What will be the last version of macOS for Intel Macs?

Colstan

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I'm curious about your thoughts on how long Apple will continue to release new versions of macOS for Intel Macs. I was recently offered a (relatively) good price on a 2019 Mac Pro, but turned it down, because my 2018 Mac mini is currently sufficient, and I don't think x86 support is going to be around much longer. Hence, it would have been a bad investment, if Apple quickly moves to deprecate Intel.

For comparison, Steve Jobs announced the switch to Intel at WWDC 2005, and the final version of OS X to support PowerPC was Leopard, released in 2007, with Snow Leopard being Intel-only when released in 2009.

So, since I'm still using an Intel Mac (like a savage), here's a poll about how long you folks think it has left, excluding the two years of security updates, before facing the executioner's axe.
 

Arkitect

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Ever the (selfish) optimist I am going to go with MacOS 15…

1. I have a few Intel Macs that are fairly new;
2. I am loath to give up Bootcamp;
3. A few apps I use have not yet ported over to Silicon and their future plans are clear as mud.

But my little list of needs and wants carry no weight with Apple's decision making, so… who knows? 🤷🏻‍♂️
 

DT

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Interesting question.

Today, I can order a new Intel based Mini or an Intel based Pro, and I'd assume those ship with Monterey. I suppose we may see those aforementioned Intel based machines shipping with Ventura, if they're still being sold new later this year with MacOS 13 releases. I'd figure at least 1 major version after the "shipped with" OS, so I'm going with MacOS 14, aka, Glass Beach :D
 

Yoused

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The transition from 68K to PPC took a little under 4 years, the first PPC running 7.1.2, the last 68K-compatible OS at 8.1. PPC to x86 took a little over 3 and a half years, starting with Tiger 10.4.4 running on Intel and 10.6 cutting off PPC support.

The transition to PPC was clunky, with some parts of the OS actually running under emulation. Since then, the new OS has been ready to roll from the start (a dozen years of iOS development has made it quite mature). What is likely to happen is that AS machines will get new features that will not show up on Intel boxes (probably Metal and ML enhancements in particular). By '24, Intel Macs will be just on life support.
 

theorist9

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To answer that, I'd like to know what it costs Apple (in performance, features, resources, and code base) to maintain Intel compatibility. Specifically, if Apple could design an AS-only OS:

1) Performance: How much more more performant (more responsive and stable), if at all, would an AS-only OS be?

2) Features: Are there features that Apple could offer on an AS-only OS that they can't on a hybrid OS? [Currently, there are some AS-only features on Monterey; that's not what I'm referring to here. I'm asking if there are features that Apple could offer on an AS-only OS that can't be offered, at all, on a AS + Intel OS.]

3) Resources: How significant would be the savings in person-hours?

4) Code Base: How much simpler and easier to maintain would the code base be? [This affects #3, but isn't exactly the same.]


The higher the costs are for nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4, the faster they will be to abandon Intel.
 

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I'm going to say macOS 16 at the earliest. They are still selling Intel Macs. There's no way they're going to stop supporting Intel after macOS 13.
 

Nycturne

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To answer that, I'd like to know what it costs Apple (in performance, features, resources, and code base) to maintain Intel compatibility. Specifically, if Apple could design an AS-only OS:

1) Performance: How much more more performant (more responsive and stable), if at all, would an AS-only OS be?

2) Features: Are there features that Apple could offer on an AS-only OS that they can't on a hybrid OS? [Currently, there are some AS-only features on Monterey; that's not what I'm referring to here. I'm asking if there are features that Apple could offer on an AS-only OS that can't be offered, at all, on a AS + Intel OS.]

3) Resources: How significant would be the savings in person-hours?

4) Code Base: How much simpler and easier to maintain would the code base be? [This affects #3, but isn't exactly the same.]

The higher the costs are for nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4, the faster they will be to abandon Intel.

Quite right. But to give a rough idea:

1) I wouldn't expect quality/performance to increase appreciably with an AS-only OS, except in the sense that they can recoup effort that would normally go into x64 and use it to hold the quality bar higher. That said, I haven't seen many large companies actually do this. Generally savings get put into more forward momentum under the "evolve or die" mentality.

2) By your definition, I don't expect anything to be gained explicitly by going AS-only. There might be, but I would expect it to be minor.

3) Depends a lot on where engineering time is spent today. The savings are primarily in places like: not having to bug fix/deploy Intel drivers, reducing the hardware matrix, having fewer thread schedulers in xnu, etc. But it is clear that macOS is currently the only place in Apple that is spending time on anything x64 specific. It also depends on if Apple truly abandons x64 internally, versus just keeping a light on in case things get weird in 10 years.

4) The OS itself won't gain a whole lot. There's places like the Accelerate framework, VideoToolbox, and the kernel, that have dependencies on x64 that could be removed. But the low level stuff is mostly C/C++, and the high level stuff is mostly Obj-C/Swift now. Apple's choice to lock CPU extensions behind frameworks is partly what makes a lot of this easier. In essence, Apple already paid the cost to architect it appropriately, and it's not a huge cost to leave things in place for the time being.

My take is that #3 is the biggest factor for Apple. Especially when talking about test matrices, driver support, and the like. Things are a little different today with the yearly releases compared to the Intel switch, so we could very well get a couple more macOS releases before they drop support in the OS.
 

Roller

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I'm going to say macOS 16 at the earliest. They are still selling Intel Macs. There's no way they're going to stop supporting Intel after macOS 13.
Agreed. I think they’ll provide OS support for at least three years after the last Intel Mac is sold. But older Intel Macs may be dropped more quickly than they otherwise would.
 

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To answer that, I'd like to know what it costs Apple (in performance, features, resources, and code base) to maintain Intel compatibility. Specifically, if Apple could design an AS-only OS
There is no "hybrid". A tiny portion, mostly Kernel and some critical daemons are platform-specific. The rest is primarily compiled, and the compilers are almost entirely better than any hand-coding, so they will just run the code through the x86 and ARM compilers side-by-side to produce two complete OS code bases and deliver the required OS to the appropriate target. Some features will be absent in subsequent Intel versions of the OS, most likely forcing Intel binaries to target older systems.

I had a program that misfired when its fat binary was run on Snow Leopard. It worked as it was supposed to but failed to draw at all, which turned out to be because NSImage had quietly become an immutable object, which meant that I had to rewrite about ten or so lines of code to make it work right. There will probably be subtle changes to how the OS works that will simply cause older Intel-based fat binaries to fail or crash when run on later AS systems, and it may not even be possible at some point to write a viable fat binary or Rosetta-translatable app. That time is half a decade off, though.
 

Colstan

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Thank you all for your responses, much appreciated. My guess is that the last Intel version will be released in 2024, with macOS 16 in 2025 being Apple Silicon only. I don't think we can speculate much based upon the transition from 68K to PPC, maybe a bit from PPC to x86, but the Mac market is much larger now. The only data point we have is what Macs were dropped from Ventura. With macOS 13, everything earlier than 2017 is out, which is five years.

Based upon this, I speculate that Apple will drop support five years after the introduction of the 2019 Mac Pro, hence my assumption that macOS 15 will be the last ride for Intel users. I realize that this will leave the 2020 iMac out in the cold, but the writing was on the wall with that model, so I think it will be abandoned early. Apple telegraphed their intentions before it was announced, so people knew what they were getting into with that model.

Again, I appreciate all of your responses, and I'll be curious how much life my 2018 Mac mini will have. Even though it's still selling today, if I'm correct about 2025 being when the ferryman collects his two coins from Intel users, then I'll still get seven years out of it. Even if I move to Apple Silicon before then, my retired Macs usually find a new life with family members who aren't technologically discerning.
 

theorist9

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There is no "hybrid". A tiny portion, mostly Kernel and some critical daemons are platform-specific. The rest is primarily compiled, and the compilers are almost entirely better than any hand-coding, so they will just run the code through the x86 and ARM compilers side-by-side to produce two complete OS code bases and deliver the required OS to the appropriate target. Some features will be absent in subsequent Intel versions of the OS, most likely forcing Intel binaries to target older systems.

I had a program that misfired when its fat binary was run on Snow Leopard. It worked as it was supposed to but failed to draw at all, which turned out to be because NSImage had quietly become an immutable object, which meant that I had to rewrite about ten or so lines of code to make it work right. There will probably be subtle changes to how the OS works that will simply cause older Intel-based fat binaries to fail or crash when run on later AS systems, and it may not even be possible at some point to write a viable fat binary or Rosetta-translatable app. That time is half a decade off, though.
You didn't understand what I meant by hybrid. I was using it simply as a shorthand for an OS that had the ability to run on both Intel and AS. That's it. I thought that was evident from context, but I guess not.

The only term of art I was aware of for hybrid in the context of OS's is hybrid kernels, which combine microkernel and monolithic architectures, but I figured it was clear enough that I wasn't using it that way.
 

theorist9

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Thank you all for your responses, much appreciated. My guess is that the last Intel version will be released in 2024, with macOS 16 in 2025 being Apple Silicon only. I don't think we can speculate much based upon the transition from 68K to PPC, maybe a bit from PPC to x86, but the Mac market is much larger now. The only data point we have is what Macs were dropped from Ventura. With macOS 13, everything earlier than 2017 is out, which is five years.

Based upon this, I speculate that Apple will drop support five years after the introduction of the 2019 Mac Pro, hence my assumption that macOS 15 will be the last ride for Intel users. I realize that this will leave the 2020 iMac out in the cold, but the writing was on the wall with that model, so I think it will be abandoned early. Apple telegraphed their intentions before it was announced, so people knew what they were getting into with that model.

Again, I appreciate all of your responses, and I'll be curious how much life my 2018 Mac mini will have. Even though it's still selling today, if I'm correct about 2025 being when the ferryman collects his two coins from Intel users, then I'll still get seven years out of it. Even if I move to Apple Silicon before then, my retired Macs usually find a new life with family members who aren't technologically discerning.
Just speculating here but, particularly if Apple ends Intel support earlier rather than later, one thing they could do as a gesture to Intel Mac users would be to extend the security and technical support of the last Intel version out another year, to four years after release instead of the usual three. I assume that's much less costly than supporting Intel on one additional OS with the standard 3 years CTS. Though then the question becomes whether major software vendors will continue to support that OS out to four years. I assume Apple would consult with them before choosing to do so.
 
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DT

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Agreed. I think they’ll provide OS support for at least three years after the last Intel Mac is sold. But older Intel Macs may be dropped more quickly than they otherwise would.

That's kind of where I was going with my post, i.e., there still being some Intel based Macs sold as new, and their lifecycle probably taking them through the release of MacOS 13, so I would think (if it were me in making the decision), at the very least MacOS 14 support, maybe MacOS 15 and some slim chance for 16 :D
 

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