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Which MacBook is Good Enough for iOS Development?


Aasif Khan
By Aasif Khan | Last Updated on February 17th, 2024 6:41 am | 4-min read

How fast does your MacBook need to be to comfortably code iOS apps with Xcode? Is a MacBook Pro from 2-3 years ago still up to the task for Swift programming? With technological advancements and the evolving landscape of iOS development, let’s delve into what’s currently required and recommended.

Here’s what we’ll get into:

  • The minimum/recommended system requirements for Xcode 11
  • Why you need – or don’t need – a fancy $3.000 MacBook Pro
  • Which second-hand Macs can run Xcode OK, and how you can find out

I’ve answered a lot of “Is my MacBook good enough for iOS development and/or Xcode?”-type questions on Quora. A few of the most popular models include:

  • The 3rd- and 4th-gen MacBook Pro, with 2.4+ GHz Intel Core i5, i7, i9 CPUs
  • The 2nd-gen MacBook Air, with the 1.4+ GHz Intel Core i5 CPUs
  • The 4th-generation iMac, with the 2.7+ GHz Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs

These models aren’t the latest, that’s for sure. Are they good enough to code iOS apps? And what about learning how to code? We’ll find out in this tutorial.

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My Almost-Unbreakable 2013 MacBook Air

Since 2009 I’ve coded more than 50 apps for iOS, Android and the mobile web. Most of those apps, including all apps I’ve created between 2013 and 2018, were built on a 13″ MacBook Air with 8 GB of RAM and a 1.3 GHz Intel i5 CPU.

My first MacBook was the gorgeous, then-new MacBook White unibody (2009), which I traded in for a faster but heavier MacBook Pro (2011), which I traded in for that nimble workhorse, the mighty MacBook Air (2013). In 2018 I upgraded to a tricked out 13″ MacBook Pro, with much better specs.

Frankly, that MacBook Air from 2013 felt more sturdy and capable than my current MacBook Pro. After 5 years of daily intenstive use, the MacBook Air’s battery is only through 50% of its max. cycle count. It’s still going strong after 7 hours on battery power.

The 2013 MacBook Air was truly a testament to Apple’s engineering prowess. Its sleek design combined with robust performance made it a favorite among developers like me. The lightweight build meant I could carry it to coffee shops, meetings, or even on vacations without feeling burdened.

The keyboard was tactile and responsive, making coding sessions a breeze. Moreover, the display, although not Retina, was crisp and offered vibrant colors, making those long coding hours less strenuous on the eyes. It’s fascinating how a machine from 2013 could handle multitasking with such ease, be it running multiple simulators or juggling between coding platforms.

This goes to show that you don’t always need the latest tech to get quality work done; sometimes, a reliable old gem can outshine the newer models.

In 2014, my trusty MacBook Air broke down on a beach in Thailand, 3 hours before a client deadline, with the next Apple Store 500 kilometer away. It turned out OK, of course. Guess what? My current MacBook Pro from 2018, its keyboard doesn’t even work OK, I’ve had sound recording glitches, and occasionally the T2 causes a kernel panic. Like many of us, I wish we had 2013-2015 MacBook Air’s and Pro’s with today’s specs. Oh, well…

That 100 Mhz i486 PC I Learned to Code With

When I was about 11 years old I taught myself to code in BASIC, on a 100 Mhz i486 PC that was given to me by friends. It had a luxurious 16 MB of RAM, initially only ran MS-DOS, and later ran Windows 3.1 and ’95.

A next upgrade came as a 400 Mhz AMD desktop, given again by friends, on which I ran a local EasyPHP webserver that I used to learn web development with PHP, MySQL and HTML/CSS. I coded a mod for Wolfenstein 3D on that machine, too.

We had no broadband internet at home back then, so I would download and print out coding tutorials at school. At the one library computer that had internet access, and I completed the tutorials at home. The source codes of turn-based web games, JavaScript tidbits and HTML page snippets were carried around on a 3.5″ floppy disk.

Learning to code on the i486 PC was a unique experience, one that today’s generation might find hard to fathom. The machine’s limitations forced me to be resourceful and optimize my code for performance. Every byte mattered, and efficiency was the name of the game.

The absence of fancy IDEs meant relying heavily on command-line tools and understanding the intricacies of the operating system. Debugging was a challenge, often involving hours of manual code reviews and print statements. But these constraints taught me the fundamentals of computing and the importance of perseverance.
The joy of seeing my code run successfully on that old PC was unparalleled.

It was a testament to the fact that passion and determination could overcome any technological limitation. The i486 also instilled in me a sense of gratitude. In an era where high-speed internet and powerful computers are taken for granted, it’s humbling to remember the modest beginnings and the journey of growth.

Later, when I started coding professionally around age 17, I finally bought my first laptop. My own! I still remember how happy I was. I got my first gig as a freelance coder: creating a PHP script that would aggregate RSS feeds, for which I earned about a hundred bucks. Those were the days!

Xcode, iOS, Swift and The MacBook Pro

The world is different today. Xcode simply doesn’t run on an i486 PC, and you can’t save your app’s source code on a 1.44 MB floppy disk anymore. Your Mac probably doesn’t have a CD drive, and you store your Swift code in a cloud-based Git repository somewhere.

Make no mistake: owning a MacBook is a luxury. Not because learning to code was harder 15 years ago, and not because computers were slower back then. It’s because kids these days learn Python programming on a $25 Raspberry Pi.

I recently had a conversation with a young aspiring coder, who complained he had no access to “decent” coding tutorials and mentoring, despite owning a MacBook Pro and having access to the internet. Among other things, I wrote the following:

You’re competing with a world of people that are smarter than you, and have better resources. You’re also competing against coders that have had it worse than you. They didn’t win despite adversity, but because of it. Do you give up? NO! You work harder. It’s the only thing you can do: work harder than the next person. When their conviction is wavering, you dig in your heels, you keep going, you persevere, and you’ll win.

Transitioning to Xcode and the MacBook Pro has always signified a leap in coding capabilities. With Xcode 14 and Swift 5.5, developers now have access to more robust tools and a cleaner, more efficient programming language. The integration of Swift Playgrounds for real-time testing and SwiftUI for UI development has transformed how developers approach iOS app creation.

The auto-complete features, the Interface Builder, and the integrated simulators transformed the way I approached app development. It wasn’t just about writing code anymore; it was about crafting an experience for the end-users.

Swift, as a programming language, was a breath of fresh air. Its syntax was clean, and its safety features reduced the number of errors and crashes. The Playgrounds feature allowed me to test chunks of code in real-time, making experimentation quick and hassle-free.

However, with these advancements, it’s essential to remember the core principles of coding. While tools and platforms evolve, the foundational logic and problem-solving skills remain constant. It’s not about the machine you code on but the mindset with which you approach a problem. The MacBook Pro and Xcode are just tools; the real magic lies in the hands of the coder.

Winning in this sense isn’t like winning a race, of course. You’re not competing with anyone else; you’re only really up against yourself. If you want to learn how to code, don’t dawdle over choosing a $3.000 or a $2.900 laptop. If anything, it’ll keep you from developing the grit you need to learn coding.

Great ideas can change the world, but only if they’re accompanied by deliberate action. Likewise, simply complaining about adversity isn’t going to create opportunities for growth – unless you take action. I leapfrogged my way from one hand-me-down computer to the next. I’m not saying you should too, but I do want to underscore how it helped me develop character.

If you want to learn how to code, welcome adversity. Be excellent because of it, or despite it, and never give up. Start coding today! Don’t wait until you’ve got all your ducks in a row.

Which MacBook is Fast Enough for Xcode 14?

The latest system requirements for Xcode 14 require macOS Monterey or later, with a preference for Apple Silicon (M1, M2) for optimal performance. Here’s a quick guide on the MacBook models best suited for modern iOS development:

  • MacBook Air (M1, 2022): Surprisingly powerful for its size, capable of handling most development tasks with ease.
  • MacBook Pro (M1 Pro/Max, 2021): Offers more power for intensive tasks, including compiling large projects and running multiple simulators.
  • MacBook Pro (M2, 2023): The latest powerhouse, ideal for developers looking for the utmost performance and future-proofing their setup.
  • Enhanced Discussion: The transition from Intel to Apple Silicon has not only improved performance but also energy efficiency, leading to longer battery life during development sessions. Developers should aim for at least 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage to comfortably run Xcode alongside other development tools.

Conclusion

Choosing the right MacBook for iOS development in 2024 is about balancing current needs with an eye towards future requirements. While the MacBook Air (M2) offers a great starting point for new developers, investing in a MacBook Pro (M2 Pro/Max) might be worthwhile for seasoned professionals seeking performance and longevity.

Remember, the journey of learning and creating transcends the tools we use. Embracing challenges, staying curious, and continuous learning remain the cornerstones of successful development. Whether you’re coding on the latest MacBook or an older model, what matters most is the passion and dedication you bring to your projects.

Aasif Khan

Head of SEO at Appy Pie

App Builder

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