Wondering what’s in store for the standard iMac this year? In this article we answer all your questions, from whether the iMac will be available in Space Grey like the iMac Pro, and if it will utilise the new cooling system found in that model. We also discuss the likelyhood that the iMac will gain Face ID, or if Apple's patent for built-in gaze detection could allow us to control the interface just by looking at the screen.
We also assess rumours, such as a claim from a Foxconn insider that the iMac will be redesigned in 2018 - could the new iMac have slimmer bezels and a narrower chin, for example? And we look at the chances that there could be a 6-core or 8-core iMac in the wings. Finally we have claims from a reliable Apple analyst who thinks Apple will make "significant display-performance upgrades". Read on to find out more.
Happy birthday iMac!
Since 2018 marks 20 years of the iMac - yes it's been 20 years since Apple introduced the Bondi Blue iMac (below). Apple started to sell the groundbreaking all-in-one computer on 15 August 1998 - could we see an all-new design to mark the occasion? Read all about the history of the iMac as it turns 20 years old.
Apple's is well aware of the anniversary. Back at the beginning of May, Apple celebrated 20 years since the unveiling of the iMac. On the anniversary Tim Cook tweeted this video clip of Jobs introducing the iMac:
20 years ago today, Steve introduced the world to iMac. It set Apple on a new course and forever changed the way people look at computers. pic.twitter.com/GbKno7YBHl— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) 6 May 2018
2018 iMac Release Date
In 2017 Apple updated the iMac on 5 June during WWDC, we were hoping we might see an iMac announcement at WWDC 2018 but the machine didn't even get a mention, nor were any Mac hardware updates announced.
There was a tiny chance Apple would talk about the iMac during its 12 September iPhone and Apple Watch event, but that came and went with no Macs in sight.
It's more likely that Apple will wait October 2018 to issue an updated iMac. In fact, with news that new Intel chips will be out at the beginning of October (discussed below), an October release is looking more and more likely.
Perhaps Apple will choose to quietly update the iMac, shutting the online store for a few hours while it updates the pages, as it has been known to do in the past.
While it’s unlikely that the price of the iMac range will change, there could be some price changes if Apple does significantly redesign the model in 2018.
Here are the current iMac prices:
- Entry-level 21.5in iMac, £1,049
- Mid-level 21.5in iMac, £1,249
- Top-level 21.5in iMac, £1,449
- Entry-level 27in iMac, £1,749
- Mid-level 27in iMac, £1,949
- Top-level 27in iMac, £2,249
As we will explain below, part of a redesign could involve removing the hard drive option from the iMac in order to free up space inside the machine - and allowing for a slimmer chassis. If Apple was to do this though it is likely that it would keep on an entry-level iMac in the older design, with a hard drive option. This model could be priced at a lower level than it is currently, especially if it uses the same chips as the 2017 iMac. This could bring the starting price down to around £949 but it will probably be an older generation iMac than the others in the range.
It’s unlikely that the high-end iMacs will see any decline in price. The iMac Pro starts at £4,899 while currently a standard iMac, spec’d up to match the Pro’s 32GB RAM (and with the beefiest processor offered as a build-to-order option in that range) costs £3,509.
That leap of £1,390 to get from a quad-core to an 8-core processor and the advanced graphics offered by the Pro might seem reasonable, but if the iMac gains a 6-core processor (read on to find out more about that) then the gulf between the two models will close a tad. In which case, Apple might see fit to raise prices.
The iMac has had the same design since 2012 when the sides of the iMac were slimmed down. However, the aluminium look is now over 10 years old - the first aluminium iMac launched in 2007. Some people are calling for a facelift, or at least some internal changes that could allow Apple to slim the unit down even further, and perhaps shave off some of the chin.
There was a rumour in the summer of 2017 that Apple is planning an iMac redesign in 2018. This was based on claims made by a 'Foxconn Insider' posting on Reddit.
Whether the iMac needs a redesign is a matter of taste. The iMac design is popular and reducing the size of the ‘chin’ would mean that the screen might have to be thicker in order to house the components, and it might also make the screen less ergonomic if the screen sat lower than it does currently.
However, if Apple made some changes to the inside of the iMac, as it did with the iMac Pro, it could save a lot of space and avoid the need to make the unit any thicker.
For example, Apple could remove the HD bay. If Apple moved the entire range of iMacs to SSD as standard, removing the hard drive or Fusion Drive options this would free up space. However, as we mentioned below, it is unlikely that Apple would remove the option of the Fusion Drive as it allows consumers the option of having more storage space. Such a change would likely see the current 1TB hard drive or Fusion Drive option replaced by a 256GB SSD which many would not consider adequate.
Assuming that Apple doesn’t remove anything from the inside, could the company still reduce the bezels of the iMac? If it did we think it is likely that the dimensions of the unit itself would change, rather than the size of the screen (although we’d love Apple to introduce a 30in display). This could result in the 27in standard iMac being slightly smaller than the iMac Pro (an unlikely scenario).
We think it’s unlikely that Apple would significantly change the design and dimensions of the standard iMac when the iMac Pro has only recently launched. The fact that the company chose to find a way to fit the iMac Pro components inside the iMac chassis, and ensure adequate cooling, rather than completely change the design, should indicate that Apple doesn’t intend to stray too far from a design it likes.
Speaking of the iMac Pro, there have been calls for Apple to offer a Space Grey version of the standard iMac. While the Space Grey colouring of the iMac Pro sets it aside from the standard iMac - and that is a distinction that Apple wanted to highlight with the alternative colour - there is some hope that a Space Grey standard iMac could arrive now that Apple is selling the Space Grey keyboard and mouse separately.
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes that a new iMac with "significant display-performance upgrades," will launch soon. What could these display-performance upgrades entail? Well, True Tone, the technology that first appeared in the iPad Pro and was then added to the MacBook Pro when it launched in July 2018 looks a likely contender.
True Tone adjusts the colours on the display so that they are better suited to the environment. Ambient light sensors measure the surrounding colour temperature and adjust the white balance of the display accordingly. As a result reading text on a white background is easier on the eye, so there should be less eye-strain, and the colours will be more authentic. This should definately be a bonus for creative types.
Could we see more pixels? The 27in iMac already boasts a 5K display, and the 21in model a 4K display. How long until we will see an 8K display? We may not have to wait long at all. Earlier this year a post by LG, shared by Cult of Mac here, seemed to suggest Apple is going to announce an "iMac 8k" later this year. The following was published on the LG website: "Apple has also announced that they will release the ‘iMac 8K’ with a super-high resolution display later this year".
Before you get too excited, it's probably not true. The expense of such a display is likely to be one delaying issue, plus, if Apple did launch such a display on the iMac we could expect to see iMac displays get even larger. 31in iMac anyone?
While we don’t expect the dimensions of the screen to change, there is a question of whether Apple could adopt OLED for the iMac display. The likelihood of that is slim right now - despite OLED appearing on the iPhone, as a technology it isn’t really mature yet, and there are burn in issues and issues with colour shift that it is likely Apple would want to be addressed before it moved to OLED for its screen.
There is one thing on the horizon as regards Apple and screens. The company has revealed that it is working on a new screen to accompany the Mac Pro when it launches (at some point in 2018 or beyond). This new screen is discussed here - it could offer more than the 5K Retina Apple’s iMac currently offers. We also have this article on the new Mac Pro.
Will the iMac get a screen to match? Probably not - the Retina display on the 27in iMac is still unsurpassed by any competitor.
As for whether Apple will ever equip an iMac with a touch-sensitive display, it still looks unlikely. Apple's been quite vocal in the past about how it believes that touching the display just gives you arm ache. The closest the company has got to a touch display is the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro. Of course Apple could change its mind - Steve Jobs was also anti-styluses, but now you can buy an Apple Pencil.
It's not that Apple's never considered Touch Screens. There is evidence that it has. In July 2018 the US Patent and Trademark Office published details of a series of newly granted Apple patents that included one for an iMac Touch, as reported by Patently Apple here.
The patent is titled "Transitioning between modes of input" - however, the patent was originally filed in the third quarter of 2008 - and if the company hasn't used the technology in the past decade it seems likely it won't be.
Face ID and gaze tracking
Another, somewhat remote, possibility is that new gaze detection technology could be built into the screen that would allow it to use the movement of our eyes, and gestures with our hands to control the interface.
That might sound far-fetched, but Apple actually has a patent for technology that could enable a screen to detect your eye and head movements. And this isn’t the first time it has patented gaze detection technologies either. The company has also acquired a company that specialises in eye-tracking glasses - SensoMotric Instruments.
Apple says its Gaze detection technology could be used for “any electronic device with a display having a pixel array configured to produce images.” Via AppleWorldToday.
If Apple was to add this technology to an iMac it would require the monitor to have a layer of reflective polarizers as well as cameras and sensors built in.
The gaze tracking system will gather “point-of-gaze information, vergence information, and head position information, maybe a biometric sensor, may be an input device such as a button or touch sensor, may capture hand gestures, and/or may gather other information,” according to Apple’s filing.
While we don't think the gaze tracking technology will be built into the screen just yet, it is a distinct possibility that the motion-detecting Face ID camera could find its way onto the Mac, offering not just facial recognition but also gesture recognition.
Could Face ID arrive on the iMac in 2018? Quite possibly the technology for Face ID will be integrated into the FaceTime camera on the iMac screen (and other Macs) in 2018. This would mean that you wouldn’t have to enter passwords or prove your identity when using your Mac.
There are a few potential pitfalls here though. If your Mac has multiple users it will need multiple Face IDs to be stored. With the iPhone X it needs to be clear that you are actually looking directly at the screen to unlock it (so that your iPhone doesn’t unlock accidentally). With the iMac it would be harder to distinguish between a wish to unlock the Mac, or more crucially pay for something, and just facing the screen.
One exciting processor-related update on the horizon is the likelihood that, like the 2018 MacBook Pro, the next generation of iMac processors will include 6-core options (hexa-core, like the MacBook Pro) and maybe even a 8-core option. This could close the gap between the iMac and iMac Pro somewhat.
Intel's Coffee Lake i5 and i7 offerings have 6-core options and these are very likely to find their way into the new iMac.
The following Coffee Lake processors could be used in the new iMac:
- Entry-level 21.5in iMac could use the i3-8100 or i3-8350K (4-core/4 thread). Alternatively it may use a mobile processor, such as the 2.6GHz, 8269U (4 core/8 threads), with an Iris Plus 655 graphics card,
- Mid-Range 21.5in iMac could use the 2.8GHz i5-8400 (6-core/6 thread).
- We may also see a 3GHz i5-8500 (6-core/6-threads)
- The top-of-the-range (or build-to-order) 21.5in iMac is likely to use the i7-8700, 3.2GHz, (6-core/12 threads)
- The entry level 27in iMac will probably also use the 3GHz i5-8500 (6-core/6-threads)
- The mid-range 27in model is likely to use the 3.1GHz i5-8600 (6-core/6-threads)
- The top-of-the-range 27in is likely to use the 3.6GHz i5-8600K (6-core/6-threads)
- While the build-to-order 27in option could use the i7-8700K (6-core/12-threads)
Intel is set to expand the Coffee Lake range from six cores to an eight-core processor lineup, so things could get even faster.
In fact, Intel’s 9th generation processors are apparently going to be out on 1 October 2018 - which might give Apple just enough time to use them in the new iMac.
The three new chips are as follows:
- Intel Core i9-9900K (8 core/16 thread), 3.5GHz (5GHz Turbo Boost)
- Intel Core i7-9700K (8 core/8 thread), 3.6GHz (4.9GHz Turbo Boost)
- Intel Core i5-9600K (6 core/6 thread), 3.7GHz (4.6GHz Turbo Boost)
If Apple switches to these procossors it will narrow the performance gap between the iMac and iMac Pro (which can be configured with 8-, 10-, 14- or 18-core Xeon W processors).
The big question is whether the company would want to make the top-of-the-range iMac too good - as such a move could take market away from the iMac Pro.
There's another possibility. Apple could simply revamp the iMac range with the newer 8th generation Kaby Lake R chips - the current models use 7th generation Kaby Lake. They might have the same name, but there is a significant performance leap. Apple may choose this route for the 21in models.
Apple's own processors
It may also be the case that Apple will forego Intel and introduce its own processors to the iMac range, although we don't think this will happen for some time.
Currently the MacBook Pro and the iMac Pro use an Apple-designed co-processor. In the case of the iMac Pro, the T2 looks after security (in the form of encrypted storage and secure boot capabilities), as well as system management controller, image signal processor, audio controller, and SSD controller. In the case of the MacBook Pro the T1 chip looks after the Touch-ID and Apple Pay authentication.
It seems likely that an Apple-designed chip will make its way into the new iMac - probably the company will re-use the T2 chip seen in the iMac Pro and the 2018 MacBook Pro. That chip is responsible for security and control of things like storage, audio, image processing, and system management. In the MacBook Pro it looks “Hey Siri” support too.
With regard to the T2 chip, there are some issues with that processor that may be causing shutdowns, though. Crashes are manifesting as “kernel panics" and appear to be related to the Bridge OS software (which is the OS software used by Apple's chips).
Apple could also create a newer T3 chip, which could add the Face recognition to its capabilities, as mentioned above.
As for whether Apple would ditch Intel in favour of its own homemade processors, that's unlikely... for now. A Bloomberg report indicates that Apple does have plans to switch to its own CPUs by 2020.
The initiative, which is codenamed Kalamata, could eventually see Apple-designed processors appear in Macs. Apple's home-made chips are already used in iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Apple TVs. It could also pave the way for better integration between Macs and iOS devices.
Bloomberg suggests that: "By using its own chips, Apple would be able to more tightly integrate new hardware and software, potentially resulting in systems with better battery life - similar to iPads, which use Apple chips."
There's one possibility in Intel's favour - Intel has said it plans to create its own discrete graphics processing chips by 2020, which means that Apple could start using discrete Intel GPUs - rather than the underpowered integrated options available currently. We'll look in more detail at the graphics options below.
As we mentioned above, there is a possibility that if Apple is working on a redesign for the iMac in 2018 we could see the end of the hard drive or Fusion Drive offerings.
Removing the hard drive bay would allow Apple to better utilise the space inside the iMac.
However, we think it is unlikely that Apple will stop offering the hard drive option as it is the best way to get more storage at the entry level. Although we could see the entry-level iMac keep the older design, with a new shape debuting on the higher-end, SSD-only models (a way to encourage uptake of SSDs, perhaps).
One indication that Apple is ready to turn its back on the Fusion Drive option could be its failure to get APFS working on Fusion Drives a whole year after Apple's new file system was introduced on the Mac.
Faster memory is also made possible by Coffee Lake which supports DDR4 at 2666MHz in dual-channel mode. Currently, the iMac maxes out at 2400MHz while the iMac Pro offers 2666MHz RAM.
Another possibility is that the RAM limitations of some of the lower-end models will be lifted. The 21-inch iMac is limited to 8GB and 16GB currently but could be upgradeable to up 32GB in a future model. The top-of-the-range 21in and the entry-level 27in models currently have a 32GB build-to-order option, but this could rise to 64GB. Only the mid-range and top-of-the-range 27in has a 64GB option currently.
Incidentally, the iMac Pro can be configured to 128GB RAM, could this be an option on the 2018 flag-ship 27in iMac?
The majority of the new iMacs should get a discrete graphics card, perhaps one based around the AMD Vega.
Don’t expect to see the Vega GPU options found in the iMac Pro though, as it is unlikely that they can be used without the thermal upgrades Apple made for the iMac Pro. A more likely option is the Vega 28 and 32.
One interesting idea is that there could be one iMac model geared towards gaming, using a new Vega RX GPU that has been designed for that purpose.
However, there is also the possibility that the new iMac could adopt an nVidia graphics card, although it seems that would require a lot more work to accomplish.
As for the entry-level iMac this model usually has integrated graphics processors that sit on Intel's chip. Currently this is the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640. The new entry-level iMac may also feature an integrated chip.
As for the future - Intel has said it intends to start creating its own discrete graphics processing chips by 2020, so if Apple doesn't ditch Intel altogether, which is the rumour, in the future even the entry-level models may get slightly better graphics processors.
There is also a rumour that Apple would integrate a Touch Bar (like that found as an option on the MacBook Pro) onto the keyboard when it launched the 2017 iMac.
Neither the iMac or the iMac Pro keyboard gained the Touch Bar though.
This may indicate that Apple’s found a lack of interest in the Touch Bar. It may also indicate that it plans to move away from Touch ID - another feature that is found on the Touch Bar. Read our round-up of rumours about the 2018 MacBook Pro here.
Touch ID is a handy way of unlocking a MacBook Pro, logging on to sites, and paying for things online using Apple Pay. However, as we saw with the iPhone X, Apple has a new method for identifying its users: Face ID.
One final thing to mention is connectivity. We expect that the 802.11ax will start to make an appearance over the next year or so, so the new Macs could start to offer compatibility with this new standard.
We could also potentially see UHS-II SD card support (like iMac Pro) and better compatibility with iPads so that the iMac could use an iPad as an input device.