Editor’s Note: New OFB contributor D. Griffin Jones peers into 2022 and offers a roundup of everything Apple is expected to release in the upcoming year. We are excited to welcome Mr. Jones to our family of contributors!
Apple’s transition away from Intel to their own silicon chips for their Mac computers enters its final phase. The end of last year saw Apple’s M1 chip swapped inside the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. This year, the iMac and MacBook Pro were each radically redesigned around the new architecture, the latter receiving the more powerful M1 Pro and M1 Max. What’s left on the plate? The Pro desktops: the big iMac, the high-end Mac Mini and the Mac Pro.
Not all of these rumors are new—some of my report from last year still carries over this year. I theorize that Apple actually hoped to be farther along by now. While they are still on track to complete their two year transition in two years, Apple likes to underpromise and overdeliver whenever possible. Their last chip transition took less than half the promised time.
Much could be ascertained about this product from what we know about the post-Apple silicon iMac and MacBook Pro, which has now been backed up by rumors—it will take the place of the 27″ iMac Pro currently sold with Intel processors; it will have a brighter mini-LED display with more colors and a higher refresh rate; it will come with the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips.
Once again, Face ID is thrown in as a possible feature. The aforementioned 9to5Mac article connects the dots that this iMac will be the desktop brother to the new MacBook Pro, which, I would like to point out, lacks Face ID. As I have written before, it is not impossible but I find it highly unlikely Face ID will be brought to the Mac in the foreseeable future.
Since the dawn of the portable computer, laptops have been more expensive than their desktop counterparts. They require more complex engineering to get all the parts in a smaller package that is as powerful while energy efficient. Desktop PCs simply match standardized interchangeable parts into a box-shaped package that is sold at a high scale.
Many of the forces that created this effect are changing for Apple. Laptops are outselling desktops by a huge margin, so they have economic scale on their side. Apple producing their own chips that integrate CPU, GPU and memory together in one package means that a formerly significant cost is now reduced and amortized across their entire lineup. Not to mention, Apple refuses to design a basic parts bin desktop computer—everything must be beautifully precision-machined from solid aluminum.
All of this is to say that the display is now significantly tied to the cost of the machine. A Pro iMac may be more expensive than an equivalent MacBook Pro, not the other way around, because the iMac will have a bigger display. How much more expensive will it be? Hard to say. According to the current display market, if you would like a 27″ version of the MacBook Pro display with similar specs (a 5K resolution, a mini-LED panel, a 120 Hz refresh rate, 1600 nits peak brightness and billions of colors) that will cost you nothing at all because no such display currently exists.
The less personally terrifying question for my wallet is, will it simply be known as iMac (the bigger one) or iMac Pro? What colors will it come in—the full spectrum of fun like the iMac, a limited spectrum of fun like the HomePod Mini, gray and slightly darker gray like the MacBook Pro, or a bland spectrum of fun like the iPhone?
If the new iMac is a return to form of the iMac G3, the new MacBook Air is a return to the form of the iMac to go. According to Dylan, it will come in fun colors with white bezels. Add in flat sides, a 1080p camera and possibly a larger edge-to-edge mini-LED display from the MacBook Pro.
The successor to the M1 chip (and stop me here if you do not follow, but I predict it will be called M2) will likely make its debut in this machine, according to Bloomberg. Built up from the same cores that make the A15 Bionic processor in the iPhone 13, we can expect from the M2 marginal improvements to CPU and significant leaps in graphical power.
Buried in that Bloomberg article is a mention of the MacBook Quasi-Pro, a weird stop-gap in the MacBook lineup. Despite sharing the Pro moniker, it is virtually identical to the MacBook Air but with a slightly larger body and a fan. While it is important to fill the hole between the $1,000 MacBook Air and the $2,000 MacBook Pro, the MacBook Demi-Pro will not (or, at least, should not) continue to be marketed as a Pro machine. It will probably be rebranded as a higher-end MacBook Air.
According to Mark Gurman and reported by 9to5Mac, the Mac mini is rumored to come with what we now know as the M1 Pro and M1 Max; according to Jon Prosser, it will also feature an all-new design with an aluminum body and a glass surface on top. ‘All-new’ in this context evidently means ‘something remarkably similar in appearance to the 2005 Mac mini.’
For those who want a screaming fast computer but may have a challenging time justifying the purchase of what will (allegedly) be the brightest and best 27″ display to their significant other, the Mac mini answers that highly specific (and personally relevant) set of constraints. The same guts as the iMac Pro, except without the monitor, so you can plug in a cheaper one (while secretly planning your upgrade path down the road).
A change from the Intel machine is that the Mac mini is rumored to once again ditch the internal power supply. The power cord will have a brick halfway in the cable like a laptop instead of a standard power cable like most PCs. Some people prominently oppose this practice, arguing that the benefits of a smaller desktop do not outweigh the drawback of a big brick in the cable. In defense of this philosophy, separating the power supply in the cable as opposed to integrating the power supply inside the machine has the hidden benefit of keeping the machine cooler. Power supplies generate a lot of heat. The computer can run cooler and quieter with fewer fans if the power supply is somewhere off on the floor or tucked behind the desk.
The half-sized Mac Pro is still coming. This has been in the oven so long that the tangible information from a year ago has not changed. It will probably be similar to the Mac Pro but small and cube-shaped—not because it is a worse version of the big one, not because it requires special engineering (and compromises) to make it that way—but because when you subtract everything the Apple silicon version will not need from the Intel version, you naturally end up with a smaller package.
Remove the chip shortage from history and we may have seen the rumored stop-gap update to the Intel Mac Pro, but at this rate, I expect it to be replaced by the Apple silicon model without a word.
The full Apple silicon lineup starts with the M1 Max, a building block that includes 8 high-performance cores, 2 energy-efficient cores, 32 graphics cores and 64 GB of memory. From there, CPU and graphics cores are removed or deactivated to make the cheaper M1 Pro and the basic M1 chip. In the opposite direction, Apple is expected to multiply the number of M1 Max chips for greater performance at a higher cost.
This double- and quadruple-M1 Max chip will undoubtedly power the Mac Pro. An open question is whether Apple will bring one (or both) of these chips to the Mac mini and iMac Pro as well.
What if the double-M1 Max chip is actually coming to the MacBook Pro, too? I have a totally unsubstantiated theory that there will be an even higher-end MacBook Pro at the very top of the lineup with the same double-M1 Max chip that will go in the Mac Pro. The kicker is that the entire machine will be double-anodized in black aluminum, not just the keyboard.
In 2020, in anticipation of the iPhone 12, I wrote the following:
smartphones are maturing so we should expect to keep them for longer and longer periods of time […] the phone I buy this fall should last until fall 2025.
If the rumored 48 megapixel camera comes to pass, I will not wait until fall 2025 for a new phone.
Mixed rumors from The Elec suggest the possibility of the entire sensor area being reduced to a single small hole for the camera. The speaker has already migrated to the very top of the device, and Apple has allegedly engineered Face ID to work through the display, but that still leaves the ambient light sensor and proximity sensor. Perhaps they have found a way to reduce those parts even further in size. If it is true, we will undoubtedly have this fact leaked throughout next year as that would require new case and screen protector designs.
Like the family member who everyone silently acknowledges this is their last Christmas, I mourn in anticipation the upcoming loss of the mini iPhone. The iPhone 14 will only come in 6.1″ and 6.7″ sizes. This is, without a doubt, the smart move on their part—even if it makes people like me sad.
The 2021 iPad lineup makes sense again. The iPad Pro is the most advanced with the best display and an M1 chip; the iPad Air and iPad mini take a few compromises to bring the most popular features down to a middle price point; the base iPad combines the latest A-series chip with old parts to make a low-cost device that is just as fast. It is the same formula that works for the iPhone.
According to Gurman, a new iPad Pro will feature 5G, a new design with a glass back, wireless charging, and most important of all, a $100 price increase. I am interested in hearing Apple’s justification for wireless charging on what is effectively a modular notebook computer. I do not think (or, at least, I really hope) their solution does not require a full-glass back panel as reported; the substantial increase in weight and fragility would be a big compromise.
As for the rest of the lineup? Evidently, not much, as the rumor mill has dried up here thus far. The iPad Air will at minimum be brought up to spec with the iPad mini with 5G, the A15 chip and Center Stage. Surely, at some point, the base iPad will get the iPad Air design for compatibility with the Apple Pencil 2, right?
According to Ming-Chi Kuo, this will be a minor update with a body temperature sensor and a faster processor. The Wall Street Journal reports they are still working on non-invasive blood pressure and blood glucose monitoring, sleep apnea detection and broader detection of atrial fibrillation. Somehow I doubt those will make the cut this year.
A rugged model for highly active people is a natural extension of the lineup that I will appreciate from afar as I am merely a moderately active person.
AirPods Pro 2, according to both Bloomberg and Kuo, are likely to be released. What will that entail? As of yet, nothing conclusive.
I am at the absolute edge of my seat.
The first Apple Watch was slow and unreliable. The first iPad did not have a front nor a rear camera. The first iPhone did not have copy and paste for years. Analysts who have been down this road before know that Apple likes to get the technology platform right and fills in the gaps later.
Do not expect to be amazed by the incredible number of features or apps—expect to be amazed by the design, interface, versatility, and most of all, price tag.