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Apple already has its next big chip, but you may never see it

Apple Mac Studio top down view showing PC and keyboard.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Apple’s M3 series of chips has been a major improvement over what came before it, with users feeling the benefits across the Mac range. The only chip missing from the lineup is the M3 Ultra, which is reserved for Apple’s high-end Mac Studio and Mac Pro devices.

We’ve been hearing that Apple is thinking of shifting to an annual release cycle for its Mac chips, and with the M2 Ultra having made its debut in June 2023, everyone has been gearing up to see the M3 edition launching this summer.

However, all that has seemingly been thrown into uncertainty. According to Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, Apple might skip the M3 Ultra entirely this year, leaving high-end users to wait potentially another year before they get an upgrade.

Unanswered questions

Apple's new Mac Pro sits on display in the showroom during Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC).
Brittany Hose-Small / AFP via Getty Images

Gurman’s Power On newsletter had this to say on the matter: “At the end of last year, Apple released a regular M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max, but an M3 Ultra hasn’t come to market. (Apple could choose to wait until the M4 line for a new Ultra, but it’s worth noting that an M3 variation does exist internally.)”

The report continued: “The Mac Pro skipped the M1, the iMac skipped the M2, and it’s all but assured that at least some of Apple’s high-end desktops will bypass the M3.”

In other words, we might not see the M3 Ultra, despite the company having the chip in development. And even if we do see it, it might not come to both the Mac Studio and the Mac Pro. I don’t know why Apple might act in this way, but it will be a worrying prospect for anyone who wants to buy a high-end Mac in order to get the latest M3 architecture, which is something that pro-level machines really need.

This development raises all kinds of questions. For one thing, many people will be wondering whether Apple really is going to fully shift to an annual chip refresh cycle, as has been touted over the past few months on various occasions.

The Mac Pro went three years between its relaunch in 2019 and its M2 Ultra upgrade in 2022, and by the time its most recent update rolled around, the 2019 version was feeling very long in the tooth. Rumors of more frequent chip upgrades have been welcome news — but that could now be in jeopardy.

Gurman’s revelation is an interesting idea for another reason. In January 2024, Gurman claimed that Apple was planning to launch a new Mac Studio in June 2023 and a fresh Mac Pro a little while later. His latest report seems to contradict that when it says that “at least some of Apple’s high-end desktops will bypass the M3.” Does this mean that Apple has canned the next Mac Studio, the upcoming Mac Pro, or both?

The whole reason Gurman was discussing the M3 Ultra in his report is that he believes the M4 series will be the first time an Apple silicon chip generation will come to every Mac that Apple offers. That implies that some mosel(s) will miss out on the M3 Ultra, after all.

An anxious wait for clues

A woman sits at a desk with the M2 Mac Studio on it.

The idea of Apple skipping the M3 Ultra does have an air of plausibility about it. With every Apple silicon chip cycle, Apple has left a few Macs off the list. As I noted earlier, the Mac Pro didn’t get an M1-series chip. The iMac, meanwhile, went without the M2. Could it be that the Mac Studio or the Mac Pro miss out on the M3 Ultra? Iteems possible at this point.

While Apple’s annual WWDC on June 10 seems like the ideal venue for the M3 Ultra, it might also be an opportunity for Apple to showcase its next-generation of Mac chips — the M4 — to a devoted audience. I’m not convinced that will happen, as Apple has a habit of launching the first chip in a new generation in the fall, but it’s a possibility. That’s especially true if AI will take the spotlight on the hardware front, as has been rumored.

Still, there are reasons to be skeptical that Apple will ignore the M3 Ultra entirely. If Apple really does have an M3 Ultra chip in development, it would be a major waste of time and resources to have worked on it and then not release it. There are suggestions that the M3 Ultra could be a monster of a chip, and if that’s the case, I expect Apple will be desperate for the world to see it.

Ultimately, we’re not going to find out for at least a couple months. But it’s worth keeping a close eye on WWDC to see what the company does. If you’re hoping for an M3 Ultra announcement, the next few weeks could be an anxious wait.

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