Apple left the standalone display market back in 2016 when it discontinued sales of its Thunderbolt Display. However, the company appears to have made a U-turn, confirming in April 2017 that it has plans to make a new standalone display to go with the new Mac Pro currently in development.
The revelation came when three Apple execs were speaking about the company's plans for the Mac Pro. It was revealed that a new display is in the works at Apple, expected to ship in 2019 alongside the redesigned Mac Pro.
Apple's head of marketing Phil Schiller said: "As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a pro display as well."
In this article we will assess when Apple is likely to start to sell this new standalone display; whether this display is likely to be 5K like the iMacs, or even 8K; and how much it's likely to cost.
Apple's manufacturing partner Foxconn has announced plans to open a US plant where it will build 8K TVs, could this include an 8K Apple display...
When will Apple launch a new display?
It's been a very long time since Apple last launched a display. The Apple 27in Thunderbolt Display first went on sale in July 2011. It offered what would now be considered a poor 2560 x 1440 resolution that 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 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 and instead Apple removed the display from sale.
But back in 2017 the company had a change of heart and has revealed that it will start to sell a new display when it launches the new Mac Pro.
As for when that new display might go on sale, that probably depends a lot on the development of the new Mac Pro, which Apple has confirmed won't go on sale until 2019.
Apple tends to make announcements relating to the Mac Pro at WWDC, so it's feasible that we could learn more about it's plans for the Mac Pro, and the accompanying display, at WWDC in June 2018.
The new display will be designed for Mac Pro users, but Apple may want to push its range of displays to the MacBook market as well, encouraging owners of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro to purchase a second screen.
What has Apple revealed about its new display?
Apple hasn't said a lot about it's new display, other than to confirm that one is in the works. However, the company has spoken at length about its drive to meet the demands and needs of the professional and creative markets.
Speaking to TechCrunch in April 2018, Apple explained just how seriously it is taking the project. The company revealed that it has made some changes to help it better understand the needs of pro customers and developers.
These changes include the formation of a Pro Workflow Team that is run by John Ternus and works closely with the engineering team. Ternus said: “We said in the meeting last year that the pro community isn’t one thing. It’s very diverse. There are many different types of pros and obviously they go really deep into the hardware and software and are pushing everything to its limit. So one thing you have to do is we need to be engaging with the customers to really understand their needs. Because we want to provide complete pro solutions not just deliver big hardware which we’re doing and we did it with iMac Pro. But look at everything holistically.”
To ensure that they know just what the customers need, Apple has actually hired the creatives - some on a contract basis and some full time. “We’ve brought in some pretty incredible talent, really masters of their craft,” said Ternus.
Hopefully as a result the new display, like the new Mac Pro, will meet the very specific demands of this market.
New Apple display design
We expect that the new display will have a design similar to the iMac, or the now discontinued Thunderbolt display range. However, it could look a little different if some blurry images said to be a new Apple product are to be believed.
In August 2017, prolific (if somewhat unproven) leaker Benjamin Geskin tweeted pictures of what is said to be an Apple television or display being tested. They come from Chinese social media and are blurry - which you may consider to be suspicious, or may think is to be expected given how secretive the leaker would need to be.
Rather than the rumoured television screen, could this be the new 8K display? We know that Apple is working on a display for use with the Mac Pro, so perhaps this is it.
The logo seems to have been put on wonky, and we can't say we're wholly convinced at the credibility of the photos, but this could be the new Apple display... Or it could be a TV screen... We think the former is more likely.
As for size, Apple used to sell a 30in display until replacing it with the 27in Cinema Display back in July 2010. The company could again sell a 30in display, but we expect Apple to stick to a maximum screen size of 27 inches, as it has done with its iMac line.
That said, the display could feasibly be larger than 30in, many of the current crop of displays designed for creative pros are larger than 30in making Apple's 28in iMac display small by comparison.
We anticipate that Apple's new screen will measure at least 32in.
The new display is likely to have pro level features that could include 8K resolution and 10bit colour, as we discuss below.
8K resolution screen
With the 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.
Then there were suggestions that a new monitor would have 5K resolution, like the 27-inch 5K iMac. That's a resolution of 5120 x 2880.
However, it looks like we can expect more than that. A report on Pike's Universum has suggested that the new display could offer an 8K resolution.
8K is the successor to 4K. The total image dimensions on a 8K screen is 7680×4320 - that's 33.2 megapixels. An 8K display is equivalent to having four 4K displays, so you could essentially edit or play four 4K videos in each corner.
You would need a very powerful graphics card to run that many pixels though, which is one issue with 8K.
An 8K display won’t run unless the machine powering it has very specific specs, so if Apple launches an 8K display it will likely only work with the new Mac Pro when that launches.
There's no hurry though. Few cameras have the capability to shoot video in 8K - although you can expect that to change over the next few years. There also isn't a lot of software available for 8K screens, for example, you might have a very high resolution image in Photoshop, but the tool bars and the rest of the Photoshop interface will look fuzzy.
You might find games that can be played at that resolution, but, again, you'd need an incredibly powerful, and expensive, graphics card to do so.
For now, 4K displays are more than good enough for even the most demanding user. However there are still reasons why an 8K display might be useful. Perhaps an architect who needs to view fine details, or someone who needs to see the deeper details in pictures from space.
8K is also likely to start making its mark on the TV industry over the next few years. Some of the new televisions shown off at CES in January 2018 offer 8K playback, such as Samsung's 8K display (the 8K AI QLED). That TV uses an algorithm to upscale the source to 8K. LG showed off an 88in 8K OLED TV, Sony an 85in 8K HDR LCD, and Sharp an 85in LCD 8K display and as 70in LC-70X500 8K TV.
Apple's manufacturing partner Foxconn has recently announced plans to open a new plant in the US where it will build TVs. These screens will offer 8K resolution. Could Foxconn be set to build Apple's new display at its new Wisconsin factory?
Other 8K displays
Apple wouldn't be the first company to offer an 8K display. There are a small number of professional 8K displays already on the market.
The Dell 32in UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 8K monitor (the UP3218K) actually launched in March 2017 and cost $4,999/£4,294, although since launch that price has gone down and you can now get it for $3,699/£3,423. That display has a resolution of 7680 x 4320 pixels, 33.2 million pixels and more than 1 billion colours. Video refresh rate is 60Hz and the viewing angle is 178 degrees. You can buy the Dell UP3218K here.
The ViewSonic 32in VP3278-8K will offer 8K resolution when it ships - it's expected to go on sale later in 2018. It has an estimated retail price of $5,200 (UK price TBC). The resolution is 7,680 by 4,320 pixels, and ViewSonic says users can expect life-like colour reproduction with a high level of accuracy.
Since Apple launched OS X El Capitan the Mac has been able to display 10-bit colour, the only limitation has been the display.
Now that the iMac display has been updated to display a sort of 10-bit colour, thanks to a dithering technology, which basically changes the colour of the pixels so quickly that the human eye can't notice it, we anticipate that Apple will either offer such a technology with its new display, or it will offer an actual 10-bit display.
Currently 10-bit displays are expensive, it could be Apple's desire to bring the cost down to an affordable level for Mac professionals.
However, a 10-bit display needs a Mac that supports the technology. The graphics card needs to be up to the job. So, this would not be a display to use with your MacBook, and likely it would have a professional-level price.
Why does 10-bit matter?
Many cameras are able to record 10-bit or more. When this is converted down on an 8-bit display, it can create biases which show up as banding. However, most images and movies end up encoded with 8-bit colour, so they would look the same on an 8-bit or 10-bit monitor.
However, you may benefit from 10-bit if your monitor uses Adobe RGB because that offers a larger colour space than sRGB.
The process by which Apple is able to use dithering to display more colours works adequately because the eye is only capable of perceiving something like 256 shades of red and blue (although more for green), however, it is still possible that your eye will detect the difference.
One thing we know for sure is that the display won't be controlled by touch. When asked whether Apple would consider a touch display, Apple's Phil Schiller said: "No. We’ve talked a lot about touch on the Mac. It’s certainly, as we’ve talked to pros, not a big request for things they would want in a Mac Pro and not the problems that they most want us to solve."
We have looked at the Microsoft Surface Studio as an alternative to the iMac, and concluded that it's no real competition, because it only answers one need (the need for a computer and a tablet). We believe the best answer here is a Wacom tablet coupled with a Mac. The price of the iMac and the tablet is similar to the price of the Surface Studio.
The new monitor could 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, or even 8K, 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 said back in 2016: "Upon connection to the new Apple display, 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 price
Before Apple stopped sales of the Thunderbolt display it cost £899. 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.