When is Apple going to update the Thunderbolt display? With 5K monitors available with the iMac, and Retina screens on the MacBooks, it's looking horribly out of date.

Apple launched its Apple Thunderbolt Display back in July 2011, and an update is long overdue: the 2560 x 1440 resolution of the 27in Thunderbolt Display can't even match the 2560 x 1600 of the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, and is dwarfed by the 5K iMac's 5120 x 2880.

We've been expecting and hoping for some years now that the company would update its monitors. Sources predicted that a new Apple external 5K monitor, complete with integrated GPU, would be unveiled at WWDC 2016, but no hardware of any kind was unveiled at the company's summer bash. The wait goes on.

In this article we will assess whether (and when) Apple is likely to update the Thunderbolt display; whether this display is likely to be 4K or even 5K, and other specs; and how much it's likely to cost.

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New Apple display release date rumours: Release date

It's been nearly five years since Apple launched the Thunderbolt Display, and we expect that the company will have a new display to show us soon.

Sources quoted by the usually reliable 9to5Mac pointed to WWDC 2016 as the date, and predicted that Apple will unveil a new 5K standalone monitor with its own integrated graphics chip. In the event, however, the announcements were confined to the company's software products and no hardware of any kind was launched. (You can read about all the announcements as they happened on our WWDC 2016 page.)

New Apple display 5K display rumours: WWDC 2016

So it looks like we'll have to wait a little longer. It has been suggested that the display will be dependent on Mac OS X software updates in order to correctly sync with its companion machine, and Mac OS X 10.12 won't be rolled out until the autumn.

It makes sense that Apple would want to push its range of displays to the MacBook market, encouraging owners of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro to purchase a second screen. Indeed, new OS X features introduced as far back as Mavericks are targeted at the use of a second screen.

However, those users would currently be better advised to purchase a low-cost screen from another manufacturer rather than fork out £899 for Apple's Thunderbolt display. (That's more expensive than the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Air!)

The other market that could be hoping that Apple updates its display is the creative market. But those professional users - perhaps including some who have purchased the new Mac Pro - will get more advanced technology, and more for their money, if they look at other display manufacturers. If Apple planned to release a 4K monitor to be used with the new Mac Pro it seems strange that it would have missed the new Mac Pro launch date.

Apple could equally stop manufacturing displays altogether. We'd speculate that it's not a particularly profitable business for Apple. However, if the company has any intention to make a television screen in the future perhaps it wishes to maintain some presence in the display space.

New Apple display release date rumours

New Apple display release date rumours: New features

Sources say the the new monitor will feature its own integrated GPU, which would enable it to offer high-res graphics when attached to lower-powered Macs - such as MacBooks, which as discussed above are often used in conjunction with second screens.

MacBooks generally don't have room for a GPU, but by integrating a GPU into a standalone display Apple would bring 5K to its laptop customers without compromising on the portability of the MacBook itself. By hooking up to the monitor when in the office and then detaching the MacBook for life on the road, business users would be able to get the best of both worlds.

9to5Mac's sources predict that software updates in Mac OS X - presumably in OS X 10.12 - will be necessary to facilitate this.

"Upon connection to the new Apple display," the site predicts, "the Mac will intelligently decide whether to use its own internal graphics power or rely on the external GPU included with the Thunderbolt display; the more powerful GPU will be used while the less powerful GPU will be inactive."

New Apple display release date rumours: Specs

Will the new Apple monitor be 4K - or even 5K?

With the new Mac Pro able to support up to three 4K displays or six Thunderbolt displays, there was some speculation back in 2014 that Apple would launch a 4K monitor with a resolution of 4069 x 2160 (or 3840 x 2160) pixels. But 9to5Mac's sources suggest that the new monitor will have a stunning 5K resolution, like the 27-inch 5K iMac. That's a resolution of 5120 x 2880.

As for size, there have been some rumours concerning a 30-inch monitor. (Apple used to sell a 30in display until replacing it with the 27in Cinema Display back in July 2010.) But we expect Apple to stick to a maximum screen size of 27 inches, as it has done with its iMac line.

We expect to see the following specs from Apple's new display:

  • Screen size: 27 inches. Apple may also offer a 21-inch model, as it does with its iMacs.
  • Resolution: 5K - 5120 x 2880. At the very least, to qualify as a Retina display, a monitor would need to offer 107ppi (pixels per inch), but we doubt Apple would be willing to stop there. A 5K resolution on a 27-inch screen would be twice that: 217.57ppi.
  • iMac-like design with thinner edges.
  • Thunderbolt 2.
  • USB 3.

New Apple display release date rumours: Price

How much will Apple's new monitor cost?

Apple's Thunderbolt display costs £899 currently, and it would be reasonable to expect a 5K replacement to cost rather more (although it's possible that Apple will roll out the new display for £899 and offer a price cut on the lower-res display).

Apple's lowest-spec 5K iMac retails for £1,449, so we'd expect the new 27-inch display to come in at around £1,000 or slightly more.