There aren’t many things you can count on in this world, but Apple’s release cycles are fairly reliable. That is, new Macs, iPhones, and iPads tend to come out in a fairly predictable manner. Knowing about those release cycles is key to making an informed decision about when to buy new Apple hardware.
For instance, it’s generally unwise to buy an iPhone in August, because the new model almost always comes out in September. Since the iPhone 7 just came out, feel free to buy that model if you need a new phone. But if you’re in the market for a new Mac of just about any kind, the smart advice right now is probably to hold off if you can. That’s because the stars have aligned so that nearly every Mac is due for a refresh.
So to help make informed consumers of us all, let’s look at when Apple refreshed each Mac in the company’s lineup. That should help us predict when a new model will come out, and whether now is a good time to buy.
Last refresh: April 2016
If you’re in need of a new Mac, the only model it makes sense to buy right now is the standard MacBook. Apple last updated the MacBook on April 19, 2016, which means there’s no updated model scheduled (or rumored) to arrive imminently.
There are plenty of reasons to choose the standard MacBook, what with its Retina display, ultra-thin design, huge trackpad, and fancy color options that range from silver to “rose gold.” Then again, it also has an ultra-shallow keyboard and only a single USB-C port. Hey, at least it still has a headphone jack.
Last refresh: March 2015
If portability is your biggest concern, you’ll probably want a MacBook Air. While it comes in a 13-inch model too, it’s the only MacBook available in an 11-inch form factor, making it easy to toss into a bag and take with you (you just might have to squint to read the screen).
The problem with the MacBook Air is that it’s relatively old, meaning a new model may be coming sooner rather than later — that is, if Apple plans to update it at all. Since the regular MacBook is so similar to the Air, it’s possible Apple plans to phase out the Air in the coming years. So if portability is your priority and you need a new MacBook soon, you’re probably better off buying a standard MacBook now.
MacBook Pro with Retina display
Last refresh: May 2015
It’s been over a year since Apple updated the MacBook Pro with Retina display, making it a bad move to buy one now. This powerful (and pricy) computer comes in 13-inch and 15-inch varieties, and packs as much power as you can get in an Apple laptop. The reason you shouldn’t buy a MacBook Pro with Retina display now is because of a tidal wave of rumors suggesting a new model is heading our way in fall 2016.
If the rumors are correct, you can expect the updated version to have a thinner body than the current model, a shallower keyboard, and a wider trackpad. The key feature of the update, though, is supposed to be an OLED touch panel called a “Dynamic Function Row.” This panel will replace the function keys at the top of the keyboard with a touchscreen display that changes depending on what app you’re using. Rumors have also suggested that the power button will double as an iPhone-like Touch ID, letting you log in with your fingerprint rather than a password.
MacBook Pro (without Retina display)
Last refresh: June 2012
I don’t even know why Apple continues to sell a computer this outdated. Ever since the company introduced the pixel-dense Retina display on its Retina MacBook Pro, it’s been clear that the old screens would phase out over time.
Since it’s been over four years since Apple refreshed the non-Retina MacBook Pro, there’s little hope of the company ever refreshing it again. If you want the power of a MacBook Pro, go Retina. Not only is this one dated, but it’s also overpriced.
Last refresh: October 2015
If portability isn’t what you’re after, your best bet is probably the iMac, an all-in-one computer and display that sits handsomely on your desk. It comes in 21.5-inch and 27-inch models, and can be upgraded in any number of ways, from RAM to hard drive space and more.
Why not buy one now? Because the iMac is likely to get a refresh before too long. Apple tends to upgrade the iMac’s chips or bottom-level specs about once a year. Since we’re at the one-year mark since the last upgrade, the best advice is to wait if you can.
Last refresh: October 2014
There’s no cheaper way to bring a Mac into your life than the Mac Mini, a compact computer you’ll need to accessorize with a keyboard, mouse, and display (all sold separately). It may not pack as much power as the other Mac models, but it has enough for basic tasks like web browsing, emailing, and streaming videos.
Despite the appeal, Apple hasn’t updated the Mini in two years. That means it’s underpowered, overpriced, and due for a refresh. If you can hold off on buying one until further announcements, you should.
Last refresh: December 2013
Most people don’t need a Mac Pro, but if you do, you’ll know it. Despite sporting a design some detractors have likened to a trash can, the Mac Pro sported top-of-the-line power when it came out. But that was three years ago, which means top-end non-Mac machines left it in the dust long ago.
In other words, the Mac Pro is past due for an upgrade. While we haven’t seen any substantial rumors that an upgrade is in the works, you never know: Apple has surprised us before.