Apple gives up Intel and drives the development of its own ARM-based Apple Silicon processors. This will increase both the performance and efficiency of its Mac lineup, according to the company. Apple says the first of these new Macs will be with us before the end of 2020 – so what exactly should we expect?
We've rounded up the latest news and rumors on this new era in Apple computers, from expected prices to performance to internal specs. If you want to know about the upcoming Apple Silicon Macs, you can find it here.
Price and release date
At its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2020, Apple announced that its first Apple Silicon Macs would hit the market at the end of the year. The transition will take around two years. This suggests that the first Apple Silicon Mac is basically finished and ready to go, so we might not have to wait long.
With Apple's September event in the background, it is likely that Apple will announce its first Apple Silicon MacBooks alongside the new iPhone 12 at an alleged October event.
Apple traditionally launches new Macs this fall, with the MacBook Pro 16, Mac Pro, and updated MacBook Air and Mac mini marking this pattern in recent years. The first Apple Silicon Macs are expected to follow – despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Apple was confident of announcing the "end of 2020" date. The Twitter leaker Komiya has proposed an announcement date for October with a dispatch date of November or December.
The prices are a little more uncertain. Given the additional research and development costs for Apple Silicon processors (Apple can't just buy the chips like Intel does), we wouldn't be surprised if the current starting prices for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro rose by $ 999 and $ 1,299, respectively. respectively. We could be wrong, however – when Apple replaced the MacBook Pro 15 with the massively redesigned MacBook Pro 16, it did so without even increasing the price.
Komiya has suggested that the Air could debut at $ 799 while the Pro would hit $ 1,099. Take this with a grain of salt – no Mac has ever launched as cheap as $ 799, and a $ 200 drop in price for the Pro while getting a brand new processor feels like a stretch. Of course we would be happy if we turned out to be wrong!
Which one comes first
Before the end of 2020, Apple technically opted for only one Apple Silicon Mac. That doesn't mean we'll only get one, of course, but there are three options on the table that could hit the market this year: the MacBook 12-inch, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro 13-inch.
Earlier reports from DigiTimes and Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said that both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro would take the lead in Apple's silicon transition. But which comes first It's getting hazy here. The reports leave room for one of the models to possibly start one at a time.
Recent rumors, such as a China Times report, claim that the first Apple Silicon Mac will be the 12-inch MacBook. Nothing is certain, but a MacBook in 2020 followed by a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro update in early 2021 makes sense. In the last major update to its laptop lineup, Apple led the introduction of the MacBook 12-inch in 2015.
MacBook 12 inches
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The controversial design was discontinued earlier this year and replaced more completely with the MacBook Air. The MacBook, Apple's most experimental laptop, included a number of features including the butterfly keyboard, fanless components, and the single USB-C port. At $ 1,299, it was never Apple's cheapest laptop either.
A detailed report in August outlined some of the key specifications and features of the upcoming MacBook 12-inch. It's said to come with a 12-inch Retina display and will continue to support a USB-C port and weigh less than 2.2 pounds. That was already the case with the previous MacBook, which weighed 2.03 pounds.
Thanks to the efficiency of the ARM-based processor, this new MacBook is said to last between 15 and 20 hours on a single charge.
Apple has stated in the past that it will continue to iterate on the butterfly keyboard, and a new MacBook could be the perfect place to bring it back. Let's just hope it has evolved a bit since then.
After all, this new MacBook is said to be available at an aggressive new price point of just $ 750.
MacBook Pro 13 inch
The 13-inch MacBook Pro was last updated in May. It was converted to the 10th generation processors from Intel and equipped with the new Magic keyboard. Updating a MacBook model twice in a year is not unprecedented – it happened, for example, in 2019 with the MacBook Pro 16-inch.
However, the design has not changed since 2016. According to analysts and leakers, the first Apple Silicon MacBook Pro 13-inch model will stick to the current design – large frames and everything.
On the flip side, there is a lot of talk about Apple releasing a 14-inch MacBook Pro with thinner bezels to replace the MacBook Pro 13. This would mirror what Apple did with the 16-inch MacBook Pro that replaced the 15-inch model in late 2019. This revamped model may have been delayed for a future update.
A recently filed patent application revealed that Apple is working on super-slim bezels for future MacBooks that would be even thinner than what is currently on the MacBook Pro 16-inch. However, we believe that these are probably still a long way off and will certainly not make it into the first line of Apple Silicon Macs.
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
After all, the MacBook Air is one of the first MacBooks to be updated with Apple Silicon. Like the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the Air was last updated earlier this spring, which would make this a quick turnaround for an update.
There weren't many details about physical changes to the design of the MacBook Air. Like the recently updated iPad Air, the MacBook Air could strike a balance between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro.
However, there is a chance that the MacBook Air brand is extending to the rumored 12-inch MacBook design as well. The MacBook Air name was brought back in 2018 due to the popularity of the original MacBook Air, making it an especially valuable piece of marketing. Cutting out the name "MacBook" wouldn't fit the iPad segmentation neatly, but it could entice buyers to try an otherwise controversial design.
There's evidence to support a MacBook Air adopting the MacBook design, and it affects an important detail of the Twitter speaker, Komiya: the MacBook Air will be fanless. That goes well with other rumors that Apple is working on a 12-inch Mac laptop. This device was fanless and was also 12 inches in size. Could Apple be reviving this laptop, perhaps under the name MacBook Air or an entirely new name? It has been rumored before, so it certainly is a possibility. The other option is that Apple Silicon is so energy efficient that it simply doesn't need a fan for the lighter workloads the MacBook Air typically handles.
Apple loves to keep its secrets tight, but despite its best efforts, some clues about Apple Silicon’s performance have slipped out of hand. The company was very detailed when it announced Apple Silicon at WWDC, but leaked benchmarks and reports have shown how Apple plans to power its new MacBooks.
A report from Bloomberg indicates that Apple may be working on three Mac-specific variants of the A14 processor, the same chip that will power the upcoming iPhones and iPads. The three flavors may allow Apple to vary the computing power of its MacBook lineup, from entry-level options like the 12-inch MacBook to the MacBook Pro.
The first Apple Silicon Mac will run on the A14X, which is internally codenamed "Tonga". This is the same chip that will appear in the next iPad Pro, according to the China Times report. Using ARM's big.LITTLE architecture, the A14X is said to have 12 cores – eight high-performance cores and four efficiency cores.
But how fast do these chips run on the Mac platform? Well, at the end of June 2020 we got wind of leaked benchmarks from the Apple Developer Transition Kit. This is a Mac mini that is equipped with an Apple silicon chip that developers can use to port their apps to the new processor architecture. According to the Geekbench 5 benchmarks, the kit scored between 752 and 844 for single-core performance and between 2,582 and 2,962 for multi-core performance. These have been inherited from Macs that are running Rosetta 2 emulation software and that do not run natively on MacOS.
July brought the first native benchmarks, in which Apple Silicon reached 1,098 in the single-core and 4,555 in the multi-core test. This is a massive increase from the early benchmarks and shows more of what Apple Silicon could be capable of when it debuted later this year. The first Apple Silicon Macs should be even faster because the developer kit used the current A12Z Bionic chip instead of the upcoming A14 chips.
Other expected specifications
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
Besides the impressive performance, what else could we see in the first Apple Silicon MacBooks? As it turns out, quite a bit.
As already mentioned, the functions of the current MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are a dead certificate, at least for the first series of Apple Silicon Macs. That means Magic Keyboard and Touch ID (and Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro).
Leaks indicated other specifications. For example, MacRumors mentioned the battery, which is likely to be included in the next MacBook Air. The 49.9 Wh battery is registered with Korea Safety Certification and has a capacity of 4380 mAh. This is the same battery that Apple used in recent MacBook Air versions. However, Apple claims that its own processors have made big gains in efficiency, which means you can get significantly longer battery life with the same battery than in previous years.
Elsewhere, Twitter leaker Komiya has published a number of specifications expected for the first Apple Silicon MacBooks. They include the following options:
- RAM: 8 GB, 16 GB, 32 GB
- SSD: 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, 4 TB
- Four USB-C ports
- Two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports depending on the model (note that this is not Thunderbolt 4).
This last point is a bit unclear. You might be able to buy an Apple Silicon MacBook that has four USB-C ports, two of which run at Thunderbolt 3 speeds and the remaining two run at USB-C speeds. Alternatively, Komiya could have meant there were options for two Thunderbolt 3 ports or four Thunderbolt 3 ports (which use the USB-C form factor), as is the case with current MacBook Pro 13 models.
In both cases, the details are identical to those of the current generation MacBook Pro laptops, confirming the belief that the first Apple Silicon Macs will be like their predecessors for everything but the chip.
What we want to see
Apple Silicon is the beginning of a new era for the Mac that opens up all kinds of exciting possibilities for the future. Aside from what we've heard about the grapevine, there are a few other things we'd love to see in the first Apple Silicon MacBooks.
Face recognition comes first. We said before that this would be the perfect addition to the Mac, but it has never felt so immediate. This is because code revealed in MacOS Big Sur strongly suggests that Apple is working to incorporate Face ID into the Mac, with references to FaceDetect and BioCapture (these references are similar to those used to implement Face ID in iOS be used). Better late than never!
We'd also love to see thinner bezels on every Apple Silicon laptop. Currently, the MacBook Pro 16 is the only one that has lost some weight in this area. Most of Apple's laptops have been outperformed by competitors such as the Dell XPS 17. However, this may change due to the aforementioned patent with ultra-thin MacBook Pro display bezels. The problem, however, is face recognition. If the frames are as thin as possible, how would the face recognition cameras and sensors be integrated into the frame? Given the code references to Face ID, we think these sensors will stay here for the time being – and the slim bezels may be a bit far away.
Speaking of the display, a mini LED screen is also on our wish list. Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple is using this high-end technology to prepare a number of laptops (and devices like the iPad Pro). Haven't heard of Mini-LED yet? The number of LEDs present in the display is drastically increased, which means that many of the advantages of OLED are achieved without burn-in problems. Kuo expects it won't arrive until 2021 (likely along with the MacBook Pro 14), but we're looking for the distant chance it might arrive this year.