What’s the best Mac for developers in December 2018?

What’s the best Mac for developers in December 2018?

I’ve been developing award-winning educational apps for young children since autumn 2008 – not long after the App Store opened. My iOS apps use a mix of Swift, Objective-C and cocoapods. The MacBook Pro I use for development recently hit three-years-old, and I decided it was time, once more, to see what’s the best Mac for development. I spent less than three years ago, on a machine that’s twice as fast.

Why does it matter what Mac your developers have?

Improving the hardware you use for development directly improves productivity and thus the bottom line.  You are upgrading the app factory.

Developers spend a lot of time each day building their app – you want that to be fast. Their time is your money.

What’s important

The key components are:

  • the fastest processor you can get, to speed up compiling with Xcode
  • plenty of RAM, so the Mac is not hitting swap
  • a fast SSD, so code is loaded quickly
  • the biggest display, for seeing as much of your app’s code at one time as you can.

Developers now often work in the office and at home. This has helped the MacBook Pro become popular for developers. Portability is another factor then.

What Macs I’ve used before

Originally I used a 24” and then a 27” iMac, because of their big screens, and at that time, they were amongst the fastest Macs Apple made. In 2015, I bought a top-spec 15” MacBook Pro, and an excellent 34 inch LG screen to see more at once. 

A disadvantage of the iMac is that is you can end up throwing away a perfectly good monitor because some component of the computer inside has failed.

The iOS developer’s choice: MacBook Pro 15 vs iMac Pro vs Mac Pro vs Mac mini

Everyone is still waiting for Apple to properly update the Mac Pro originally launched with great fanfare in 2013. Apple finally recently updated the Mac mini after four years. They’ve been better at keeping the MacBook Pro and iMac up-to-date. 


The 2018 Mac Mini uses desktop processors, and when you configure it with the fastest processor Apple offer, what’s surprising is how well it benchmarks against more expensive Macs. According to geekbench.com, it’s almost the fastest Mac for single core processing and not far behind the iMac Pro and Mac Pro for multi-core. Note that its GPU score is poor, but that’s not an issue for developing iOS apps.

Twice as fast

My MacBook Pro 15” has a 2.8GHz i7, 16GB RAM and a 500GB SSD. It takes 134 seconds to build  PocketPhonics Stories (my flagship app).  I decided that I’d go for a 2018 Mac mini. The spec is 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD and 3.2 GHz Intel Core i7 (like this bundle on Amazon). It took just 63 seconds to build my app – more than twice as fast. I was stunned. It’s also noticeably faster when running my RAILs website.

Why Mac mini?

I went for the Mac mini, because it was the cheapest option for me to get an increase in speed. I already had a big screen, keyboard and mouse. But what if you had to buy these?  Or, you work in the office and at home, do you have to stick with a MacBook Pro? 

The 1.3kg Mac mini actually weighs less than the 1.8kg MacBook pro. It has an SSD so there’s no hard drive to crash the head on when you carry it around.  Of course, without a keyboard or screen, you can’t use it. But, remarkably, you could actually buy a top-spec Mac Mini, a big screen and keyboard/mouse for the office and home and still save money over a top-spec MacBook Pro.

You can get the LG 34UM88C-P 34-Inch monitor for work, and a Acer 27-inch (1920 x 1080) display for home. Add a pair of top-spec Logitech HD Pro Webcams, Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboards and Logitech wireless mice plus AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable, 6 Feet, 3-Pack. As you can see in the table below, even after adding all these great extras to the price of your Mac mini, it will still cost you less than a MacBook Pro. Plus it’s faster and you will have much bigger screens at work and home.

Note the prices in the table below were taken from Amazon and Apple websites on 3rd December 2018.

MacBook pro32GB RAM, 1 TB SSD2.9GHz i9£3689/
Mac Mini + 2 large
monitors, webcams,
keyboards & mice
32GB RAM, 1 TB SSD3.2GHz i7£3111/
iMac Pro32GB RAM, 1 TB SSD3.2GHz Xeon W£4899/

Mac Pro in 2019?

If Apple do finally launch a re-designed Mac Pro next year, it’d be great to see something that allows you to easily upgrade the SSD and memory, and that you can put the fastest possible Intel processor in. Maybe that’d be twice as fast at compiling PocketPhonics Stories as my Mac mini!

7 thoughts on “What’s the best Mac for developers in December 2018?

  1. This is the article I was looking for! I am new to iOS developing and noticed that the compile times are painfully slow on my (old) MacBook Pro. The Mac mini is really a great option and will consider buying one. I was unsure if a i5 or I7 would make a big difference. Apparently it does! It will not be great for Machine Learning but no Mac at the moment does unfortunately.

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