The first Apple Silicon Mac may not be what we expected

Apple may have confirmed it's working on its own processors, but exactly which will be the first Macs to use Apple Silicon remains a source of speculation. Announced at WWDC 2020, Apple's homegrown Arm-based chips will begin to show up in Macs by the end of the year, the company promised; now, analysts are wading in with their instincts on which models will come first.

Previously, reports had suggested that Apple would take what would arguably be the easiest route with its initial models. An Apple Silicon-based MacBook Air, for example, or a reboot of the 12-inch MacBook. However that may not in fact be the case.

An Arm-based MacBook Air is on the cards, according to TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, but it won't necessarily be the first Apple Silicon device. In a note to investors, MacRumors reports, Kuo indicated that a new 13.3-inch MacBook Pro would be the first to get Apple's own chipset. That should go into mass production sometime in Q4 2020.

The new MacBook Air, meanwhile, could land sometime in the same quarter, or in Q1 of 2021. Beyond that, he predicts, there will be 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models using Apple Silicon. They won't arrive – bringing with them an "all-new form factor design" he suggests – until late Q2 2021, or potentially Q3 of that year.

Apple has previously said that it expects the transition to its own chips – which will build on technologies it has developed for its iPhone and iPad SoCs – to take two years. In the meantime it will still have new Intel-based Mac launches. One of those is believed to be an upcoming new iMac, with a redesigned casing and a switch to all-SSD storage.

Some developers, though, are cautious of the idea of buying one of the last of the x86 Macs, given Apple's clear signaling that its own chips – and Arm – is the future. That may well be the justification for making a MacBook Pro the first Apple Silicon machine, given the appeal such a notebook would have for developers wanting Arm-based hardware to create and test their software on.

Currently, the only official Apple Silicon hardware available is the Developer Transition Kit, or DTK. It outwardly resembles a Mac mini, but inside uses an Apple A12-related chipset similar to that in the latest iPad Pro. Apple began shipping it shortly after WWDC 2020, but it is not generally available: instead, developers interested in the machine must apply to purchase it.