The last 12 months haven’t been the year anybody expected, but as we forge ahead into 2021, we’ve all got our collective fingers crossed for a brighter future. This was a year of major moves for the company, some of which set the stage for more big announcements in the year ahead.
Let’s set aside the past for a moment and project ourselves forward. While 2021 still isn’t going to be “normal”—whatever that means now—Apple has proven that it can continue to put out the high-quality, innovative products that we’ve come to expect from it, even amid a global pandemic. What might be coming down the company’s pipeline?
As usual, there’s little more than speculation at this point, but that’s not going to stop me from peering deep into the leaves of my third cup of tea to see what might be in store.
To M2 and beyond!
The move to Apple’s custom silicon started with a bang in 2020, but a significant part of the company’s customers have found themselves waiting for the other shoe to drop. Those first three M1 Macs are impressive, no doubt, but they also represent the lower end of Apple’s lineup.
Rumors of the upcoming Apple silicon Macs have already started to appear, but it seems most likely that we’ll see transitions of the higher end 13-inch MacBook Pro (perhaps bumped up to a 14-inch display?), 16-inch MacBook Pro, and perhaps a low-end iMac sooner rather than later, as they’re the next rungs on the ladder. The last to come will surely be the Mac Pro, which reports have already suggested won’t appear until earlier in 2022, though it’s said to have some truly astounding specs, including up to 32 high-performance cores—four times more than the M1 Macs, not to mention that the each core itself will likely be speedier than what we’ve seen already.
These chips are likely to compensate for the M1’s limitations on the number of ports and amounts of RAM. But between the improvements in the processors and the high-end graphics performance that we’ve also heard may be in the pipeline, they promise to be some impressive machines, that ought to put to bed any suggestion that Apple can’t match Intel toe-to-toe.
At a cellular level
As long as we’re on the topic of Apple-made chips, processors aren’t the only things that the company is looking to bring in house. In 2019, Apple purchased Intel’s
business and the company has reportedly started spooling up its process to design its own custom cellular chips for use in its mobile devices.
While this might not provide quite the same bang-for-the-buck that Apple gets out of designing its own CPUs, graphics chips, and neural engines, it does continue the trend of Apple identifying the key parts of its infrastructure and bringing them under its own control. In recent years, Apple has been reliant on Qualcomm to provide modems for its iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches; a six-year-deal struck between the two companies, also in 2019, covers Apple’s use of Qualcomm’s intellectual property—presumably until such a time as it will be able to supplant all of those chips with its own modems.
That doesn’t mean those chips will necessarily appear in 2021: ramp up on next year’s iPads and iPhones have probably already started, and it will certainly take a while for the company to build, test, and scale production of its own modem hardware. But that doesn’t rule out the possibility that more details might appear in the year ahead.
Computing in the age of COVID
A bit of a wildcard, but I’m curious to see if Apple’s 2021 plans extend to continuing to adapt to the situation the world has found itself in. The company’s executives have lauded its personnel for being able to continue to do great work during the pandemic, but there are plenty of places where the company could continue to make meaningful improvements to people’s lives while we ride out the next six to twelve months.
Just off the top of the head: all Apple users would likely benefit from continued improvements to FaceTime that bring more features in line with competitors like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. (And especially given the former’s spate of problems with privacy and encryption, which would seem to make it ripe for Apple to swoop in.) Not to mention, finally beefing up the front-facing cameras on some of its Macs. And though Fitness+ has just launched, it would be interesting to see if Apple might enhance the service beyond physical wellness to include mental wellness too.
A lot more
There’s a lot more in the cards for next year: The Apple TV seems in need of a refresh, and persistent rumors suggest the company might take another crack at gaming, and perhaps even redesign the remote. The iPad Pro is currently being outclassed by last fall’s iPad Air, and that state of affairs can’t last for long: a new model, possibly with microLED technology and and improved processor, could appear as early as spring. What of the mysterious tracking tags that have never materialized? And, of course, the big question: will Apple roll out an iPhone 13 line? Or will superstition demand it be called something else? (Hey, there was never an iPhone 9.)
One thing is for certain: next year is going to be anything but boring in the world of Apple. We’re looking forward to keeping close tabs on it, and hope you’ll stick around for the ride. Here’s to 2021.
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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.