Considering Apple’s Oddball ‘Scary Fast’ Event Next Week
Just this morning, I was listening to Myke Hurley and Jason Snell on Upgrade discuss the dueling rumors for potential Mac updates. Jason seemed to think that something was imminent, but was a bit cagey on what he thought that something would be — be it an event, a press release, or something else. What he did propose, however, is that perhaps Apple would introduce a refresh to the 13” MacBook Pro (the one still with a Touch Bar) and bring the iMac up to the M2 chip generation.
Mere hours later, Apple invited folks to an oddly-timed (we’ll come back to that) event for next Monday, October 30th with the tagline ‘Scary Fast’. Without any iPads updated this year, and few solid rumors about what and when to expect new Macs, most publications I saw hedged their bets on what would be introduced. It appears they missed — probably in their rush to publish — this animation on the event’s page on Apple.com that clues us in on the focus of the event:
That’s right, a spooky Finder face! It looks like we’re getting new Macs. This is perhaps the most concrete hint I’ve ever seen in an Apple event invitation. The next closest one that I can remember was the ‘Time Flies’ tagline on the invitation to what turned out to be the Apple Watch Series 6 and SE (and iPad Air, and 8th-gen iPad, and Fitness+, and Apple One) event.
Okay, so we’ll see some new Macs. But which new Macs, and what will they be running on? That question is now the heart of the conversation around this event.
Until I saw that ‘Scary Fast’ tagline, I had been inclined to agree with Jason. It felt too early for the M3 chip to be announced. In fact, I was with John Gruber, thinking that the M3 surely wouldn’t be introduced until after the Vision Pro came out. I didn’t think Apple would relish introducing a brand-new, cutting-edge product like Vision Pro running on an “old” processor. But circumstances now have me questioning that premise. Would Apple put together a whole event — albeit a fully remote one — just to refresh a few models with the M2 chip that has been out for over a year now? My gut says no. That kind of update would be better served as a press release, not the full media hype cycle that comes with an Apple event. Nor an event tagline that specifically calls the speed of the machine into focus.
Okay, so let’s assume that we will be seeing the introduction of a new Mac chip, presumably the M3. What machines would that new SOC go into? Probably not the MacBook Air, seeing as the 15-inch model was just introduced a few months ago with the M2. That leaves the Mac mini, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and iMac that currently run on a base-level M-series chip. The iMac is the most obvious candidate and is what I’d put most of my money on.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is more of a conundrum. I assumed that Apple would eventually phase that machine out of the lineup as the market shifted over to the redesigned MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. But by positioning that machine as a “Pro” laptop that starts at $1300, perhaps Apple has found itself in a similar situation as a few years ago when they clearly wanted to phase out the MacBook Air, but people kept buying them. Perhaps the 13-inch MacBook Pro is now the machine that they just can’t kill — a surprising turn of events seeing as it is the very model that was destined to replace the MacBook Air last time around but couldn’t. If I had to guess, I’d say it sticks around and gets the M3 as well, but without a redesign. The Touch Bar will live on.
It seems that the Mac mini is the easiest of any Mac to slip a new SOC into without much trouble. The same enclosure held Intel chips, the M1, the M2, and the M2 Pro. I think when the Mac mini gets the M3, it will continue to go into the same classic design. But will it happen next week? I’m not so sure. Partly because of the implications when considering the higher-powered variants of the M-series family.
In the two previous iterations, we saw the base model M1 and M2 introduced months ahead of its beefier Pro, Max, and Ultra siblings. It always seemed to me that it took extra time to develop and produce those more capable models. But if that’s the case this time around and the M3 Pro isn’t ready, we’d be left with a Mac mini that you could order with either an M3 or an M2 Pro chip inside — a bit clunky and confusing for the customer.
But if the M3 Pro is ready, I think and hope we’ll see it go into both the Mac mini and the iMac. That would make this bizarre event a bit more worthwhile. And people love the iMac. Raising the performance ceiling would provide more choice for folks who need more power but love the simplicity of an all-in-one desktop.
My final question regarding the M3 chip is about what process it’s manufactured on. Could Apple have scaled the 3-nanometer process and cores of the A17 Pro up for use on an M3 and M3 Pro? It seems unlikely, but they did scoop up all of TSMC’s 3nm manufacturing for the year. With the comparatively low volume of Mac chips needed to be produced, would anyone even notice if a few M3/M3 Pro chips came down the chip line?
More questions than answers, really. But here’s where my predictions stand:
- M3 chip is introduced, and it is on the 3nm process
- The M3 chip goes into the iMac, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the Mac mini without any major enclosure redesigns
- Apple is ahead of schedule on the more powerful chips and also introduces the M3 Pro
- The M3 Pro is an option for the Mac mini and the iMac
- The iMac’s color pallet stays the same
Of course, with the Lightning port getting phased out of all products, it seems this would be the perfect opportunity for Apple to update its keyboard, mouse, and trackpad with a USB-C port. But the real question is if they’ll also finally give us a Touch ID keyboard option in the compact size but in a color other than silver and white. I’ve been waiting for a silver and black model for a long time now.
About that start time
Alright, let’s get back to the starting time for this event: 5 PM PST next Monday night. It’s the only Apple event that I’ve known to start after noon, much less the evening! But I’m pretty excited about getting to watch it live without having to take time off work, or committing time theft by watching the keynote while I’m supposed to be working. Since no one is traveling to California for a hands-on session this time around, I suppose Apple can be more flexible with the start time. I like the experimentation and hope it goes well. I do feel for the Apple employees who will undoubtedly be working late the night as the world learns about their new products.
All in all, I’m excited to see what’s in store for us at this event next week. Even if the products turn out to be boring, how they’re introduced has already piqued my interest. Let’s see what else Apple has up its sleeve.
Postscript: I just read John Gruber’s postscript to his event thinkpiece, and have to admit that it’s a compelling prediction that makes me question much of what I wrote above. Perhaps the M3 isn’t at all, and this event is all about the iMac getting refreshed with the M2 and the reintroduction of a pro iMac with the M2 Pro and Max chips. Supply chain rumors haven’t indicated that a larger iMac is imminent. But Ming-Chi Kuo, supposed best in the business when it comes to supply chain leaks, has been off the mark lately. Maybe this has slipped by him too.
Either way, this oddball event is going to be an exciting one to watch.