Though it's easy to forget given all the media attention lavished on iOS and the Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report hardware relying on it, the Mac family still represents Apple's second-largest business after the iPhone. And if the company's event today lives up to expectations, that business should be set up for a strong finish to the year.
At its event to be held at 1 p.m. Eastern time at Apple's Cupertino headquarters, the company is widely expected to deliver the first refreshes for its MacBook Pro and Air lines since May and March 2015, respectively. A refresh for the iMac desktop line, which last got an update in October 2015, is also possible.
In July, Bloomberg reported the MacBook Pro line, which first received a major overhaul in 2012, will be updated with slightly thinner models sporting OLED touch screen strips at the top instead of the usual function keys. The systems will also have a wider Force Touch trackpad and USB-C ports -- they support both data transfers and charging, and are already found on Apple's Retina MacBooks. They will also have an option for a high-performance AMD (AMD) - Get Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. Report GPU based on the chipmaker's recently-launched Polaris architecture.
Meanwhile, an August Bloomberg report stated Apple is prepping new MacBook Air models featuring reversible USB-C ports, along with iMacs featuring optional AMD GPUs. A newer report from Japanese site Mac Otakara says the new MacBook Pro and Air units will feature high-speed Thunderbolt 3 ports to go with USB-C ports.
Interestingly, Mac Otakara also suggests Apple will discontinue the 11-inch MacBook Air in favor of just selling 13-inch Air models. With an $899 starting price, the 11-inch Air is Apple's cheapest notebook. The 13-inch Air starts at $999.
Given Apple's preference for using Intel's (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation (INTC) Reportlatest processors in its Mac refreshes, it's likely all of the new hardware will sport chips based on Intel's just-launched Kaby Lake architecture. The MacBook Pros and Airs launched last year feature processors based on Intel's Broadwell architecture, which first debuted in 2014.
The replacement of physical function keys with an OLED touch strip should make it possible for the keys' commands to change based on whichever app happens to be running at a given time. Bloomberg noted it could also let Apple "add new buttons via software updates."
The move appears to be part of a broader effort by Apple to reimagine the keyboard. The Wall Street Journalreported last week that Apple is partnering with Australian startup Sonder Design to launch MacBooks that replace physical keyboards with e-ink displays similar to the ones found on Amazon's Kindle e-readers, and whose keys could be changed on the fly. However, these notebooks reportedly aren't due before 2018.
This year's refresh aims to strengthen Mac sales at a time when they've been pressured by both a stale lineup -- other than the 12-inch Retina MacBook, which launched in April 2015 and was refreshed a year later, no new Macs have arrived in 2016 -- and a weak PC market. Apple's Mac revenue fell 13% annually in the second calendar quarter to $5.2 billion (12% of total revenue), and research firm IDC estimates Mac shipments fell 13% in the third quarter to 5 million. Apple will provide its official shipment figure for the quarter in its next earnings report, which arrives on Tuesday afternoon.
In addition, providing a big refresh for the MacBook Pro in particular should boost enterprise-related Mac sales. With the help of favorable demographics, partnerships with corporate tech giants such as IBM (IBM) - Get International Business Machines (IBM) Report and Cisco (CSCO) - Get Cisco Systems, Inc. Report , and a surge in the number of professionals using their own hardware at work, Apple's enterprise push has been gradually gaining momentum.
While not on par with an iPhone launch in importance, Apple's Mac event is arguably the largest event for its computer business in at least a couple of years, and the reception for the products announced is bound to have an impact on its December quarter.