M4 MacBooks: Everything we know so far

 MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 sitting on a patio table.
MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 sitting on a patio table.

Apple is getting ready to unleash a fresh wave of MacBooks on the world, and all signs point to the first models hitting store shelves in the latter half of 2024.

It's still early days so we don't know much yet about what to expect from these machines, but one of the surest bets is that they'll be powered by a new Apple M4 chip being cooked up in Cupertino.

While we're still short on technical details about the M4 and what to expect, Bloomberg reporter and Apple whisperer Mark Gurman believes AI will be a major marketing point for these chips.

That makes sense given the "AI laptop" hype that's been rising ever since the debut of NPU-equipped Intel Meteor Lake CPUs, and Apple is no doubt keen to remind people that MacBooks have been packing their own AI-optimized Neural Engines since the 2020 MacBook Air M1.

Nobody knows what the future holds, but we can make some pretty well-educated guesses about what the next MacBook will be. Here's everything we know so far about the MacBook M4, and what we expect when it arrives.

MacBook M4: Rumored specs

MacBook Pro M3 Pro on a desk
MacBook Pro M3 Pro on a desk

Apple's successor to the M3 chip will define the next generation of MacBooks, so it's safe to say we'll see the specs include an upgrade to M4. Beyond that we haven't heard much at all yet about what changes, if any, Apple plans to make to the specs of the M4 MacBooks.

But the company is typically pretty conservative about changing the specs of its laptops from generation to generation, so it's likely they'll be awfully similar to what we saw on the M3 MacBooks. The cheapest entry point, the 13-inch M3 Air ($1,099), starts with an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 8GB of memory and 256GB of SSD storage.

The numbers go up from there, topping out in the powerful 16-inch MacBook Pro M3 Max which, when maxed out (~$7,199), packs a 16-core CPU, 40-core GPU, 128GB of memory and 8TB of storage. We may see nominal upgrades in the core count of the M4 MacBooks, but it's too soon to say yet whether Apple plans any specs upgrades more radical than that.

MacBook M4: Price and release date speculation

MacBook Pro 16-inch (M3, 2023)
MacBook Pro 16-inch (M3, 2023)

Apple aims to release the first MacBook M4 before the end of 2024, according to Gurman. He believes we should expect to see "a low-end 14-inch MacBook Pro" as well as possibly "high-end 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros...all with M4 chips."

That matches up pretty well with the company's habit of hosting release events in October, as it did in 2023 when it unveiled the M3 MacBook Pro during its "Scary Fast" Apple event.

The rest of the M4 MacBook line will likely launch in 2025, as Gurman expects 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air M4s to debut by spring.

Apple will likely also be dropping some M4-powered desktops, including an expected new iMac M4 and Mac mini M4 in 2024 potentially followed by an M4-driven Mac Studio and Mac Pro in 2025.

These upgraded M4 models may be more expensive than their current counterparts, but it seems unlikely Apple would significantly raise prices on the MacBook M4s unless they were also significantly improved.

To give you a sense of the starting point for M4 MacBook pricing, let's look at what M3 Macs cost right now. The M3 MacBook Air 13 and MacBook Air 15-inch laptops start at $1,099 and $1,299, respectively, and I doubt Apple wants to price the M4 version of its cheapest laptop far past that.

The base M3 14-inch MacBook Pro costs $1,599 to start, while the more powerful 14-inch MacBook Pro with M3 Pro starts at $1,999 and the big, beefy 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,499. If Apple were to raise prices on the M4 versions, it seems unlikely it would be willing to do so by more than it has in the past, typically around $100-$200.

MacBook M4: Design

MacBook Air 15-inch M3 next to MacBook Air 13-inch
MacBook Air 15-inch M3 next to MacBook Air 13-inch

It's too early to say yet what changes, if any, Apple will make to the design of the MacBook M4 lineup. Back in March Gurman said Apple had "just started formal development" of the MacBook Pro M4, and given the popularity of the design it seems unlikely we'll see any major changes.

If the M4 Airs are even farther off it's probably too soon to guess at what they'll look like, but since light-and-thin design are a key selling point of the line I expect they'll be as svelte as their predecessors. While I'd love to see the Air get a more useful port array, it seems unlikely Apple will compromise on thinness.

MacBook M4: Performance

MacBook Pro 16-inch (M3 Max, 2023)
MacBook Pro 16-inch (M3 Max, 2023)

The one thing you can be pretty sure about is that Apple will be talking up big gains in performance and power efficiency for the M4 chips that will power these MacBooks.

We haven't heard much yet about what to expect in terms of raw numbers, like core counts or speed increases, but since Apple hasn't done much more than refine the design of MacBooks over the past few years, the under-the-hood upgrades are typically the star of the show.

But while there's little more than rumors so far about what to expect from the M4 chip lineup in terms of performance, the Taiwanese Economic Daily News did publish a report claiming these chips will feature an upgraded Neural Engine (which could mean more cores than the 16 on the Apple M3 chips) more clearly optimized for AI and machine learning tasks that affect your daily workflow.

MacBook Air 15-inch M3 showing DiffusionBee AI app
MacBook Air 15-inch M3 showing DiffusionBee AI app

Given the current trend of promoting laptops based on their AI capabilities, it's easy to see Apple talking up how the M4 and its Neural Engine are optimized to run the best Mac AI apps on the market. It's not hard to imagine a demo of a popular chatbot like ChatGPT (because you know there's no way Apple's putting Google Gemini up on stage) running locally on an M4 MacBook, with an emphasis on how that can afford you increased privacy and security.

MacBook M4: Battery life

MacBook Pro 16-inch (M3 Max, 2023)
MacBook Pro 16-inch (M3 Max, 2023)

Here's an easy prediction to make: M4 MacBooks will have great battery life.

MacBooks have been steadily running 12 hours or longer in our battery tests ever since the introduction of Apple silicon, and the M3 lineup was no slouch, delivering 14-17 hours with ease.

MacBook M4: Outlook

There's very little to go on at this point, but what we've heard so far suggests the MacBook M4 lineup will be a performance-focused upgrade that could give us our first real look at how Apple intends to promote AI on its laptops.

That's potentially exciting, because a lot of the tricks that are used to promote AI-optimized laptops these days (like auto-centering you on video calls or automagically editing an image with the touch of a button) are straight out of Apple's playbook. If the company feels pressured to demonstrate how well it can integrate AI to make your day-to-day life on Mac better, we could see some fun stuff.

But even if it's a nominal upgrade, like so many of the new AI features in Windows laptops have been, it's difficult to imagine the M4 MacBook lineup not being popular.  MacBooks have been pretty easy to recommend since the debut of Apple silicon, and if the company does little to change much besides the chip they'll likely still compete with the best laptops on the market.

More colors wouldn't hurt, though.