Rumors Indicate the 12-Inch MacBook May Return Next Year with an M3 Chip

Rumors of its return have been circulating over the past few years, and some think it could happen soon.
12-inch MacBook 2015 Credit: Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock
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Over the next year, Apple is expected to launch the most significant rollout of new products in the company’s history. Sources say this will go beyond the typical fall iPhone, iPad, and Mac lineups, breaking new ground as Apple accelerates its plans for Apple Silicon Macs.

One of the most interesting products that could come out of this would be Apple’s ill-fated 12-inch MacBook Pro. While rumors of its return have been circulating over the past few years, the oft-reliable Mark Gurman has weighed in with predictions for Apple’s entire Mac and Apple Silicon roadmap over the next twelve months.

In his latest Power On newsletter, Gurman suggests that WWDC was about setting the stage for what could become its most ambitious rollout of new products ever.

From what I’ve been told, the company is about to embark on one of the most ambitious periods of new products in its history—with the deluge coming between the fall of 2022 and first half of 2023. Mark Gurman

While some of what Gurman’s sources are telling him shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Yes, Apple will be releasing four iPhone 14 models, a new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro lineup with M2 Pro/Max silicon, and likely some entry-level M3 MacBooks around this time next year.

Now that the M2 chip is out in Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro and soon-to-come MacBook Air, Gurman says we should expect a rapid-fire succession of new M2 Macs, coming at a much faster pace than the M1-based Macs.

This naturally includes an M1 Mac mini, but also a Mac mini that will pack in the M2 Pro chip. If anything, the refreshed base-model Mac mini is a little late; rumors suggested it was slated for Apple’s March event, but the company didn’t want to take the focus away from the new Mac Studio. After that, it was downright surprising that it didn’t show up alongside Apple’s M2 MacBooks at this month’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) since that’s how it debuted the first time around.

However, folks who were fans of the higher-end Mac mini will be reassured to hear that Apple doesn’t intend to put that one out to pasture. Right now, it’s one of only two Intel Macs that remain in Apple’s lineup, alongside the considerably more expensive Mac Pro. Some had feared that Apple’s lack of attention to it meant that it would ultimately be discontinued in favor of the Mac Studio.

Speaking of the Mac Pro and the Mac Studio, Gurman also expects a new M2 Ultra version to arrive in early 2023, alongside an “M2 Extreme” Mac Pro. While he didn’t offer specifics on what this higher-end chip will entail, it’s likely the quad-stacked Apple Silicon we heard about last year. The M1 Ultra is basically two M1 Max chips, offering 20 CPU cores and 64 GPU cores.

An M2 Extreme would presumably be four M2 Max chips. Based on the configuration of the standard M2, that would offer at least 40 CPU cores. However, the M2 Pro/Max will likely bump that to at least 12 cores so that we could be looking at a 48-core chip. GPU cores could also easily exceed 128, and unified memory could be pushed to 256GB or more.

The M3 Lineup

Not surprisingly, Apple is already hard at work on the next generation of Apple Silicon, the M3, and it’s expecting to move into an annual refresh cycle where each new generation arrives early in the year, which could mean an M4 in early 2024, and M5 in early 2025, and so on.

The M3 will likely follow the trend of coming in Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air first, although Apple reportedly has two more MacBooks in the pipeline for next year.

There’s a 15-inch MacBook Air with an internal codename of J515 that seems well into its development. This would help the MacBook Air lineup grow into the same two-tier lineup that has long been the domain of the MacBook Pro. Whether this would eventually drive the elimination of the now-oddball 13-inch MacBook Pro is hard to say, but there’s something else that might.

Gurman says Apple has “a 12-inch laptop still in early development.” It’s clearly not as far along as the 15-inch MacBook Air, but it’s definitely on the table.

This would be a natural replacement for the 12-inch MacBook of yesteryear, although it’s unclear what Apple would call it. However, if it were to come to fruition, it would likely supplant that 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is arguably hard to consider a “Pro” device by Apple’s new chip standards.

The original 12-inch MacBook was a polarizing device. It came at a weird time in Apple’s lineup and seemed to directly result from its obsession with making its products as thin as possible. It introduced the controversial butterfly keyboard to make it as thin as possible, and it included a Retina Display three years before that came to Apple’s MacBook Air lineup. It was also the first MacBook to feature a USB-C port and the company’s new Force Touch trackpad.

In many ways, the 12-inch MacBook was perhaps Apple’s attempt to return to the glory days of the original 2008 MacBook Air before turning that into the name for its entry-level MacBook lineup.

Steve Jobs famously unveiled the first MacBook Air by pulling it out of a manila envelope on stage at Macworld 2008 to prove how light and thin it was. It packed in some revolutionary technology for the time and sold at the $3,000+ luxury price tag that you’d expect from an “executive laptop.”

The 12-inch MacBook didn’t have quite the same level of panache, and the fact that it sold at a weird price point between the 13-inch MacBook Air and the entry-level MacBook Pro didn’t help.

If Apple does resurrect the 12-inch MacBook, it hopefully won’t make the same mistake this time around. Apple’s obsession with thinness seems to have long passed. However, the capabilities of Apple Silicon mean it could still pack a lot of power into a tiny MacBook without making the compromises necessary for the Intel era.

[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.]

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