Apple Silicon Macs: Who Goes First?
With Apple's announcement last month of a processor transition from Intel CPUs to "Apple silicon" CPUs (please don't let that be the real name for these things, Apple) we are entering a new phase for the Mac. While there are many things we know about how this transition is going to go down we don't actually know what Apple silicon Macs will look like or which Macs will come first this fall. So what I want to do here is speculate about which Mac(s) might get blessed with the new hardware later this year.
Let's start by looking at the existing lineup, shall we?
- Mac Pro: Just introduced last year, not often updated in general, and likely the model with the most outstanding questions about what an Apple silicon version might look like.
- iMac: New models were announced last year but they've sported the same case design since late 2012 – and even that was a very mild redesign of the 2007 redesign, which itself was a very mild redesign that harkens back to 2004. There are rumors of new iMacs imminently and some evidence of them showing up in benchmarks.
- iMac Pro: Introduced at the end of 2017 with nary an update since, the iMac Pro is an oddity in the current lineup. I hope it's not a one-hit wonder but an iMac update may fold it in to the more broad lineup.
- Mac mini: It was "updated" this year but that was just a storage bump (having just purchased a new one, it lists itself as a 2018 model). Mac minis are not updated very frequently but it's due for a bump.
- MacBook Pro: MacBook Pro's have been revised fairly recently, with the 16" model coming at the end of last year, and 13" models coming just a couple of months ago. There are rumors of a 14" MacBook Pro to replace the 13" but I wouldn't say that these computers are screaming for an update (especially since the butterfly keyboard fiasco is now behind us).
- Macbook Air: These may be the best MacBook Air's that Apple has ever shipped. They are now retina, with the good keyboard, and at a good price for a configuration suitable for most people. The Air was just updated a couple months ago alongside the MacBook Pro.
So, with that landscape in mind, which is the best candidate for Apple silicon? That's actually really complicated.
- Apple could wait until this fall and revamp the iMac, bringing its case design forward to the modern age and giving it new life. It's worth noting that when the Intel transition came about the iMac was the first machine to get the new CPUs – a mere 3 months after its previous revision. If Apple brings out new Intel iMacs this summer don't be surprised if they revise them again in the Fall with Apple silicon chips.
- One of the big gains from this new architecture is battery life, making the new chips perfect for the MacBook Air. I mean, who wouldn't want to see an Air with a legit 20 hours of battery life? That seems like a reasonable computer we can see after the transition.
- Apple also in all likelihood wants to show off the power of their new Mac CPUs. The DTK that many developers are playing around with right now has the 2018-era A12z inside, and in emulation mode that is benchmarking comparable to 2015-era Macs. Once we start seeing apps built for Apple silicon and running on 2020-era CPUs I'm guessing the performance is going to be stunning. Even the MacBook Air I just talked about may get performance close to today's MacBook Pro. Apple surely wouldn't want its Pro laptops being outperformed by its consumer notebook.
So here's my prediction:
Apple is going to revise every Mac this fall with Apple silicon – save the Mac Pro. Yes, even the Mac mini will come along for the ride (it's the chassis for the DTK after all, so it seems simple enough for Apple to put a different board in it with production-ready CPUs on it). I think that Apple becoming their own Mac CPU vendor is going to lend itself to even more secrecy and it seems like they have a lot up their collective sleeves.
Will this happen? I don't know, and honestly I doubt it. But it's fun to speculate nonetheless. And it's also a really fun time to be a Mac user.