Apple chooses its public actions very carefully, so often trying to suss out what it’s up to is a matter of reading between the lines. Because the actions that the company doesn’t take are almost as significant as the ones that it does.
While it hasn’t been an uneventful spring for Apple watchers so far, it’s been informative to see which products the company has been shipping, because they start to point the way towards the areas where Apple may instead be marshaling its forces ahead of some more significant moves.
With about six weeks to go before Apple kicks off its virtual Worldwide Developer Conference with its next big announcements, we’ve got a little bit of time before our latest crop of theories are put to the test.
Missed by an inch
Ahead of the release of the revamped 13-inch MacBook Pros this past week, speculation had already started hinting that the lower end of Apple’s pro portable lineup would see a refresh along the lines that the 15-inch model got last fall when it emerged from its cocoon as the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Rumors of a 14-inch MacBook Pro, with a bigger screen and smaller bezels seemed plausible, but ultimately what Apple released was a much more modest update: while the high-end models got new processors and RAM bumps to go with the Magic Keyboard and doubled storage, the low-end models barely received any attention at all.
This wasn’t any last minute decision: spinning up this kind of update would still take months. And if the 14-inch MacBook Pro were ready, the company would have shipped it—no sense in holding back on something that will only get longer in the tooth. At the same time, releasing another new model in the fall, just six months or so after the last update, also seems like potentially curious timing.
It’s possible that holding back a more substantial redesign could herald something more significant happening on the Mac platform—perhaps the long rumored ARM processor transition? While the 14-inch MacBook Pro wouldn’t have been my guess for the first Mac to make the jump, Apple did start its Intel transition by turning the PowerBook into the MacBook Pro, and history does like repeating itself.
iPad Pro forma
Meanwhile, the 2020 iPad Pro has a weirdly similar story. Aside from some meager bumps to its graphics performance and the addition of a LIDAR sensor, the latest model of Apple’s high-end tablet, revamped just a few weeks ago, looks suspiciously similar to the one from 2018.
And, much as in the case of the MacBook Pro, the iPad Pro had been subject to rumors of a more substantial refresh due in the fall, with a Mini-LED display and perhaps other substantial improvements.
Of course, a processor transition probably isn’t in the cards for the iPad line, so the explanation for the Mac doesn’t make sense here. That said, there are certainly some other important technologies that are expected to come in a later iPad, such as 5G wireless. But seeing as rumors now have this more substantive update coming in 2021, it certainly makes more sense that Apple had positioned the 2020 iPad Pro to fill the gap and, more importantly, to accompany the release of the Magic Keyboard.
The product lines that haven’t seen an update in a while include most of Apple’s desktop Macs. The Mac mini was last bumped in November 2018, but given that it regularly seems to go years between updates, there’s little surprise there. And, of course, the Mac Pro is still brand new.
The iMac and iMac Pro, though, are different stories. The former hasn’t seen an update since March 2019, while the latter has remained more or less unchanged since its introduction in December 2017. Some have theorized the iMac Pro was only ever intended to be a one-off, to hold down the top end of the line until the Mac Pro came along, but given how expensive Apple’s high-end desktop is, it certainly seems as though there’s still room in the pricing matrix for the iMac Pro.
The iMac Pro seems like it could be poised to see an update around WWDC in June. It’s a pro-focused machine, for one thing, which will likely appeal to a developer-centric audience. Then again, if a bigger design refresh is coming—such as an iMac with a larger screen and a smaller bezel and a rumored 23-inch iMac that might replace the 21-inch model—it seems as though it would be strange to refresh the iMac Pro first, only to have its design quickly rendered out of date.
So perhaps the fall is a better time to look for Apple’s desktops. The iMac seems to be on about an eighteen-to-twenty month refresh cycle right now, so that would put this fall square in the crosshairs, which fits nicely with Intel’s recent announcement of Comet Lake desktop processor that would be just perfect for a new iMac. Assuming, of course, that the ARM processor transition doesn’t hit Apple’s desktop Macs first.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.