A new Mac is in the pipeline and it will run on Apple Silicon - that's the name Apple is using for its custom-made ARM-based chips that it will be transitioning to over the next two years, with the first Apple Silicon powered Mac launching before the end of 2020.
Apple's already revealed that a Mac mini will provide the case for the first such Mac, but this will be available only for developers. You are no doubt wondering when this Mac will be available for you - enticed no doubt by the promise of being able to run iOS and iPad apps natively on the new Mac.
Apple's said that the first Mac with the Apple Silicon chip will arrive by the end of 2020. It might seem likely that this new Mac will also take on the form of the Mac mini - but as you will see if you read on, it looks likely that it will first arrive in the 13in MacBook Pro and then the MacBook Air.
In this article we'll look into Apple's plans to start using its own ARM-based SoCs rather than Intel chips in its Macs. We'll address the release date of this new Mac that could be capable of running both iOS and macOS, its price, what we know so far about these next-gen Apple-made processors, and what it might mean for the included graphics.
What is Apple Silicon?
Apple has announced that it will be moving away from Intel processors inside its Macs to its own home-made processors - called Apple Silicon. You may have heard them referred to as ARM processors, that's because the architecture that underlies them is known as ARM. Apple's been making its own processors for a while now - every iPhone, iPad, and many other Apple products have Apple processors inside. Indeed, some Macs already have an Apple processor inside - the T1 and T2 are ARM-based security related chips that appear in various Macs.
This won't be the first time Apple has made such a transition, in 2006 it moved from PowerPC chips to Intel. Just as was the case back then, this latest move won't happen overnight and there will be a lot of work involved behind the scenes, not just for Apple but also for developers who will need to translate their apps to run on the new architecture (although initially apps will be automatically translated using Apple's Rosetta system). We have everything you need to know about Apple Silicon here. You might also be interested to read about how Apple Silicon will compare to Intel here.
First Apple Silicon Mac launch date
Apple has confirmed that the first ARM Mac will arrive before the end of 2020. If you are wondering when that first Apple Silicon-powered Mac or MacBook will launch you are in the right place to find out!
Actually there is already an Apple Silicon powered Mac out there - Apple is already shipping a Mac mini with a A12Z installed to developers who are part of the macOS Big Sur beta testing program. This Mac mini uses the same processor as the iPad Pro.
However, when it comes to the first Apple Silicon Mac for everyone else it looks like it will be a MacBook.
In July 2020 TF International Securities Ming Chi Kuo predicted that the first Mac to feature this new Apple processor will be the 13in MacBook Pro. He suggests that it will go in to production in the fourth quarter of 2020, as per an MacRumors report.
On the basis of his prediction we would expect the 13in MacBook Pro with Apple Silicon to launch in October 2020 - that being the usual time frame for new Mac launches.
Kuo is usually accurate. He said back in March 2020 - before Apple announced the transition from Intel - that the new ARM-based Mac could arrive before the end of 2020.
A twitter user has gone as far as to predicted the 27 October as the launch date for the new Silicon Mac. @ihacktu (aka iHacktu Pro) tweeted that the keynote at which Apple would present the iPad Pro and the first ARM Macs would take place on Tuesday 27 October. The 24 July tweet has now been deleted (of course).
Silicon MacBook price
That same tweeter also clained that the new Silicon MacBook will cost just $800. He also suggests that the 13in MacBook Pro will start at the $1,099 (it's currently $1,299). More information here: Silicon MacBook could launch on 27 October and cost $800.
What will the first Apple Silicon Mac be?
- 13in MacBook Pro - forth quarter 2020
- MacBook Air - forth quarter 2020 / first quarter 2021
- 16in MacBook Pro - second quarter 2021 / third quarter 2021
- 14in MacBook Pro - second quarter 2021 / third quarter 2021
As we said above, it looks likely that the first Mac to get an Apple Silicon processor will be the 13in MacBook Pro.
After the 13in MacBook Pro the next Mac to gain an Apple Silicon processor will be the MacBook Air, according to Kuo. The updated Air could arrive later this year or early next, he said.
After the 13in MacBook Pro and Air receive their Apple processor update, Kuo suggests that next in line will be the 16in MacBook Pro and the long rumoured 14in MacBook Pro. In addition to the new Apple processor these models will gain a "completely new form factor design" according to Kuo. Those Macs are unlikely to be updated until 2021 though. Kuo suggests that these new MacBook Pro models won't ship until late 2Q21 or 3Q21.
If you are wondering where the Mac desktops figure in this line up, Kuo has made no announcements relating to Apple's plans to transition desktop Macs such as the iMac. With the iMacs expected to be updated soon it seems likely that these will retain Intel processors - Apple has confirmed that it still intends to launch some Intel Macs in the next year or so. So it seems likely the iMac won't see Apple Silicon processors until late 2021 or even 2022.
As for the Mac mini, you may be thinking that with there already being a Mac mini running on the same chip as the iPad Pro - albeit one for developers - the Mac mini would be a prime candidate for Apple Silicon. The Mac mini is also due an update, having not been updated since 2018 aside from an increase in the amount of storage you get as standard. However, it's not clear when this update will happen. It will probably be determined by who Apple's target audience is for the Mac mini - is it a consumer Mac, or is it a Mac that is used for "industrial grade tasks" as Apple puts it? The company suggests the Mac mini "powers everything from home automation to giant render farms," in its product pages.
It seems that the consumer Macs are the Macs that are in the line to transition away from Intel first, perhaps because it will take longer for Apple to produce chips that are suitable for professional machines. More on what you can expect from the specs of these new machines below.
Apple doesn't expect the transition to happen overnight. Apple said that it will be two years before it completes its transition to Apple Silicon from Intel when it revealed its plans during the WWDC presentation in June 2020.
What will the Apple Silicon Macs cost?
Making its own processors in house could theoretically mean that Apple can save money. However, it's unlikely that will translate into a price drop for consumers. Apple is likely to plough more money into the research and development for these chips, so there are unlikely to really be any cost savings for the company.
In fact, it's often the case that when Apple introduces a new product the price goes up. So the first generation Apple Silicon Macs could actually cost more than their predecessors.
However, we think that in this instance Apple will want to make the upgrade attractive to consumers and for that reason we expect that the pricing will be similar to what it is now.
First Apple Silicon Mac specs
Aside from the Apple Processor inside this new Mac, what other specs can we expect to see?
It's possible that these first Macs to use Apple Silicon will not change in any other way - we may see the same RAM and storage allocation for example.
However, as we mentioned above, the specs of consumer focused Macs are very different to those destined for professional users - especially professional creatives. The GPU provision of Silicon Macs is the most obvious question - and the biggest concern - there.
Currently most consumer Macs, with their Intel processors, have Intel integrated graphics. What graphics will the new Apple Silicon Macs offer?
Apple told developers at WWDC that Apple Silicon Macs will sport custom Apple GPUs. In a developer support document Apple advises not to underestimate an integrated Apple GPU, saying: "Don't assume a discrete GPU means better performance... The integrated GPU in Apple processors is optimized for high performance graphics tasks."
At least for consumer Macs using an Apple integrated GPU would make sense, and it shouldn't be a huge leap for the company - Apple already makes its own GPUs for the iPhone and iPad.
However, when it comes to pro focused Macs, such as those that currently use AMD GPUs the transition will be more complex. The company may continue to use these high-end graphics processors. Alternatively, this may also explain why the iMac and other pro-focused desktops and laptops won't be transitioning to Apple Silicon soon.
When Apple is able to use Apple Silicon inside it's Macs it may pave the way for Face ID on the Mac. There is evidence in the Big Sur beta that the TrueDepth camera is going to become a feature of the MacBook range, enabling Face ID.
First Apple Silicon Mac software
We know that the first Apple Silicon Macs will run macOS Big Sur - the operating system that is being developed for both types of Mac. However, there is a lot that these new Silicon Macs will be able to do that their Intel counterparts won't.
The WWDC keynote suggested that it will be possible to run iOS apps on the new Silicon-powered Mac.
This means that developers won't have to develop separate versions of their apps for Mac and iOS/iPad OS - one app could work on all platforms.
This reminds us of a 9to5Mac report back in May 2018 that revealed details of an in-house project as Apple codenamed 'Star' that suggested that Apple was creating an ARM-based processor to be used in a "brand-new device family" that would run a derivative of iOS on a Mac.
That 'Star' project related to a product with that has "a touchscreen, a SIM card slot, GPS, compass, is water-resistant and also runs EFI," according to 9to5Mac. EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) is the boot system used by Macs.
Wouldn't it be nice if this new Apple Silicon Mac had a touch screen? Speaking of which, this is why we think Apple needs a touchscreen Mac.