You may have caught Apple's huge announcement about the future of the Mac earlier this year, but in case you didn't it goes like this: Apple's MacBooks, which have run Intel-based chips as their brains for about 15 years are about to get a shake-up. Later this year, Apple will release its first MacBooks with the same homebrewed ARM-based microchips it uses in its laptops. It's a monumental shift, so what is a prospective MacBook buyer to do?
The future is opaque as ever, but fortunately there is one piece of advice that applies pretty broadly to anyone who is in the market for a new Apple laptop: wait! If you can, just wait.
You'll want to see Apple's ARM-books, even if you don't plan to buy.
Apple's new ARM-based laptops are going to be bleeding edge tech in all the best and worst ways. They could effectively leverage the power-efficiency of Apple's chips to increase the battery life of the average MacBook by a huge margin, making it thinner and lighter all the while. They could also struggle to their its feet as the entire Apple software ecosystem scrambles to make its programs compatible for the new chips. Maybe both!
Considering the wide range of possibilities, you'd have to be a real tech junky to gamble your money on one as your daily driver. But even if you (wisely) don't plan to, the actual reality of the new MacBooks will help inform your decision. If Apple's new breed appears particularly tempting, or particularly un-unaffordable, you might want to consider buying an older, refurbished laptop to carry you through the two or three years it takes for Apple's newest MacBooks to come into their own. If the new 'Books struggle off the line, or offer nothing of great appeal to you, you'll be able to sleep soundly in the decision to buy a souped-up Intel machine that can see you through the next five years or beyond.
Intel's not dead yet.
While Apple's future is very clearly in ARM-based devices, that does not mean it is done with Intel devices. Product development cycles are very long, and Apple has openly acknowledged that new Intel MacBooks are still on the way. If you are looking for a new laptop that does not require you to go out on a limb, these are the ones to wait for. And if you don't necessarily need a "new" laptop, it's worth waiting for these to show up anyway -- they'll drive down the prices of last-gen MacBook Airs and Pros, giving you an option to snag a one-generation-old Apple computer that has traditional scissor switches instead of the awful "butterfly" keyboards that all of Apple's gen-old Macs currently sport.
But if you can't wait, don't sweat it.
If you are beset upon by a truly unusable laptop or otherwise simply cannot wait until the fall to upgrade, that's ok. Apple's transition to a fully ARM-powered ecosystem is necessarily a slow but steady one. The reason Apple broke the news so far in advance of an actual product is because it will take a lot of time and effort to redirect the entire world of software development in the direction of these new chips' needs.
As a result, you can feel relatively safe in the knowledge that your new laptop will not be abandoned anytime soon. Make no mistake -- it will be abandoned. When it comes to parts and service, Apple considers products sold in the last 5 years as "current", products older than 5 years but younger than 7 as "vintage" and everything beyond that as "obsolete." As such, it's reasonable to expect that Apple will be in the business of supporting Intel-based Macs for at least 5 more years, though you can expect its priorities to markedly shift.