pointless midway between 1x and 2x on a 13" display. At 1x text is too small, at 2x it's too big (and the effective resolution is way too low), and I imagine it wouldn't look great at 1.5x.

    Personally I'd rather have a lower power 1440x900 panel, or the full 2880x1800 resolution.
  • darwinosx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

  • Synaesthesia - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Hopefully Apple has a nice update to the 13" Retina Macbook Pro's, maybe thinner with better battery life.
  • darwinosx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    The rumor is they are thinner. The 13" retina which is what I have is already pretty close to the Air.
  • darwinosx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Yeah twice the gnu, wi-fi, and 12 hr batter life are so disappointing...
  • sherlockwing - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    The battery life is impressive, but I can't stand using a 1440X900 TN panel laptop after using an IPS monitor for the last year.
  • doobydoo - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    Clearly you don't own a Macbook Air. It's absolutely fine switching between it and my 30" Dell.
  • Blindsay - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    I do, and i agree with him
  • appliance5000 - Friday, December 20, 2013 - link

    I do and I agree with doobydoo. I use my 27"NEC for highly calibrated work and the air for other stuff. It's a nice screen with good color.

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