This is the third in a series of posts I’ll be doing through the end of the year looking at where each of Apple’s major product lines are at going into the new year. Here’s previous pieces on the iPhone and iPad.
How the year started
It would be an understatement to say Apple’s Mac lineup has had a major revitalization over the past few years. The M1 shook up everything in late 2020, and the Mac has only gotten into a better spot each year since then. At of the start of 2023, every Mac had been migrated to Apple silicon except the Mac Pro, meaning effectively everyone who wanted a new Mac was able to get something stupidly fast and efficient; for most buyers, they were getting a Mac that was a significant upgrade over any Intel Mac.
Oh, and we were well into the generation of Macs where Apple was listening more to user feedback, as they added back many of the ports they killed in the late Ive years, removed the Touch Bar from all but one MacBook Pro model, and brought back fan-favorite MagSafe. Basically, the Mac was on fire (in a good way) starting the year.
2023 was barely 2 weeks old when we got the first new Macs, and some new M2 chips to go with them. The M2 Pro and Max shipped in the new MacBook Pros, and they were iterative updates over the M1 14” and 16” models that came before, but that was exactly what we wanted. Apple nailed the design in 2021, and this speed bump was great to see. They even took some of the criticisms about the M1 models, such as the HDMI port, and upgraded to a newer spec for improved functionality.
I personally use a 14” M2 Pro MacBook Pro, which was an upgrade over my M1 variant of the same machine. I didn’t need the extra performance, but I desperately needed more internal storage, and the sealed in nature of Macs these days meant the only way to do that was to buy a whole new computer. This is madness, and I desperately hope that we return to upgradable storage one day.
Then in October Apple unveiled the M3 lineup, and we got a second round of upgrades to the 14” and 16” models, as well as the retirement of the 13” Pro. It was a great move, and removing the 13” Touch Bar model from the lineup is a good move and added clarity to Apple’s Mac vision.
And while I won’t give the M2 and M3 families their own section, I’ll also mention here that the M2 upgrades were solid, but not as significant as people might have hoped for, but it seems like the M3 is really delivering, and high end users who need all the power they can get, can easily justify and M1 to M3 upgrade this year. But because the M1 was so good, I don’t think the majority of M1 owners are feeling any significant pain yet, and I suspect they’ll be quite happy for a few more years.
It was a quieter year for the Air, but we did get the long-rumored 15” model, as well as a price cut to the 13” model, bringing the starting price more in line with what we’d want from the Air lineup. The M1 does stick around in that $999 price point, but for only $100 more, the M2 model seems like a no-brainer for most people.
And on the point of product line clarity, Mac laptops are super clear right now: the Air is the thinnest and lightest model they make and is a very good computer, but if you need more power, a better screen, or more I/o, then the MacBook Pro is for you. Everything from price points to design languages lines up perfectly.
We got a new iMac this year, and it’s a simple spec bump to the M3 processor, which is totally fine.
I’d love to know what percentage of Mac sales the iMac accounts for, because it feels like a super niche product to me, but maybe there’s a bigger market out there than I realize.
Much like the MacBook Pros, the Mac Studio got a straight spec bump to the M2 chips, although it didn’t get the M3 upgrade like the MacBook Pros. Even still, I think the Mac Studio is a great high end Mac.
On the other end of the spectrum, we got the Mac Pro, which is basically a Mac Studio with PCIe expansion slots. The cheapest model costs $6,999, which has the exact same specs as the Mac Studio which costs $3,000 less for those specs. And in terms of top end performance, there’s no upgrade the Mac Pro gets that the Mac Studio doesn’t also have available…and always at $3,000 cheaper.
The Mac Pro also lost its ability to be upgraded, so just like your iPhone, the performance, RAM, and storage you select on day one is what you’ll have forever. In fairness, you can mount internal SSDs in the PCIe mounts, so in that one way the base specs are more upgradable than a phone, but this is quite the difference from what we used to have with the Mac Pro.
And it must be said that while Apple silicon consistently win the power-per-watt battle, the pure power battle is still handily won by Intel/AMD/NVIDIA. Apple simply isn’t playing that game today, and while that’s fine for most people, that is a need for some buyers and Apple doesn’t have a machine for them right now.
So yeah, unless you really need those expansion slots or the extra HDMI and 2 Thunderbolt ports, basically everyone should get the Mac Studio and spend the thousands of dollars you saved on other equipment.
The Mac Mini got a really nice upgrade this year, not only getting the M2 processor, but also getting an M2 Pro option, making it a more compelling little computer for more people. The Mac Mini could stand to get a case shrink at some point, but a small, low-power Mac is just so useful for so many situations. They’re used in server farms, many corporations use them internally, and people like me use them as NAS alternatives.
What I expect in 2024
We just got the M3 processor line, and we haven’t seen the M3 Ultra yet, so I’d expect to see that family completed in early 2024, with the Mac Studio and Mac Pro getting updated at the same time.
The MacBook Air and Mac Mini will surely get M3 variants as well, and I don’t think they will get any other notable changes. Again, I’d love to see a case size reduction in the Mini, but it doesn’t seem to be a big pain point and I don’t see Apple changing it until it is. The Air is already in great shape, so of course there won’t be a change there, although I’d love to see a fun color introduced into the lineup. They teased us with the iMac and don’t seem to want to bring those fun colors anywhere else!
Which brings us to the M4 family of chips, which I’m expecting to launch late in the year, likely once again in October. I don’t want to just say they’ll do the same thing they did this year, but I do think it made a lot of sense to launch the new chip in the MacBook Pros first, so I’d expect those to be updated on day one, and anything else is a bonus.
Overall, I think 2024 is going to be another great year for anyone buying a new Mac. Everything in the lineup today, December 29, 2023 is a great computer, and unless they do something inconceivably stupid next year, everything is just going to get a bit better in 2024.