Your Mac laptop is so old, its system font is based on hieroglyphics. Time to upgrade! But what if when you do, Apple releases another, better Mac, for less money? That’s always the worry.
This article can help. We’ve explored the current state of play with Apple’s Mac line-up, interpreted the rumour coos of the patented prediction pigeon, and for each model offered a shiny ‘Stuff says’ buying recommendation.
Apple’s ‘Scary Fast’ event in October last year saw the debut of the M3 processor, with performance upgrades from the previous M2. These new processors are being manufactured on the new 3nm process from TSMC, like the new A17 Pro chip from the iPhone 15. And most importantly? They’re headed to even more new Macs.
As for the current generation, Apple’s most recent Mac announcements were at WWDC 2023. Here are our stories on all three:
- Apple launches new 15-inch MacBook Air powered by M2
- Apple’s Mac Studio gets supercharged with M2 Max and M2 Ultra options
- Ultra-powerful Mac Pro finally gets Apple silicon treatment
Also check out our main guide to the different MacBooks available: Which is the best MacBook for you? Apple MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro.
When we’re expecting each Mac to be upgraded
The state of play: The M1 MacBook Air rocked up in late 2020. We liked its innards (great battery; zoomy chip; fab display) but were less enamored by the chunky bezels on the unchanged case – and the rubbish webcam. Then Apple revealed the M2 MacBook Air at its developer conference (WWDC) in 2022. It brought a new design that fixed our issues with the old one, along with the new M2 processor that delivers more power, a better keyboard and MagSafe charging. And now there’s a 15in version of that model that launched at Apple’s 2023 Apple developer conference (WWDC23) with M2.
What’s next: Following the M2-powered MacBook Air, its design should stay current for at least a few years – even if the underlying components get renewed annually. We are not expecting a new M3 version in 2023, though there surely will be an upgrade in 2024. We’re expecting to see an M3 upgrade this year. In previous years, Apple has debuted the latest models in the spring. With a rumoured March event, we could see the M3 MacBook Air models launch here. It looks like we’ll get the 13in and 15in versions at the same time, and don’t expect any design changes.
Stuff says: If you don’t need pro-grade power, the M2 MacBook Air is the Apple laptop to buy. Although, it’s difficult to ignore the bang-for-buck of the older M1 version. With the 15in version, a bigger screen is always nice, but it’s getting trickier to pick the perfect model for you.
The state of play: The MacBook Pro with M1 arrived alongside the M1-powered Air in late 2020. The 13in case was dated even then, and it continues to linger like a bad smell today. The 14in MacBook Pro and 16in MacBook Pro that turned up in 2021 were a breath of fresh air, with a new design, revamped display, better camera and improved I/O. The Touch Bar got deleted, too. Those models used M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which have since been replaced with more powerful M2 Pro and M2 Max versions – as seen in our 2023 MacBook Pro review.
What’s next: M3 Pro and M3 Max MacBooks are already here, so don’t expect a processor upgrade until the end of this year, at the earliest. Elsewhere, Apple’s said to be exploring eye-searing OLED displays and Face ID too (about time!). OLED displays for Macs are said to have been delayed – perhaps until 2027 due to manufacturing issues. This seems a long way off for us when the iPad Pro line-up looks to be getting OLED displays in 2024. However, some think there will be much less time to wait.
Whatever the situation with the display, expect the case design to stay the same for the next generation. The 13in MacBook Pro was discontinued back in October, so the next upgrades will most likely be the M4 models later this year.
Stuff says: The sheer power of the 14in and 16in models means that even if Apple updates them over the next few weeks, today’s versions will still be a good investment and you might get a bargain.
Round the bend: the folding MacBook Pro
MacRumors reports a foldable MacBook Pro device is on the cards at some point. Although given how much Mac users hated the Touch Bar, we shudder to think what they’d make of an entire keyboard being a glass surface when the device is in ‘laptop’ mode.
The state of play: The Mac Mini is still using the case from the 2018 model, and the guts from what’s inside the M2 MacBook Air but with a few extra ports (2x USB-A, HDMI, gigabit Ethernet). It’s now a little bit cheaper for the standard Mac Mini M2 version. But, it is also available with the M2 Pro should you want more power. There’s now no Intel version available.
What’s next: The Mac Mini will surely be updated with the upcoming M3 chip. There is no news on a redesign of the case though. It’s most charitably described as ‘classic’.
Stuff says: If you want a desk-bound Mac, you’d do a lot worse than to get one of these.
The state of play: We weren’t convinced about the April 2021 M1 iMac on seeing photos of it, but on review discovered it’s a beauty. Well, at least in purple (Ed: and yellow). It’s a solid performer too, if since eclipsed by M1/M2 Pro and M1/M2 Max Macs.
What’s next: A 2023 M3 iMac replaced the M1 version, as we expected. So, for the time being, don’t expect any further updates to this model for a couple of years. Further in the future, expect a mini LED panel with ProMotion and FaceTime. Apple has also tested Face ID for the Mac.
There’s also the thorny issue of the 27in iMac, which Apple killed after the iMac Pro which Apple also killed. Rumours are mixed whether Apple will replace it and given that it hasn’t already, one has to suggest that it probably won’t get replaced.
If a 27in replacement model does appear, assume it’ll have design language close to the MacBook Pro: black bezels and boring grey. Or maybe it’ll be an Apple Studio Display with an iMac inside rather than an iPad – and hopefully a better camera too…
Stuff says: The M1 24in iMac is great, and nearly identical to the newer M3 model. With the only difference being the processor inside, you can get away with the older offering if you don’t need the extra power.
The state of play: We reviewed the Mac Studio, in March 2022. Our verdict? It’s superb, but surprisingly noisy.
What’s next: An M2 Ultra version of the Studio has now debuted alongside an M2 Max version. And the numbers are mind-boggling with up to a 24-core CPU, plus up to 76-core GPU for those that need some serious power. The M2 Ultra can also support up to 192GB of unified memory. Apple says that the latest Mac Studio is up to 4x faster than the most powerful Intel-based 27-inch iMac was (RIP).
Stuff says: There will surely be an M3 Ultra Mac Studio. Given how recently it was updated with M2 Ultra, that’s one for later this year.
The state of play: We last coo’d at the Mac Pro in person during WDC 2019. We can say for sure: 1) it looks great; 2) it at the time was insanely powerful, and; 3) the very serious Apple guardian near the wheeled unit we saw didn’t take kindly to a quip it’d be fun to “ride around on, like in a game of Mario Kart”. However, since then, the game has most definitely changed.
What’s next: The Mac Pro was the last Mac to shift to Apple silicon. It’s now running on M2 Ultra, with a 24-core CPU and up to a 76-core GPU, 192GB of unified memory, and 8TB of internal SSD storage. As with other Mac Pros, it’s modular with 7 PCIe Gen 4 slots, eight Thunderbolt 4 ports and support for 22 streams of 8K ProRes content. It’s basically a Mac Studio but with complete hardware customisation.
Stuff says: If you need the ultimate in power and hardware customisation – in other words, you are probably editing a Hollywood movie – this machine is the best of the best. The Mac Studio is a way better option for most though. Expect it to shift to M3 Ultra in 2024.
Now read: Which is the best MacBook for you?