What’s Next for the Mac in 2021?

Faster, cooler, and probably more expensive

Key Takeaways

  • Apple plans to switch all its Macs to Apple Silicon chips within two years.
  • The current iMac is due for an update—its design dates back to 2008.
  • This year’s Pro Macs may get a hot-rodded version of the M1 chip.
M1 MacBook Air in Rose Gold

With new chips, a new iMac, and new laptops, 2021 might be the biggest year for the Mac since 1984.

At the end of last year, Apple put its M1 chip into the MacBook, resulting in Macs that have incredible battery life, run faster than most other computers, and never get warm. And that’s just the start. What can we expect for the Mac in 2021?

"I imagine we’ll get an iMac first in the spring," Mac and iOS developer James Thomson told Lifewire via Twitter. "I’d love a 13/14-inch MacBook Pro with four ports, and more memory/GPU power."

M2 or M1X?

Back in the summer of 2020, Apple laid out its plans for the Apple Silicon transition: a two-year process that will see the entire Mac lineup switch from Intel’s processors to Apple’s self-designed chips. These are Mac-optimized variants on the A-series chips found in the iPhone and iPad. 

One key point is that the iPhone and iPad also use different variants. When Apple put the A12 processor in the iPhones Xs and Xr in 2018, it created the more powerful A12X variant for the then-new iPad Pro. That X added more GPU and CPU cores, and already was fast enough to rival most laptops, even back in 2018.

The new M1 is impressive, but it’s only being used in the entry-level Macs—the MacBook Air, the small MacBook Pro, and the cheaper Mac Mini. In fact, Apple still sells the high-end Intel Mac Mini. The bigger "pro" machines are going to need more juice.

MacBook Pros

Specifically, the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and the expected 14-inch MacBook Pro, will need more RAM options (the M1 tops out at 16GB). They also will benefit from more CPU and GPU cores. In reality, the M1 already is fast enough for these machines, but good luck selling a $3K+ MacBook Pro when the $999 Air uses the same chip.

"I’d like to see some pro stuff appear, but I suspect that will be later in the autumn," says Thomson.

M1 MacBook Pro slightly open

We speculate that the chip in these pro machines will be an M1X or similar, a more powerful variant designed for power rather than to optimize battery life. It’s possible that it could be called M2, but Apple reserves incremental numbers for upgrades to the whole chip line. Then again, everything to do with the M1 is new, so who can guess? Perhaps the Pro line will get a new physical design, unlike the Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, which are all but indistinguishable from the Intel versions. 

iMac Magic

The current iMac design has been around since 2008, with a revision to taper its edges a few years later. It’s showing its age. The screen still has huge bezels at the top and sides, and an even bigger "chin" at the bottom. Expect those to disappear, the same way they have on the iPhone and iPad, Apple’s Pro Display XDR, and every other third-party monitor made in the past few years.

Perhaps a new iMac will be a simple upgrade, with an iPad-like design—square edges, ultra-thin, and maybe with an adjustable, rotating stand like the Pro Display XDR. Or maybe it will go in an entirely new visual direction. These Apple Silicon chips are so efficient that an iMac could be as thin as an iPhone, and yet still pack all the power it needs. 

We also expect to see FaceID added to the iMac, because Touch ID isn’t practical unless you put it on the Bluetooth keyboard. And if Apple goes really wild, then perhaps you’ll be able to use your Apple Pencil to turn the iMac into a giant drafting table. 

Mac Pro? Not So Fast

When Apple said it was transitioning the entire Mac line to Apple Silicon, it meant the whole line, including the Mac Pro. However, if it keeps to the two-year schedule, then we might not see the Pro until 2022. That would mean it could use the next-gen M-series chips, and be even more powerful. There also are rumors about a smaller Mac Pro, but then again, the current Pro case is quite a recent design, and there’s a lot more that goes inside a computer like that than just the CPU and other chips.

The M1-based Macs are already amazing for most users, and the Pro computers are about to get even more pro. Expect it to be an exciting year for Mac users.

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