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While it’s hard to pin down a release cycle at this point for Apple’s M-series chips — two generations do not make a trend — there’s been a certain sense that the next-generation M3 chip hasn’t come as quickly as Apple had initially planned.
When reports of Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Air began to take shape earlier this year, they were accompanied by reports that the larger MacBook Air would be powered by the latest M3 chip. After all, it seemed clear that the 15-inch model was on the near horizon — some reports even suggested it would launch in April — and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for it to be powered by last year’s M2 chip when the M3 was on the horizon.
Even as it became clear that we’d have to wait until June’s Worldwide Developers Conference to see the new 15-inch MacBook Air, the prevailing theory was still that Apple was poised to refresh its entire MacBook Air lineup with the new M3 silicon, unveiling the larger version at the same party.
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However, as we got closer to the release date, we began seeing hints that the new MacBook Air would indeed only be packing an M2 chip. This was later confirmed by other reliable sources that suggested that while the new MacBook Air would have two chip configurations, they’d both be based on the M2 — likely the same “binned” configuration that’s been used on the MacBook Air lineup since Apple silicon first arrived with the M1 in 2020.
It’s unknown if Apple actually intended to have an M3 chip ready for WWDC or whether some analysts and leakers were just reading things wrong. However, it’s worth noting that we shared an exclusive report in early 2022 that, even back then, had pegged the timeline for the M3 chip for later this year:
I’ve heard Apple and its partners plan to start the M3 production in Q2 of 2023, and it should be unveiled in Q4 2023. After discussing this matter with sources familiar with it, I expect Apple to release an M3 Mac mini, a 13.3-inch M3 MacBook Air, and a 13.3-inch M3 MacBook Pro between the Q3 and Q4 of that year.
However, more recent reports from the supply chain suggested Apple had been trying to ramp things up, but its primary fabrication partner, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC), just couldn’t keep up. This could be plausible, considering our sources also told us in early 2022 not to expect the M2 Pro and M2 Max MacBook Pro models until mid-2023, yet Apple refreshed those in January, a few months earlier than we expected.
In short, timelines have been all over the place as various supply chain analysts and leakers try to figure out exactly what Apple is up to.
The Saga of the 24-inch iMac
In May, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman revealed that Apple was already testing the M3 chips in “next-generation Macs.” Earlier, he had also reported that Apple was already developing and testing a prototype for a new M3-powered 24-inch iMac. Putting those two pieces together suggests that the 24-inch iMac could be the next major release to arrive — and it might even be the first in line to get the new M3 chip.
After all, while every other Mac in Apple’s lineup now has an M2 version available, the 24-inch iMac skipped the M2 chip entirely. That’s precisely what several sources predicted a year ago, so it’s not a huge surprise, and it’s doubtful that will change now.
Instead, with the 24-inch iMac being well overdue for a refresh, it’s the most likely machine to usher in the next generation of Apple silicon, and Gurman agrees. In his latest Power On newsletter, Gurman says that this October will be the month of the entry-level M3 Macs.
Now that Apple has gotten the 15-inch MacBook Air and new M2 Ultra-based Macs out the door, the October launch could feature the first Macs with M3 chips. October is too early for new high-end MacBook Pros or desktops, so the first beneficiaries of the new chip should be the next iMac, 13-inch MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro.Mark Gurman
It’s still an open question whether we’ll see an entire lineup appear, especially with the just-released 15-inch MacBook Air looming over the smaller models. It would be unusual — not impossible, but certainly odd — for Apple to release an M3-powered 13-inch MacBook Air while leaving the larger model behind on the M2. However, it would arguably be even stranger to refresh the 15-inch MacBook Air to put an M3 chip into it less than four months later — if nothing else, it would be a huge slap in the face to all of Apple’s customers who have just purchased the 15-inch model.
On the other hand, the 24-inch iMac was introduced with an M1 chip in early 2021, and it’s remained on the market unchanged ever since. It’s overdue for a refresh, and it’s a safe bet that one will arrive as soon as possible. While that would also mean the M3 chip is ready for Apple’s MacBooks, the company could delay at least those by a few months to give the 15-inch MacBook Air time to settle into the lineup rather than risk leaving it behind the curve.
This is also where the 13-inch MacBook Pro might actually serve a useful purpose in Apple’s lineup. With the transition to Apple silicon, the 13-inch MacBook Pro ended up in an awkward spot, and that became even more pronounced last year when Apple redesigned the MacBook Air for the M2 chip alongside a 13-inch MacBook Pro that was identical in every way except for the more powerful chip inside.
At this point, the 13-inch MacBook Pro seems to exist solely for fans of the Touch Bar since it doesn’t offer much else to set it apart from the similarly-sized MacBook Air. However, even if Apple chooses to hold back the M3 MacBook Air for introduction in 2024, it could still bring the M3 chip to its 13-inch MacBook Pro right away, allowing that model to step out into the lead, at least for a little while.
[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]