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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Rumor Roundup, part one: new MBAs, no more headphone jack, more

Rumor Roundup, part one: new MBAs, no more headphone jack, more
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NewsPoster
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Dec 4, 2015, 04:49 PM
 
Thus starts the season of the rumor: from now until the Worldwide Developer's Conference in June, there will be educated guesses, wild speculation, sketchy Asian-based mumblings, and stock-manipulating pundit fantasies -- along with the occasional "run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes" test balloons -- of what Apple will or won't do over the first half of 2016. In this two-part mini-series, we'll take a look at the current crop of insider tips and wishful thinking.

Falling pretty firmly into the "educated guess" category is a rumor from the Far East that claims new MacBook Airs in time for the WWDC conference, propagated by Taiwan's Economic Daily News, which has a pretty iffy track record. Given the existence of a new Thunderbolt 3 technology that combines the Thunderbolt features (which Apple co-invented) with the USB-C form factor (which Apple first put on its 12-inch Retina MacBook) into a single port that handles all USB 3.0 functions and also includes all the benefits of Thunderbolt 2, this one seems like a no-brainer: nearly all of Apple's MacBook line will eventually pick up at least one of these ports.

The MacBook Air is the subject of this rumor because it is the one that has fallen farthest behind: there aren't any Retina models, it could benefit from the new Force Touch trackpad and new keyboard design seen in the MacBook, and it is still using essentially the exact same design it debuted with in 2008. It is high time for a full revamp on the model, though perhaps the Retina MacBook was a foreshadowing of what is to come, since it has taken the lightweight crown (both in weight and features) from the MBA.

Future Air on the left, present Air on the right
Future Air on the left, present Air on the right


The MacBook Airs currently sell for less than the new Retina MacBook (due to not having Retina displays), and for many users offer a better value both in price and ports: the MBA ships with two of them, and they are "regular" USB 3.0 ports, and a power port as well as a Thunderbolt port and SD card slot. Will Apple simply drop the Air line and bring out 13-inch (or even 15-inch) Retina MacBook models that have most of the same abilities, but with fewer ports?

Despite the protests of power users (for whom neither the MacBook nor the MBA are aimed, anyway), the two "lightweight" models are Apple's most popular sellers -- a reminder that the vast majority of users aren't in need of a lot of the "essentials" old-school Mac users think are needed, in these days of cloud storage, ubiquitous Internet access, and day-long battery life in real-world use. Apple has always had an interest in differentiating the "consumer" and "pro" lines, and perhaps the one-port-only idea will be one of those differences.

If we had to guess, we'd say Apple will lower the price of the 12-inch Retina MacBook and keep it as an entry-level model, keep the MacBook Air as the 13-inch mid-range with a completely revamped and way thinner/lighter design and Retina displays with one (or maybe two at the high end) USB-C/TB3 ports starting at the current MacBook Pricing, and also redesign the MacBook Pro line to use (two) USB-C/TB3 ports, finally dropping the 13-inch non-Retina model (and perhaps the 13-inch form) from the Pro line entirely. The new MB/MBAs could be seen before June, but if we're right about a MBP redesign, that would likely come during or just before WWDC.

While we're at it, we'd love to see a bumped-and-modernized Mac Pro debut WWDC. We've heard nothing along those lines, but it would be silly for it not to turn those present TB2 ports into USB-C/TB3 ports, assuming that technology is ready by June. It's time for a GPU and processor update as well, so we think the timing would be right.

This will mean we now live in the Age of Adapters for a while, but eventually all your gear will migrate to using USB-C as the One Plug to Rule Them All. Frankly, that end goal is probably worth the hassle, as it will eventually mean super-powerful gear at USB prices. Expect much wailing and gnashing of teeth during the transition, of course, but if this "unified plug" idea sticks, it would be brilliant for a few years ... until a new, better unified plug comes along, of course.

Speaking of plug hassles ...

Another rumor that has been floating around for a while and has re-emerged is that Apple will drop the traditional headphone jack, possibly as early as in the alleged new "iPhone 6c" (more about that tomorrow) but definitely by the time the "iPhone 7" rolls around next fall. Such a move would infuriate the public and particularly Apple users, which is why we think Apple might well do it, but this would leave the iPhone with only one port for both power and sound, and at least at present power is still something of an issue for "power" iPhone users.

This makes us think Apple will do it even more. Insert smiley face here.

Philips Fidelio Lightning headphones
Philips Fidelio Lightning headphones


Of course, if it did do this, the iPhone would ship with Lightning EarPods, and manufacturers would quickly produce either native headphones with Lightning connectors (this has already started happening, thanks to changes in the MFi rules) or small adapters. This still leaves the question of why do it at all, other than to annoy everyone who makes or uses "normal" headphones? There are actually a couple of sensible answers to this.

This rumor comes from the more-reliable Japanese website Mac Otakara, which notes that of course Bluetooth headphones would also be supported -- and recent improvements in Bluetooth have both increased the range and the sound quality of such devices, making them more attractive to users who previously preferred wired headphones. Allegedly, the Lightning EarPods would also ship with a DAC stereo 3.5mm adapter that could also be used with traditional headphones. Lightning headphones would not need to convert the digital signal back to analog, either, so the sound quality would improve (or degrade, depending on whether you ask an "audiophile" or not), and we imagine the power draw might even be reduced.

We're a little unclear about the future of the Lightning connector, however. The European Union is pushing for a universal USB connector (currently micro-USB) for all smartphones so as to facilitate universal chargers, but we've already seen some micro-USB adapters with a small Lightning dongle on the end, so this problem could fairly easily be worked around ... but if the Thunderbolt port can be migrated to USB-C, why wouldn't Apple take the same approach to Lightning?



If you're going to annoy users by getting rid of the 3.5mm jack, you'd better be sure you're replacing it with something that is going to stick around for a good long while. Everybody in the world has a pair of wired headphones around somewhere, and rendering them obsolete on their favorite listening device is a decision that needs to be weighed very, very carefully -- and have several very clear and obvious advantages.

Another reason Apple might be keen to lose the 3.5mm port is because it is, in fact, about a third thicker than a Lightning port, and losing it would make for even thinner future iPhones and other devices (and you know how Apple is about that idea). The bottom line here is that Bluetooth will probably be pushed as the universal standard that works with all modern computers and smartphones, and it might be easier to add a tiny BT transmitter to your wired cans than to schlep around a dongle for your old Beats to plug into the Lightning socket. Lightning headphones might become a thing, but frankly we've preferred the freedom of BT headphones for years already.

Most users won't be terribly inconvenienced by the loss of the 3.5mm port, other than having to either adapt their present headphones or buy new ones -- the port serves no purpose other than audio output, and Apple seems to be very keen on getting as many purposes out of a single port as possible. Battery life for most users is good enough that they don't need to worry about charging the iPhone while listening to music, though it will still be annoying to lose that option without -- you guessed it -- another adapter. Welcome to the life of an early-adopter Retina MacBook owner.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at two other current rumors -- the idea that Apple will re-introduce an iPhone "6c," or something like that, with a four-inch screen. There's also talk of a fifth-generation Apple TV unit, five minutes after the introduction of the fourth-generation model with two variations. In the meantime, spread our speculation above about a Mac Pro revision on social media, would you? We'd love to start a rumor of our very own!
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Dec 4, 2015 at 04:52 PM. )
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Dec 4, 2015, 06:01 PM
 
re: headphone plug - for sure, Apple has a history of doing that kind of thing. It would be painful for a while not having a normal audio plug. And, in terms of use while charging (especially for laptop) that's going to be a pain! (the stock charger needs to have a port on it... and some way to make it a 'mag' is important too. So, maybe a very low profile 'adapter' you plug in and mag the charger too, where the mag-head has a USB-C port on it). And, then there seems a debate over Lightening vs USB-C. It needs to be universal. I don't want Lightening headphones for my iPhone and USB-C headphones for my laptop! I suppose Bluetooth is a possibility, but a wired option is still important.

And, God no... micro-USB! That has to be one of the worst connectors ever devised! My mouse has one, my new PS4 has them on the controllers. It just sucks, there's no good way to put it.

re: laptops - I think they really need to simplify their lineup. Maybe just have a 15" Pro... and a 12 or 13" MB. Having a MB and Air is kind of crazy at this point, and I really don't see the need for all the various sizes in laptops so much any more.
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Charles Martin
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Dec 4, 2015, 06:50 PM
 
Steve: regarding the MacBook family, that's my thinking too. Make the Pro really something different from the consumer models by making it 15-inch and much more powerful with more ports.
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Inkling
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Dec 5, 2015, 10:38 AM
 
Hubris is a word MacNN writers might want to study. The Greeks took it very seriously. Success, they said, lead to hubris, or an overwhelming pride that leads to disaster. We've been seeing that for several years now. Products that are excessively thin, apparently to appease Sir Ives' artistic hubris. And the hassles a lack of ports create for all but the most childish of users are shoved aside. Why? A hubris in the upper ranks that thinks Apple knows better than its customers what they need.
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benj
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Dec 5, 2015, 11:54 AM
 
I've been using a sony bluetooth to 3.5 adapter for a while now (attached to a cassette adapter in my 1997 Saab!) and i'll wear it on person with my senn earplugs when i go for a walk - I just checked out B&O BT offerings and - um they beat beats -anyhow . losing the port won't be a deal breaker. Like dial phones one day a kid will look at at an 1/8 connector and go "what is that?"
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DiabloConQueso
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Dec 5, 2015, 12:15 PM
 
Inking, if you let the standard, run-of-the-mill, common computer user design their own computer it would be a hodge-podge of ancient ports coupled with a complete disconnect between the balance of power of the machine versus the battery life and longevity.

The common person has a bad habit of wanting very personal, custom-tailored things that exactly fit their own lifestyle -- and those things do not make for a good mass-produced machine with mass-appeal.

Also, this thinking of the 13" retina MacBook being the only notebook computer that Apple produces and lambasting them for the lack of ports is getting old. If you want ports, it's obviously not the computer for you, and Apple sells a number of other machines that fit that specific need. Pull your blinders off for a second, dispatch with the paranoia that Apple's going to remove all the ports on all their machines, and choose a different Apple computer rather than consistently complaining about the lack of ports on a single model of computer that Apple sells, for crying out loud.

On a side-note, I certainly hope bluetooth audio isn't the proposed solution in response to removing the headphone port. Unless Apple can tackle the latency issue, it would make watching videos (where video and audio lose synchronization easily over bluetooth) an exercise in frustration.
     
RobOnTheCape
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Dec 5, 2015, 03:21 PM
 
Aside from all that, I would love to see a thicker version come out along side the now incredibly thin version, and see what the public wants. I'd take battery life, and a 20% thicker body over trying to keep my phone charged through the day anyday. It'll never happen, but it would be nice to let the customer decide on this issue. I've had iPhones since the very first version, and never complained about thickness - only battery life.
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Dec 5, 2015, 03:39 PM
 
Hubris is working out pretty well for Apple. THey're doing better financially catering to the masses than they are to "us," so...
     
drbenru
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Dec 5, 2015, 09:12 PM
 
If this rumor is getting as far ahead as the iPhone 7 another posibility to consider is that Apple might finally be considering adding wireless charging to their iphones, after all the apple watch already uses it so I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to think they could do that. I've read that some wireless charging speeds are faster than usb charging.
     
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Dec 5, 2015, 09:20 PM
 
apple is doing nothing to dispel this earphone rumor and why should they? there is no iphone 7 for sale and if people think that they may lose something then it will prompt some of those on the fence to buy an iphone right now. smart on apple's part.
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Steve Wilkinson
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Dec 6, 2015, 12:24 AM
 
@ DiabloConQueso - I thought your final paragraph was a bit ironic given the earlier ones. You caring about latency while watching videos might be either something they haven't even thought of, or an edge case they don't really care about... Apple knows best. You'll just have to learn to enjoy that lag. Or, plug in a USB -> 1/8" adapter, I guess.

@ RobOnTheCape - Absolutely! While I've enjoyed that Apple has ditched weight, size, thickness, etc. over the years, at some point it starts getting a bit ridiculous. I'd also take battery life over further reductions. Why would a device need to be so thin that an 1/8" port is too big? I'm fine moving to USB based audio connectors, I suppose... but not so devices can get thinner.

@ Mike Wuerthele - For now, Mike. Until the trickle-down effect happens when pros leave the platform.
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Charles Martin
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Dec 6, 2015, 03:08 AM
 
Where, exactly, are the "pros" going to go? Windows? Given that platform's recent track record over the past few years? Are you kidding?
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Steve Wilkinson
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Dec 7, 2015, 12:53 AM
 
@ Charles Martin -

Yea, that's the question.

Some have moved to Windows. I'm not there yet, but I'm starting to keep my eyes open. OS X is still pretty usable for me... just not nearly as enjoyable. Aside from not worrying much about viruses, it's becoming a lot more like Windows in all of it's inconsistencies and stuff that doesn't work right (requires work-arounds), etc.

But, on current trajectories, it's not going to be long before Windows overtakes OS X. Windows 10 seems to be a pretty big jump (in my limited experience so far). With my last setup of it on Bootcamp and my gaming stuff, it was pretty darn smooth (that wasn't the case with 8 or 8.1). And, I've put WAY, WAY too much time into troubleshooting issues with my OS X desktop and my wife's Macbook Air in the last couple of months. Stuff still isn't all working right within the eco-system between our OS X and iOS devices... so I've got more work to go.
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Mike Wuerthele
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Dec 7, 2015, 08:44 AM
 
Originally Posted by Steve Wilkinson View Post
@ Mike Wuerthele - For now, Mike. Until the trickle-down effect happens when pros leave the platform.
The generation of new pros who like what Apple is doing, and how they're doing it outnumbers the departure of old pros, it seems.
     
DiabloConQueso
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Dec 7, 2015, 10:43 AM
 
Here's the thing about "pros" -- when we speak of them currently, and in the context of this comment section, we're typically referring to the idea of a creative professional doing design, photography, or some such digital manipulation, a la the ancient (and now largely irrelevant) "Macs are better than PCs for graphics work."

Truth is, there's a new kind of professional -- one that's buying Mac computers in record numbers -- and they're called "iOS app developers." And the fact is that developing an iOS app these days -- one that is truly successful -- involves more than just Objective-C or Swift... it involves web-services, cloud database servers, etc. -- all which have good support for development on the Mac platform.

Everyone here knows the sheer size of the app store, and the large majority of those applications are developed directly on a Mac computer (the remaining ones are developed on another platform then compiled using a physical Mac computer).

One of the things that Apple did that was smart (though maybe unpopular in some circles) is to relegate all iOS development to the Mac and OS X platform. This ensures that waves upon waves of new developers wanting to enter the iOS space purchase Mac computers and Mac computers alone, and those new iOS developers far outnumber the "pros" that are leaving because Apple stopped developing Aperture, or are stuck longing for a 15-year-old Mac OS 9-style interface, for examples.

Mike's right -- the number of pros coming to the Mac platform far outweighs the number of pros leaving the platform. They're just largely a different breed of "pro."
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Dec 7, 2015, 08:44 PM
 
It would be interesting to see some numbers, but I have a really hard time believing app development numbers of users are larger than creatives as a whole. More likely, if what you say is happening, is happening, it's just because not all that many non-app-making pros haven't left... yet.
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Dec 8, 2015, 01:23 PM
 
iPhone without headphone jack will FLOP.
     
   
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