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This year was somewhat uncharacteristic for Apple in terms of product announcements, as the company unveiled or preannounced a number of new devices that didn't actually ship in 2017. Rather than needing to rely on rumors or guesswork, we can tell you with a greater degree of certainty that these products are officially on the horizon from Apple.
Editor's note: This is the latest installment in AppleInsider's 2017 Year in Review series, recapping the biggest trends for Apple that carried throughout the year.
Mac Pro modular desktop redesign (probably)
In perhaps the most surprising admission from the company in 2017, it revealed that an all-new Mac Pro with modular design is in the works. According to Apple, the company has taken the years since its cylindrical Mac Pro debuted to "completely rethink" the desktop machine.
Apple didn't get into specifics on release dates, only saying back in April that the new Mac Pro would not ship in 2017. Whether that means 2018 or beyond, only Apple knows, but preannouncing a product nearly two years in advance would seem extremely unlikely for a company that ships new iPhones only days or weeks after they are unveiled.
Why the change in product secrecy strategy for Apple in 2017? At least as far as professional-grade machines go, pro Mac users were extremely worried that Apple might be abandoning them with its consumer-focused hardware lineup. By preannouncing upcoming products, and abandoning its flair for the dramatic, Apple sought to reassure its devoted customers.
Apple-built external Retina display (probably)
Alongside the new modular Mac Pro, Apple also revealed that it will build its own Apple-branded displays. This would mark a return to the market that Apple abandoned in 2016, when it discontinued the Thunderbolt Display.
Apple had hoped that it could rely on preferred third-party partners to fill the void, but the LG UltraFine displays that were intended to replace the Thunderbolt Display had hardware quality issues that led to picture degradation.
Facing further alienation of pro users, Apple preannounced both the new Mac Pro and Apple displays in April of 2017. And again, as with the Mac Pro, no specific date was given, so it's possible the displays won't ship until 2019 or beyond. But two years between announcement and launch might send those nervous pro users into fits of rage, so we think these will probably ship before the year is out.
HomePod smart speaker (almost certainly)
It's extremely unlikely, however, that the HomePod would slip until 2019.
Originally scheduled to launch in December of 2017, the smart speaker was delayed until early 2018, with Apple saying it needs more time to finish the device. The $349 Siri-equipped HomePod will serve as a high-end speaker with personal assistant capabilities, targeting a much more premium market than Amazon's Echo lineup.
Given that Apple rarely misses product launch deadlines, particularly for consumer products, any further delays for the HomePod would be a shock. You can expect this one to arrive in early 2018, as Apple promised.
When exactly "early" is, however, is anyone's guess. Our best guess would be the first quarter of the calendar year, meaning the HomePod could ship before the end of March. If the shipment does somehow slip beyond that, don't expect it to arrive past Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, which falls in early June.
AirPower charging mat (almost certainly)
Unlike the HomePod, which was originally scheduled to launch in 2017, the AirPower charging mat was never intended for release this year. Apple plainly stated when it took the wraps off of the hardware in September that the wireless charging mat — which supports the iPhone 8, iPhone X, Apple Watch Series 3, and new AirPods case — will arrive in 2018.
Unlike current Qi charging mats available on the market, the AirPower mat is a unique implementation of the wireless charging standard, allowing up to three devices to charge on one mat at the same time. This is akin to how the W1 chip uses Bluetooth technology with a unique Apple twist.
While the AirPower mat is scheduled to arrive in 2018, we still don't know when during the year, nor how much it will cost. One rumor pegged the price at $199, but that seems questionable considering the AirPods themselves (sans wireless charging case) are $159, and other wireless charging pads on the market are well under $100.
AirPods with wireless charging case (almost certainly)
While the AirPods themselves will remain the same, Apple will offer its completely wireless headphones with a new, Qi-capable wireless charging case. Existing AirPods customers will be able to update to the new case, while new purchases can come with it — though pricing options remain unknown.
One rumor claimed the case would arrive in December for $69, but that failed to come to be.
For its part, Apple's website simply advertises that the "optional wireless charging case" is coming in 2018, with no specific window for launch.
Official eGPU support in High Sierra (extremely likely)
This one is somewhat of a technicality, as High Sierra users can currently test external graphics card with their Mac. But at the moment, support is spotty, and the only hardware Apple provides through its own storefront is intended for developer testing.
Official, public support for eGPUs in High Sierra is scheduled to arrive this spring. At that time, we'd expect that consumer-facing graphics card hardware — and perhaps even Apple's own external Retina display — could hit the market to take advantage of the new capabilities.
It would also make sense to see new virtual reality hardware and software available, as such devices are driven by eGPU support.
While you can test these things now, it's probably best to wait on such a considerable investment in hardware until it's out of beta. Expect eGPU support in High Sierra to exit beta by mid-2018 — hopefully before macOS 10.14 is announced at WWDC.
Mac mini (maybe, but don't count on it)
While Apple didn't say anything is definitively on the roadmap for the Mac mini in 2018, the company did signal that its cheapest and smallest Mac desktop is not dead.
It remains to be see what, if anything, Apple has in store for the future of the Mac mini. But the comments from Apple executives in 2017 would seem to suggest that some sort of refresh is in the works. Whether we'll see it in 2018 (or ever) is an open question.
But given that the current Mac mini has not been updated in 3 years, fans would be ill advised to hold their breath. Unlike the HomePod, AirPower and eGPU support, which are almost assuredly arriving this year, the Mac mini remains an unknown.