Hardly a week goes by without some widely disseminated rumor about an Apple product winding its way around the Internet. Typically it's about future versions of the iPhone or iPad, but with the impending release of Apple's OS X Lion operating system update, there's been a surge in rumors about the MacBook Air laptop, the small form factor Mac Mini, and even the full-size Mac Pro desktop.
As we've always cautioned, these rumors are usually based more on wishful thinking than on hard fact (although in recent years, supplier leaks have become an invaluable resource for insider info on upcoming Apple products). Case in point, you can almost do a daily counterpoint of blog posts about how the next iPhone is going be physically identical to the iPhone 4 versus equally strident blog posts about how the next iPhone will have a radically different design.
We've summed up some of the most prevalent current Apple computer rumors below, covering the MacBook Air, Mac Mini, and Mac Pro (the MacBook Pro and iMac were updated in 2011 already, so they'll most likely remain as is for now) along with a quick gut check on each one.
With the late 2010 second-generation refresh, the thin MacBook Air has gone from niche curiosity to a fast-growing part of Apple's laptop mix, thanks especially to the handy 11-inch version and its reasonable $999 starting price.
The latest rumor making the rounds is that Apple has been working on a black version of the Air. These reports originate with a MacRumors.com post, which stated, "Over the past week, we've received several anonymous tips claiming that at least some models of the next-generation MacBook Air will be be available with a black finish." From that single source, the story quickly ricocheted around the Web, even making its way to outlets such as The Atlantic and the Huffington Post.
Apple MacBook Air fall 2010 review
Apple Mac Mini spring 2010 review
Mac OS X Lion coming in July for $29.99
A black MacBook Air or just a wish list?
Of course, about 7 hours after that original black MacBook Air rumor surfaced, MacRumors ran the other way, publishing an e-mail from a purported Apple employee, which read in part, "We tried to powder coat the Air's [sic] (and Pro's [sic] for that matter) in black as a test run...The coating looks good and holds up well, but it also soaks up body oils, making the palm rest look pretty gross. Ultimately that is the reason that the top brass (Jobs) killed the idea...it was just too easy to make the computer look like crap."
Also in the "nay" category, this alleged leak from 9to5mac.com: "A reliable source has told us that they haven't seen any black in the new MacBook Air materials."
Beyond the new color options, or lack thereof, the other longstanding MacBook Air refresh rumors concern a CPU upgrade to Intel's second-generation Core i-series processors (sometimes called Sandy Bridge) and the inclusion of a Thunderbolt port, like the ones found on current MacBook Pros. These updates, which seem likely, if not guaranteed, may well come with the release of the OS X Lion update, which is coming sometime in July.
While the proposed hardware updates seem perfectly reasonable, keep in mind that the last MacBoor Air refresh was in October 2010, which would make this a nine-month life cycle for the current models, so an updated Air may come at some point after the OS X Lion update.
The diminutive Mac Mini feels somewhat like the first-generation MacBook Air did: a niche product with a small but dedicated user base.
First spotted on micgadget.com, the latest Mac Mini rumors say the system will also get Intel's second-generation Core i-series processors and a Thunderbolt port. That means these systems would use Intel's decent-for-video integrated graphics, instead of the current Nvidia graphics (which may even make the $699 Mac Mini less expensive).
This seems as likely as not, but given that the Mac Mini isn't on a regular refresh/redesign cycle, a new version certainly isn't a sure thing for the OS X Lion release date. One wished-for upgrade we haven't even seen a rumor abut this time around is a Blu-ray drive, which would make the Mac Mini a much more useful home theater machine.
Yes, Apple still makes traditional desktops. The Mac Pro is a throwback to the glory days of hulking desktop towers, with the highest-end models running twin six-core Intel Xeon processors.
Once again, micgadget.com is the lead source for update rumors. The site claims that the Mac Pro is getting a redesigned chassis, which may also include a version that is rackmountable, perhaps replacing the current $2,999 "Server" version of the Mac Pro.
A Thunderbolt port is also part of the speculation, but the most interesting rumor is that the new Mac Pro will have a previously unseen Intel processor (perhaps the not-yet-released Xeon E5), along the lines of the exclusive Intel CPU from the original first-generation MacBook Air. This presumes that none of the current Intel Sandy Bridge processors is suitable for the Mac Pro, at least at the higher-end configurations. In these rare cases, it's usually a timed exclusive on a particular new CPU, rather than a custom-made part, which would be cost-prohibitive.
One disturbing part of the Mac Pro rumor dump is that they will lose the handy ability to hot-swap hard drives without shutting the system down.
It's worth noting that nearly all these Mac Pro and Mac Mini rumors can be traced back to a single micgadget.com post, so no matter how many times they've reverberated through the online echo chamber, there's really no independent corroboration. That said, the Pro hasn't had a serious redesign in some time, and is considered a high-end specialty product at this point; most desktop-shopping consumers gravitate toward the all-in-one iMac.
As always, Apple's official position is that it won't comment "regarding rumors and future products," as we were told when inquiring about some of these rumors. Your best bet is to hang around until the still-unspecified July release date of OS X Lion to see which, if any, of these updates actually happen.