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Apple silicon M3 BRILLIANT – but STILL a 12-month cycle?

We have become used to an almost annual update of new Macs – is that about to change?

Apple silicon M3
image courtesy of author

Almost too good

Apple silicon really was a game changer.

When it was debuted in the MacBook Pro 13-inch, MacBook Air, and Mac mini in November 2020, it really did change everything. The conventional norms that we took for granted, were thrown out of the window in a flash. No more fans, no more thermal throttling, and an eternity of battery life.

The only problem that Apple had unwittingly created, was, that possibly, it was simply too good. As we wait for the Mac Pro, and the future of the M series of chips, it left me pondering. Will the natural cycle of Apple silicon powered Macs now need to change as well, to reflect the power of Apple silicon?

A missed goal

We all know, that when Apple released Apple silicon, they imposed upon themselves a two-year cycle, to completely overhaul their lineup. The goal was that every Mac would be running Apple silicon by the end of 2022.

Indeed, that dream clearly remained their goal, as late as the Peak Performance event in March this year. At that event, we saw the birth of the Mac Studio with the most powerful version of Apple silicon thus far – the M1 Ultra. The VP of hardware engineering, John Ternus, took to the stage after the Studio launch, telling us that only leaves Mac Pro…for another day.

In play

We had been expecting another event from Apple this year, in November.

A week or so ago, Apple announced their fiscal results for the latest quarter. It was then we learned that we had seen the last of any new hardware for 2022. CEO, Tim Cook, softly dropped in to conversation that the “product lineup is set”.

The decision has obviously been taken, that rather than rush out the release of more Apple silicon Macs this year, the pragmatic route to take, was to wait, and try to wow all over again.

I think that was, probably, the right call too. Although they knew in so doing that their year-on-year sales would suffer, better that, than release sub-par, or average devices.

It is almost certain that they would never replicate the strong sales of autumn 2021 anyhow. No matter what they did with the new Apple silicon, there is no way it could match an entirely new MacBook Pro design.

Small changes

This year, has been a busy one for Apple, with sales figures to match. Even so, the reaction to the MacBooks with M2 Apple silicon were luke warm. There was nothing to convince most, that swapping out to M2 was a prudent choice. There were some minor number changes with their clocking speeds, but that was pretty-much it.

The next release, is set to be the big one too – that Mac Pro needs to be all singing and dancing when it is finally released. As niche a product as it is, it has to carry the torch for Mac Pro. If they had forged ahead this year, only to meet that two-year deadline, the Apple silicon inside would still have been the older design of the 5-nanometer processor.

We believe that TSMC is already working on the 3-nanometer chip design, and production is slated to begin late this year.

Apple silicon chips built on the 3nm process will now have up to four dies, which would support up to 40 cores. The original M1 has an 8-core CPU, and the ‌M1 Pro‌ and Max have 10-core CPUs. So, as you can see, waiting for this 3nm technology makes sense, particularly bearing in mind the Mac Pro.

All change

And this is what has led me to wondering if we are about to see a change in how the Cupertino tech giant will release future, Apple silicon Macs. We have become accustomed to, a roughly, annual cycle. Currently, all Macs get the same chip, obviously, with more performance-led versions for the higher-end machines.

Moving forward, however, we may get used to a more split release. The base models could easily retain an annual renewal of M3, M4 etc. This would suit the lower end machines. They are less expensive, less of an investment, and aimed at different users.

If, let’s say, your kid is about to go to uni and needs a £1000 MacBook Air, then year-over-year, there will always be that user group. The same is not true, though, when you look at those buying the higher spec’d Macs. For those users, spending upwards of £3000, on an Apple silicon Mac, they will neither have the budget nor, witness any meaningful power bump for annual renewals.

So, for those users, is it not realistic to expect that the Apple silicon Pro, Ultra, and Extreme iterations of that chipset’s nomenclature, may only get an 18-month, or even 24-month upgrade? In so doing, they will give themselves time to develop all the latest techniques, and maintain the pro machines with Apple silicon, to be at the cutting edge of their capabilities, at that moment in time.

That time will also allow for owners of the high-end Macs to get some return-on-investment, and a few quid back in the bank. Then, over that 18-month, or 24-month period, there will almost certainly have been enough of a performance improvement to tempt some users to swap.

A golden age

We are living in a golden age for the Mac.

The M1 MacBook Air is still revered to this day, and thought by many to be the best pound-for-pound Mac out there. Then, of course, there were the 2021 releases of the venerable M1 MacBook Pros in both 14-inch and 16-inch. That was our first taste of M1 Pro & Max.

It was only then, we got a glimpse in to the future. Now we could truly grasp what Apple’s vision was for their silicon chipset. The power and productivity improvements over what we’d witnessed in the initial M1 Macs was mind-boggling.

And that will be the kind of improvements that they will need to continue to make, not only to impress, but to make as many as possible of us part with cash. The stock markets expect healthy growth from the Californian giant, and the only way to please the market, is with sales – BIG sales.

I know, with history as our teacher, that tech development never really slows down, but, it will surely need a hiatus. A little breather every now and again. What we have is already so good that Apple, even Apple, will need some space & time to make impactful improvements to Apple silicon.

And bear in mind, that the precipice at which we currently stand, is of massive importance. Not only will the Mac Pro depend upon it, so too, in some form or another, the future of the AR/VR headset, Apple Reality Pro as we think it’s to be called, as well.

Wrapping up

Apple has earned the privilege of not having to rush with what they do next.

We may not ever know much about the prospects for Apple, as those plans remain locked down (despite what some leakers would have you believe). But, what we do know is, they have taken the decision to not rush Mac Pro out of the door for vanity.

And this, could actually prove to be a very telling, defining moment for Apple and the future of Apple silicon.

They have already shown us the future – but to keep redefining it, now that is the tricky part. And my guess is, to that, will take time.

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