On that rumored 12-inch MacBook Air

Rumors continue to fly about a slim, 12-inch Retina MacBook Air that could be coming later this year. Here’s the gist of it:

…a new 12 inch notebook without fan assembly. It comes with a new trackpad design that doesn’t include the mechanical button, as we do on current MacBooks.

Here’s a mention of the machine from October of last year:

We expect the unprecedented 12” model will boast both the portability of the 11” model, and productivity of the 13” model. The high resolution display will also offer the outstanding visual experience of the Retina MacBook Pro. The offering will likely be lighter and slimmer than the existing MacBook Air to further highlight ease of portability in the cloud computing era. We think the form factor will showcase a much improved clamshell structure, and that it will redefine laptop computing once again following the milestone created by the MacBook Air.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Apple views the MacBook Air as the flagship Mac these days, and that while the current design is still great, Apple likes to move the bar from time to time with popular models.

The nitty-gritty of this set of rumors is interesting to me. I’ve long complained that the 13-inch MacBook Air still takes up a sizable amount of desk/lap space. I have owned the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, and found after a while that the size was just too small for me. I think 12 inches could be a nice sweet spot.

The bit about the fan and trackpad are a little harder to swallow. Apple’s got a history of trying to ship Macs without fans — think iMac G3 and the G4 Cube — but nothing recently. The MacBook Pro with Retina display ships with asymmetric fans, and the new Mac Pro uses one large fan, but a modern Mac with no fan seems almost impossible. While my current-gen 13-inch MacBook Air runs almost silently, under load the single fan will spin up and the area around the hinge will become quite warm.

There are fanless ultrabooks on the market using Intel’s Haswell chipsets, and of course, with rumors of ARM-powered MacBooks dating back in 2011, fanless suddenly seem more possible.

Lastly, the bit about these machines coming with “a new trackpad design that doesn’t include the mechanical button” makes me sad. As shallow as the movement is on Apple’s current trackpads, the physical click gives users a sense of place and execution that that tap to click simply doesn’t. While I’m sure I would adjust over time, I find tap to click disorienting and accident-prone when I spend time with it on.

While I’m all for a silent, thin 12-inch laptop — and my guess is that it’s coming — there are a lot of questions left to be answered.

But that’s why this sort of thing is fun.