Apple Mac in 2023: year in review

MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) in a studio with lid partially closed showing Apple logo
(Image credit: Future)

How did Apple fare this year when it came to Macs? You probably won’t have missed the headlines popping up about sales slumps and cutting production, that’s for sure.

It was a difficult year in many respects for Apple, so hold onto your hats as we break down the computing side of Apple’s 2023, exploring the highs and lows of the Mac in 2023.

MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) in a studio close up of ports

(Image credit: Future)

Shelf sitters

Unfortunately for Apple, there was a clear theme for the Mac in 2023, and that was flagging sales. Too many Apple PCs and notebooks were slow to shift from shelves across the globe.

Now, to be fair to Apple, the wider PC industry faced strong headwinds throughout this year from the cost of living crisis, with computer sales slumping all round (and declining in particularly steep fashion as 2023 kicked off).

Apple seemed to struggle more, though, and if speculation is to be believed, the MacBook Air OLED, which was once rumored for 2024, might just have been pushed back a long way into the future due to wobbly Q2 2023 revenue for the laptop range. Apple even scaled back its chip production in Q1 due to shaky sales, according to other chatter from the grapevine.

Not rumors, though, but sales figures themselves told the concrete story of Apple’s woes in 2023. For example, in Q1 Apple’s Mac units shifted suffered an eyebrow-raising 40% drop according to analyst firm IDC (the PC market was down a chunky 29% overall, mind). And the Q3 2023 report on the PC market from Canalys showed an overall drop of 7% in shipments year-on-year, but Apple fell a startling 29% compared to the same quarter the previous year.

So clearly it was a difficult year for Mac revenue, and Apple had an even tougher time of things compared to other PC vendors who were all struggling.

MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) in use in a studio

(Image credit: Future)

MacBook Pro: Take two

Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro models right as the year began. And then refreshed them again as 2023 rolled towards its inexorable conclusion. Revamping a laptop range twice in one year is very unusual, as you doubtless realize if you follow Apple. So, what was going on here?

Obviously, the original plan was the first refresh. This happened in January when Apple revealed new MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch models equipped with M2 Pro and M2 Max chips (alongside connectivity improvements, notably Wi-Fi 6E support).

These models were well-received by critics, but it was a case of refinements rather than any big leaps forward, and the M2’s performance compared to the M1 was not a compelling reason for an upgrade. Indeed, later in the year, chatter turned to the M2 being a disappointment in this respect – alongside suggestions that Apple might have its hand forced to do something about this.

MacBook Pro 14-inch with M3 Max

(Image credit: Future)

And do something Apple did, because as we’ve mentioned, a surprise second MacBook Pro revamp happened in October 2023. Both overhauled MacBook Pro 16-inch and 14-inch laptops carried the new M3 chip, with the theory being that the new silicon would help push the flagging sales we just discussed in the previous section.

Ming-Chi Kuo, a heavyweight Apple leaker, predicted the MacBook Pro M3 launch before it happened, reversing a previous forecast, while observing that Tim Cook’s firm hadn’t planned on debuting it until 2024, but had to push something out to help shift units. (Even with purported doubts around production capacity with this plan of going in early).

True enough, it does feel like Apple didn’t plan for this – given how quickly these M3 replacements came, and the poor situation with sales as already touched upon. We can also consider the unusualness of Apple releasing three spins on the M3 right from the off – the vanilla M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max. Traditionally the Pro and Max are launched later, but not this time, again lending to the overall vibe that Apple was swiftly loading up its biggest guns to deploy to make as much of an impact on the PC battlefield as it possibly could.

Will this strategy work? Obviously we don’t have the answer to that yet, but the sales for the start of 2024 (and final quarter of this year) will making for very interesting viewing.

There is one downside to Apple’s double-take on the MacBook Pro for 2023, though, and that’s causing some serious potential buyer’s remorse for those who picked up one of the first batch of laptops to debut at the start of the year. True, those machines are hardly redundant – far from it – but there’s been some gnashing of teeth over how quickly those MacBook Pros were superseded. It must be especially painful for those who made a purchase just before October.

MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max (2023) REVIEW

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

The M3 was launched in three flavors with the Macs unleashed in late October, as we just mentioned, and it’s certainly worth taking a closer look at Apple’s third-gen in-house CPU. How does it compare to the previous generation SoC?

Upon revealing the new processor, Apple boasted that the M3 is roughly 20% faster than the M2 (the core counts and configurations mostly remain the same, by the way).

In our review machines, Apple provided M3 Max-loaded MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch laptops, and to say this chip impressed us would be an understatement. It’s mightily powerful and even handles gaming well as we discuss at some length in our write-up of the 14-inch model.

While the plain M3 and M3 Max processors take some sizeable strides forward, there is a weak spot in Apple’s new SoC line-up and it’s that middle chip. The M3 Pro is less of an improvement over its predecessor in comparison to its two stablemates, and that’s not exactly surprising given that it’s the only CPU to notch back its spec (slightly – its top configuration is 6+6 performance/efficiency cores, as opposed to 8+4 with the top M2 Pro). Of course, it’s still a jump in performance over the M2 Pro due to that new process and architecture.

However, there’s a feeling that Apple is widening the gap between the M3 Pro and M3 Max chips to tempt folks into wanting to pay more to get the latter. Nonetheless, overall, the M3 silicon is a worthy successor to the M2, without blowing it away by any means, keeping the same kind of pace as the M2 over the M1 (with the main difference being the quirk in the pep, or lack of it, given to the M3 Pro).

Apple iMac 24-inch M3 (2023)

(Image credit: Apple)

iMac joins the M3 party

Aside from the MacBook Pros, the other Mac to get the benefit of the M3 silicon was Apple’s all-in-one PC (which skipped entirely over the M2, it should be noted). At the same October event during which the MacBook Pros were unveiled, the iMac 24-inch was introduced.

Was this a successful launch? Yes and no, but mostly the former. Apple did play it safe with this one, not changing much about the design of the all-in-one (not that this was a bad thing, seeing as the previous M1 redesign was a commendable piece of work).

But that said, the new iMac 24-inch is an excellent performer thanks to the M3 CPU – which is a big step up over the M1 – and indeed we declared the new iMac to be the ‘best all-in-one computer’ out there in our review. High praise indeed.

MacBook Air 15-inch (2023) Touch ID

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Supersized MacBook Air

Apple finally unleashed the much-rumored MacBook Air 15-inch in June. Its arrival was accompanied by a good deal of scratching of heads in some quarters, in terms of a larger MacBook like this not being all that ‘airy’ by virtue of its necessarily bigger chassis and weight.

Still, as we pointed out in our review of the bigger MacBook Air, Apple has kept this laptop relatively compact for a 15-inch notebook, and there are certainly selling points. These include a gorgeous (and of course expansive) screen, a well thought out design, and palatable pricing. But it’s slightly disappointing that the performance is no better than the MacBook Air 13-inch, and essentially this is the same laptop, just supersized.

However, it’s still a useful addition for those who’d like a larger MacBook Air, with more screen real-estate for apps (and movies for that matter – the 15-inch variant also has a great speaker system, which helps on the audio side of the equation).

An Apple Mac Mini M2 Pro on a desk

(Image credit: Apple)

Mac mini M2 proves a delightful surprise

Another Mac to get a refresh in 2023 was Apple’s compact box of computing tricks. The new Mac mini arrived at the start of the year, in January, powered by the M2 SoC (or you could plump for the M2 Pro).

This was a well-received update for the Mac mini, and indeed in our review we called it the best mini PC that money can buy, being more powerful than ever, with that M2 Pro option and up to 32GB of unified system RAM – yet still fitting into its traditionally diminutive form-factor. The end result was a product that could perhaps even tempt Windows diehards looking for a beefy mini PC.

Mac Studio on a white rug

(Image credit: Future - Joel Burgess)

Professional Macs

It’s worth noting that Apple also launched a new Mac Studio PC with the M2 inside (M2 Max and Ultra chips) which was also loved. This powerful compact workstation arrived in October at a reasonable price for what’s inside.

Another business-targeted heavyweight computer (packing the M2 Ultra) pitched up in the form of a new Mac Pro for 2023, which arrived in June with a predictably eye-watering price tag (even the wheels were ridiculously expensive).

macOS Sonoma

(Image credit: Future)

Pouring out macOS Sonoma

On the software front, as ever macOS received its annual update. Sonoma arrived in September and brought some very useful improvements in tow for Mac users, including bolstering video conferencing (for those who work from home regularly now) and widgets (putting them front and center on the desktop).

To sum up, there were no major introductions here, but a good number of useful changes and general polishing, all of which combined to ensure a suitable stride forward for macOS 14.

MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max (2023) playing a game

(Image credit: Future)

Big changes for Mac gaming

One further introduction witnessed in macOS Sonoma was Game Mode, which as you might expect prioritizes gaming needs over everything else when turned on, ensuring faster frame rates. This wasn’t the only positive development for Mac gamers over the course of the year, either.

As we’ve already mentioned, the new M3-toting MacBooks showed this new chip is a more than solid performer for running games, with that SoC proving to be seriously fast and featuring better integrated graphics (plus additional bells and whistles such as dynamic caching for tuning GPU performance, and hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading).

On top of that, Apple clearly wanted to push forward with gaming as we saw the debut of No Man’s Sky on the Mac just before WWDC 2023, and at the show came the revelation of Apple’s Game Porting Toolkit to bring Windows games to macOS (Cyberpunk 2077 and Diablo IV being a couple of the initial titles to benefit). Death Stranding was also announced as inbound for the Mac at WWDC.

In short, Mac gaming put the pedal to the proverbial metal in 2023, and it feels like there’ll be further revelations along these lines ahead – fingers crossed.

M3 Macbook Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Concluding thoughts

In some ways, Apple floundered in 2023. It was a turbulent year for Mac sales with an initial launch of MacBook Pro models that, let’s face it, rather flopped and failed to shift the numbers Tim Cook would’ve liked to see. The awaited larger MacBook Air 15-inch also felt disappointing in some respects in that it was rather unimaginatively just ‘more of the same, but bigger.’

Struggling sales figures – with notably worse performance than other PC vendors – purportedly led to Apple bringing forward its M3 launch, and releasing new MacBook Pro models for a second time in the same year. While it wouldn’t be fair to say this move smacked of desperation, it did feel like a rescue plan of sorts, and is certainly an unusual release cadence.

Whatever the case, Apple ended the year with some powerful new M3 Macs, and 2023 certainly finished on the right note with that revamped SoC. Particularly when you consider other factors like driving forward with Mac gaming to an impressive degree this year. On top of that, we can’t declare the year to be all that shaky given that over the course of the past 12 months, Apple unleashed not just the M3, but the best all-in-one PC out there (iMac 24-inch) and the best mini PC to boot (Mac mini).

Mind you, there’s no doubting that Apple must improve its Mac sales numbers next year, and there’ll be a lot of scrutiny of the quarterly results as they roll in.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).