When should you buy your next Mac?

Here's my answer to the age-old question of when you should buy your next Mac, once and for all

In my capacity writing about the Macintosh for the past 15 years, I've been asked one question more than any other: Should I buy a new Mac now or should I wait?

Here's my answer to that question:

Buy the Mac you need when you need it. Understand that its obsolescence is inevitable, and that it will probably be replaced sooner than you would like with a new model.

Now, we can certainly go down the rabbit hole. We can look at Apple's upgrade cycles, buying patterns among Mac-using consumers, Intel's chipset roadmap and other esoterica and make guesses about when each system is going to be refreshed. But we're also guessing, because except under rare circumstances, Apple doesn't telegraph when it's going to refresh a product or bring out a new product.

It's a popular pastime to guess. I admit I enjoy the sport. And financial analysts who track Apple often depend on their own intelligence — based off reports from abroad and their sources within Apple's supply chain — to figure out when Apple will release new Macs and iOS devices.

But it can be deceiving, and the track records of any of these experts is less than 100 percent. Everyone makes mistakes.

Obviously, none of this gives comfort or reassurance to the average customer who's considering shelling out $1,000 or more for a new Macintosh. You want to get your money's worth. You want your Mac to last as long as possible and to work as well as possible not just with software and peripherals that are out today, but stuff that's coming out.

That fear is always there: That right around the corner, Apple's going to replace your computer or your smartphone with something that's way better than you have. And you're going to be stuck with something that's just not as good.

It's a bit funny, because it's a really irrational fear. When you buy a car, you know that the carmaker is going to replace it with a new model for the next model year within months of your purchase, but that doesn't stop you from getting the car. And rarely do you regret getting a car just because its newer models have features that yours doesn't.

If anything, it's an incentive for you to trade up, or to lease and rollover into a new lease. But you buy the car you need when you need it, because it's transportation and it fits the list of requirements you have for safety, passengers, cargo space, economy — whatever your criteria may be.

But it's not quite that easy when buying a computer.

Many of us prefer to use our computers as long as they will last. Apple will warranty a Mac for up to three years from the date of purchase, but many of us use our Macs well beyond that date: We will drive our Macs into the ground, so to speak (just like I personally do with my cars — I hate making payments).

2014 has turned out to be a very frustrating year so far for Mac users. There was a very mild refresh to the MacBook Air earlier this year that bumped processor speeds up just slightly (from 1.3 to 1.4 GHz) and dropped prices. And more recently, Apple released a new 21.5-inch iMac that is $200 less than the considerably faster 2.7 GHz model.

But there's been no refresh of the MacBook Pro, or the Mac Pro, or the Mac mini or standard MacBook Pro. The latter two devices are very long in the tooth at this point; both were 2012 models. It's not out of character for Apple to wait until the fall to introduce a new MacBook Pro model, so that's not out of its typical upgrade cycle yet, and the Mac Pro didn't begin shipping until last December.

Intel's troubles getting its new Broadwell microprocessor have been well documented at this point. That may be impacting Apple's ability to refresh its Macs, but we won't know until later this year. Apple's own Eddy Cue suggested during his interview at Re/Code's Code Conference that the second half of the year would hold new product announcements from Apple, though he stopped short of promising new Macs.

To summarize: You'll never be disappointed by your decision to wait to purchase a new Mac (or iOS device). Because Apple doesn't exist in some statis; the company is constantly moving forward with new products, innovating and trying to interest customers in new products.

But ultimately, you should let your need dictate your decision about what to get and when to get it, rather than trying to guess when Apple is going to introduce a device. Be happy with what you buy, and just bear in mind that it's only going to be a matter of time until there's something even better.

Peter Cohen
  • Well put.
  • Think of it this way: your Mac will be "last year's model" roughly a year from now. But it will still work just fine for many years. It will be able to handle the next 5 or 6 generations of OS X, most likely. And yes, it will gradually become noticeably slower. But by then you'll be ready for a new Mac anyway. Right? Also, Lightning and Thunderbolt are definitely Apple's connector technologies of choice for the foreseeable future. No need to worry about being stuck with obsolescent ports on your Mac.
  • Patiently waiting (still) for the new MacMini. *sigh*
  • Ditto, my Late '09 could do with a refresh. Well… doesn't really need one, still life in the old girl yet, but I'd like a refresh.
  • I have three in the house - each of them are my kids' computers. I'd love to see a new one. Don't want to buy one at this point until it's more aligned with what else is available in terms of integrated graphics performance and networking.
  • Exactly. I have an aging, non-upgradeable PowerPC iMac with it's built-in monitor unusable. I have a separate monitor attached to it so that I can see what I'm doing. LOL
  • If that question is any similar to "when you should buy your next iPhone", then there's a simple rule that works pretty well. Buy as soon as a new model is released. This will at least maximize the time period when your device is top-of-the-line. That's what I expected to read in this article. I wouldn't buy buy an iPhone today, knowing that the current model is 10 months old. I'll wait for the 6 and buy it immediately after release. Of course it's most reasonable to buy a new device when it's actually needed (or these's some money to spend :) ), but it may be better to wait until the next refresh, especially if it's imminent.
  • Buy as soon as a new model is released.
    I think there are good reasons to wait until a product is well in its cycle before buying. In the case of iPhones, you can often get a really good deal waiting instead of buying on day one. With Macs, you can sometimes find really good deals from retailers mid-cycle as well, or by waiting for refurbs to populate in the Apple online store.
  • This is easier with iOS devices which seem to have a predictable, annual cycle. For example, unless you need to, why buy an iPhone now when the next one is 2-3 months away? The Mac line doesn't seem to be as predictable - witness the Mini - and then it's a question of whether you want one ASAP or want to wait a bit for refurbs, etc. It also depends on price sensitivity... rarely will you see more than a 15% discount and that's not HUGE when evaluating a purchase that should last 3-5 years.
  • I sort of disagree from the iphone perspective. I just upgraded at the end of June, rather than wait for the 6. But I was on a 4. The jump to the 5s was so huge for me, that the "incremental" extra jump wouldn't be necessary, for me. I wouldn't mind the extra real estate, but I have an iPad mini too which takes care of that need.
  • I usually buy my iPhone after the first iteration or 3-6 months after release that why most of the bugs are worked out.
  • I agree.... and don't. The main point - buy what you need when you need it - is a good one, but theft and dead computer aside, the 'when you need it' is usually malleable. What people are really asking is "I don't want to buy something and have a new model come out in a month or two because I can stretch my current system that far. But I don't really want to stretch it another year." What I tell people varies a bit depending on what they're upgrading from. A couple of friends have made their Macs last 7+ years. Coming from that, anything new will be a huge upgrade so just go buy a new Mac. Even if they do ship a new revision the next month, the difference between your new Mac and it will pale in comparison to the upgrade you will get. If your Mac is under 5 years old AND it's been less than a year since Apple released their last revision to the line you're looking at buying, buy. The odds are that they won't update that hardware for at least 6-12 months. If it's been closer to 18 months since their last update, do some research and see if the new thing would be a significant bump from what's on the shelf now.
  • This. My Mac Pro 1,1 is now what must be 8 years old and running Mavericks like a champ. The cycle of upgrades didn’t actually bother me much. I want the new one but don’t really need it so will stretch until the first upgrade of the nMP before I buy.
    I think.
  • I have an '08 Mac Pro that is still going strong - no need to replace it, as much as I'd like to replace it with one of the shiny new black ones. In that time I've gone through three or four MacBooks. They've either broken or been replaced with machines that better suit my needs. In my particular use case, I have very different mobile Mac computing needs than I do desktop computing needs.
  • That's the other variable of course - how one's specific needs and desires affect things. A friend of mine recently replaces his aging 17" Powerbook with a 15" Macbook pro. He didn't NEED to (he's a normal user with web and office needs) but the pleasure in having things move much faster and the ability to continue to upgrade OS X (Powerbook remember) was of value to him. Performance gains have definitely leveled off though - the 2013 Air I'm typing on is faster than the 2011 it replaced... but not that much (bigger SSD tho...). I anticipate replace this in the 2017 timeframe. BTW, that's another factor to consider - resale value. My 2011 Air sold for $650 on Amazon, subsidizing a significant chunk of this Air. A 7 year old Mac will subsidize much less of the new machine.
  • Just upgraded my 2010 Macbook Pro with an SSD, now it feels like a new Mac to me. So that can be another option for people not ready to spring $1000+ for a new Mac. :-)
  • Thanks for reminding me. I must do that to my early 2011 MBP. Sent from the iMore App
  • as iOS8 and OSX Yosemite are announced for fall (are the mid september dates rumors or calculated with the beta-release dates?) i think its pretty save that iPhone6/Air/Whatever and new MBP-Retina will be announced in the same event. Maybe also MBAir and a new Mac Mini.
    Didnt i read a quote of Tim Cook who said 'At the end of this year we will have the best product line ever' or something like that?
    What do you professionals say about my speculations?
  • I'm guessing a refresh on most mac lines will be last quarter of this year when OS X 10.10 Yosemite hits and it makes sense to me to chuck a hardware refresh in there as well Sent from the iMore App
  • Great article Peter! Thank you. Sent from the iMore App
  • My next Mac laptop needs to feel like a jump to Star Trek tech. The last time I waited until the new tech of MacBooks(unibody) were available. So mine is a late 2008 MacBook. It was like Star Trek tech compared to my last PowerPC model. When I started using this one I wanted my next MacBook to feel the same. But I must say that the os transforms the machine. I use Mavricks and I've reformatted the hard disk, so now I kinda have an old machine that thinks it is Star Trek tech. Amazing!
  • To me, this process is complicated more and more every year by Apple making Macs less and less upgradeable. I read a column a couple of weeks ago about a guy who put some steep upgrades in his older 17" Macbook Pro just to keep that 17" screen. While I would love it if the 17" screen would make a comeback, I just upgraded last fall so I am going to ride this one for quite a while.
  • I have an old MacPro3,1 updated with SSDs, BT 4.0, 802.11ac, 6870 graphics and it runs Mavericks and Yeti DP3 (legally) like a champ BUT it is hot, LARGE, and getting noisy and slurps down power. It was what I needed 6 years ago but my needs are more modest now so I am jonesing for a quiet, small, energy-saving Broadwell MacMini which will likely far out-perform this MacPro 3,1 anyhow. Hope the new one materialises when Yeti is baked.
  • Peter, I am really looking for rMBA this September. I will be completely new to Mac.. have been Windows user since ages.
    I am a Infrastructure engineer of Xenapp/Xendesktop and would like to run Windows Virtual machines(using Vmware player or Vmware fusion).. how good Mac is running virtualized machines? I will be running 2x VM's with 1GB RAM each
  • I really need to update my MBP, so I'm playing the patience game. I feel like I'm stuck in a chess game waiting on the opponent to make the next move. Sure a Retina MBP fully loaded is a great upgrade from what I have now, but if I wait until fall I might get a better machine. The bottom line is being fully satisfied at time of purchase. I always buy the top of the line model, not because I "need" it, but from experience I've learned it (personally) reduces buyers remorse. Then again if I wasn't so connected or in the loop with Apple products from coming to this website every day, and listening to Peter and Rene every week, I would not what I was missing out on as it applies to new products. Damn you guys.
  • The car analogy is perfect. It even highlights the flaw in your argument. When you purchase a car, you know when the new models are coming out. They arrive virtually like clockwork in the fall. They are advertised heavily and there's no secret when they will arrive. In fact, unlike Apple products, car manufacturers go out of their way to let the public know when the new models will arrive, especially when they are off the cycle and arrive mid-year. The other problem with the car analogy is that along with that knowledge of when the new models arrive comes the ability to bargain for a lower price. In fact, in addition to bargaining for a lower price, manufacturers offer incentives. So, if Mac buyers knew when new models arrived and got discounts on current models when they neared their end-of-life, nobody would be so concerned, and would act just like you suggest. But there's nothing more annoying than paying full price for a computer that two weeks later is outdated, replaced by a more powerful and sometimes cheaper model.
  • My tried and true 2008 24" iMac is still running fine on Mavericks, and I've had no major issues with it for as long as I've had it, so I feel no immediate need to replace it just yet. I'll keep this old thing til it finally dies, and then probably get a retina MacBook Pro because I'd like to have something portable.
  • I'm waiting patiently for a new Mac Mini to be announced. I really need a new computer at this point and my fiance's old MacBook Pro is hobbling along to a dignified death. Typically I don't wait for new products. I'm fine taking an older model on a better deal but I just don't see the current Mini being a long haul machine. I'll only use it for basic things but my fiancé will use it for graphic design work when she doesn't have her work laptop with her. I just happen to benefit by getting to say that I don't feel bad waiting for the newer, shinier one. And if one doesn't come out this year? Well, remember the end of the "Mans Gotta Do" song from Dr. Horrible? Balls.
  • One more thought here... The other way to deal with this is to simply replace on a schedule. Every 4 years (say), you sell the current Mac and buy the new one as soon as it's announced. The old Mac will probably get you 40-60% of it's new purchase price assuming excellent condition, so the out of pocket cost isn't terrible. This percentage declines much past 3-4 years in my experience. Obviously you can make many Macs last longer, but every person I've seen who has replaced machines that are much older than 5 years (7 years, 9 years, etc) has been amazed at the difference and wished they'd upgraded sooner. The advantage of replacing on a schedule of every 4-5 years is that you take emotion out of it.
  • I have a late 2009 iMac that I bought new in mid 2010 that could use a refresh soon but I'm definitely waiting until it goes retina or gains some other significant technology like wireless charging (sorry Thunderbolt ports, you're not enough). But a retina screen is the biggie for me since it would be a serious kick in the pants if I bought a new iMac this year only to have it go retina the following year. It's going to suck not having the Continuity features but I can wait for now since it's still pretty snappy.
  • Never!!! Posted via iMore App
  • So after reading this post and then reading a post over on macrumors that it may be mid 2015 before we see the macbook pro refresh I decided to run out and make the purchase. My 11' MBA was getting quite slow and the battery was only giving me about 1.5 to 2 hours on a full charge with constant use. Best purchase! Loving this rMBP!
  • My own strategy is almost the opposite, Peter. Figure out which machine you want, wait patiently until the next release, and then buy the highest-end configuration you can afford, after figuring out which parts (like memory) you can upgrade on your own for less. Then, STOP READING ABOUT NEW RELEASES until you absolutely, positively need a new machine. Or at least try. Using this strategy, I've found myself replacing major machines every 4-5 years, versus 2-3 years if I just buy what's out there when I need it. But that's me -- as always, YMMV.