Apple Might Finally Resurrect the 12-inch MacBook, New Survey Suggests

12-inch MacBook 2015 Credit: Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock
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Apple has been sending out numerous surveys recently looking for customer feedback on various products, from questions about the iPad mini’s screen size to how they use their iPhone chargers. Its latest survey, however, appears to be aimed at getting feedback from owners of a long-discontinued product: the 12-inch MacBook.

According to MacRumors, the survey has been sent out to select customers, with a few generic questions asking for their thoughts on the MacBook’s size and features, and also what they would change about it.

First launched in April 2015, the 12-inch MacBook was among the smallest, thinnest, and lightest Apple had ever made. While the screen was slightly larger than Apple’s 11-inch MacBook Air (the screen of which actually came in at 11.6 inches), it was thinner overall, had a very similar footprint, and weighed less.

This was also the MacBook that introduced the controversial and ill-fated butterfly keyboard, which allowed for its decrease in thickness. It also featured a Retina display and packed in a better CPU and GPU, along with the new Force Touch trackpad and a USB-C port for the first time.

Despite the name, it was designed to be a mid-range model that fit in between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro — the opposite of how Apple has since named its iPad lineup.

However, the 12-inch MacBook was only refreshed twice, first in 2016 with new CPU and GPU specs, faster flash storage, a longer battery, and a Rose Gold version. A subsequent 2017 bump offered even more modest improvements and was mostly intended just to bring the machine up to then-current specs.

After skipping a refresh in 2018, it was discontinued in the summer of 2019 alongside the debut of True Tone displays on the MacBook Air and a new entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar. Despite this, the 2016- and 2017-era 12-inch MacBook will still be able to run macOS Monterey when it comes out later this year; the 2015 model will be left behind on Big Sur.

12-inch MacBook Redux?

We’ve heard a few rumours since then that Apple may have been planning to bring back the 12-inch MacBook with its transition to Apple Silicon, but sadly that hasn’t happened — at least not yet.

While last fall’s M1 debut would have seemed like an ideal time for Apple to resurrect the 12-inch MacBook, it’s also worth keeping in mind that the company was focusing on upgrading its existing designs. The 13-inch MacBook Air lineup and the single 13-inch MacBook Pro gained the M1 chip, but were otherwise unchanged from prior models.

It was clear that Apple wanted to show off what the M1 chip could do in an Apples-to-Apples comparison (pun only slightly intended).

With new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models on the horizon which are expected to feature major redesigns — and an even more powerful M1X chip — the time may be ripe for Apple to change things up in other ways.

The survey definitely suggests that Apple is once again considering the market for an ultra-thin and portable MacBook, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see the 12-inch MacBook return to its original spot in the lineup.

For instance, there have been rumours of a premium MacBook Air making the rounds, with plans for a version that could see the return of a model that’s more similar to what the MacBook Air was when it first debuted — the lightest and thinnest laptop ever made up until that time.

In fact, it was one of the most memorable Apple product unveils in history when Steve Jobs came on stage at Macworld 2008 and pulled it out of a manilla envelope just to drive home the point of how thin it was.

Apple even commissioned Intel to design a special chip exclusively for the MacBook Air, which turned out to be an engineering feat that had never been accomplished before. It was the expertise that Intel gained from this project that allowed it to build chips to usher in the new generation of ultra-thin PC laptops.

By a few years later, the MacBook Air had lost its executive panache, and slid into the entry-level slot in Apple’s MacBook family. The 2015 release of the 12-inch MacBook seemed like an attempt to bring some of that back, but it was hard for many customers to figure out exactly where it fit in. The name probably didn’t help either; MacBook Air at the time seemed to be a perfect fit for what Apple was selling, whereas the simple name “MacBook” really didn’t hint at anything special about Apple’s new mid-range laptop.

We do know that Apple has plans for a more colourful lineup of MacBook Air models, and these are accompanied by similar rumours of a higher-end version, although none of those are expected to arrive until early 2022, at the earliest. The base MacBook Air will feature the M2 chip — a direct successor to the current M1 — while a more premium model might gain the M1X or even the M2X by the time it comes around.

While some will argue that Apple’s new M1-powered iPad Pro models obviate the need for an ultra-thin MacBook, the current state of iPadOS and “pro” apps makes them poor replacements for the full Mac experience, and it doesn’t look like Apple is in any hurry to change that. Instead, this survey suggests it’s putting out feelers to determine if the iPad Pro is truly enough for users on the go, or if there really is a demand for a full MacBook with the same kind of ultra-portability.

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