Does anyone else vividly remember the day of June 22nd, 2020? I sure do. That was the day when Apple announced that its Macs were going to transfer away from Intel processors to the company’s own silicon. That transition, Tim Cook himself claimed, would take two years.
Reader, it has been well over two years since that fateful day. Even if you start the clock at the November 2020 launch of the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, we are past due. Apple’s ambitious timeline has not come to fruition.
Let us peruse the items that are currently for sale on Apple’s website. The MacBooks have all moved over to Arm processors — we’ve got the M1 and the M2 MacBook Airs, and we’ve got the MacBook Pro 13, 14, and 16. We’ve got the 24-inch iMac (remember, the one that comes in yellow) and the Mac Mini, which are all M1. We’ve got the Mac Studio, with M1 Max and M1 Ultra options.
But then, wait, what’s this? A Mac Pro that’s Intel all the way down and hasn’t been updated since its 2019 release.
You can get all kinds of Intel chips in that Mac Pro — you can get an eight-core Xeon W, you can get a 28-core Xeon W, but what you can’t get in it is any kind of processor with M in its name.
I don’t mean to diminish the ground that Apple has broken over the past two years. We’ve watched a — just okay, let’s be honest — Intel MacBook line pass its baton to its M1 and M2-powered successors, which are arguably the best generation of MacBooks that has ever existed. We’ve gotten great results from the M1-powered iMac and Mac Mini. We’ve been rendered speechless by the power of the Mac Studio. There are M-chips in an iPad now, for Pete’s sake.
But the facts are the facts: Apple missed its self-imposed deadline. It has not successfully seeded the M chips across its Mac line.
Where is the M2-powered Mac Pro? For that matter, where are all the other M2 devices we were waiting to see this year? Apple launched the M2 chip in June 2022, after all, and it’s been kicking around in the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13, and iPad Pro. We’ve reviewed all of those devices. They’re fine — they’re faster than their M1 predecessors, and they don’t approach the multicore power of the M1 Pro or M1 Max. I mostly came out of my M2 MacBook testing process excited for what I would see out of the M2 Pro and M2 Max… which we do not yet have.
We were expecting more. There were rumors of an M2 Mac Mini, and outlets from Bloomberg to DigiTimes were reporting that we might see 14-inch and 16-inch Pro models, powered by an M2 Max chip, launching by the end of this year. We’d heard that they’d enter mass production in Q4, and we heard that suppliers were gearing up to ship them out. Contrary to expectations, Apple then did not hold a launch event (as it did in October of 2021 — last year’s 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros were announced). Instead, Apple spontaneously dropped a whole bunch of press releases in October, and they were all… iPads. iPads on iPads.
Assuming Apple doesn’t pull together another event in the next two weeks or so (although that would be hilarious, and I’d be here for it), it looks like those releases are now all going to be 2023 events.
What’s the holdup? Covid has certainly made this year’s assembly landscape somewhat unpredictable for Apple and its partners leading to factory shutdowns during various parts of the year. Supply chains have also been a giant shrug emoji in recent times, leading to delays across sectors. I imagine that these circumstances have had something to do with the slower release cycles we’re seeing, though I can only speculate.
What is clear right now is: Apple hasn’t yet been able to swing its own chips in a very high-end system. The Mac Studio is powerful, of course, and an absolutely stellar device. But the audience it’s serving is not quite the same as the Mac Pro’s audience.
In particular, it’s not nearly as configurable — the Mac Pro can be customized for a user’s or company’s specific hardware needs, with additional storage, graphics cards, and ports, in ways the Studio can’t. The Studio also maxes out at 128GB of memory, which is more than enough for the prosumer but will be inadequate for offices in, for example, many fields of math and science. And it’s also the case that some high-level professional applications still don’t run natively on Apple’s silicon — which isn’t ideal for professionals with demanding loads, regardless of how impressive Rosetta 2 is.
Given all that, it’s not necessarily surprising that we haven’t yet seen Apple’s silicon in the “Pro” category. But it is a category that Apple apparently expected to have broken into by now. This should, perhaps, be a reminder to those of us who follow the computing space, who were blown out of the water by the Mac Studio and have waited impatiently to see what uncharted heights Apple’s CPU division would climb to next. Chips are hard to build, pros are hard to please, and no company is infallible. Not even the most valuable company in the world.
The upside to all this, of course, is that next year is all the more exciting. Not only do we have all these professional M2 devices rumored to be rolling out, but all kinds of M3 devices are also rumored to be in store for later in the year, including an Air, an iMac, and a Mac Mini — and, yes, even a Mac Pro. That would be a fairly quick transition away from the M2 — but if the M3 is a more exciting chip in terms of performance gains and enterprise capability anyway, that may be for the best.