In 2020 the iMac will turn 22 years old. In that time it’s had various different looks, from the original colourful plastic CRT that arrived back in 1998, to the flat-screened 'angle-poised lamp'-style iMac of 2002, and the white plastic all-in-one of 2004 that eventually evolved into the aluminium iMac we know today.
That aluminium iMac design is now looking dated. First introduced in 2007, before changes to the construction bought about the unibody wide-screened design in 2009, which was then slimmed down in 2012, the design hasn’t changed much in over a decade. The only other visual change has related to screen quality, with the arrival of the Retina display in 2014.
Obviously the iMac has evolved over the years, with faster processors, better graphics and RAM improvements, but the boosts awarded by these updates are no longer enough to excuse the imitations of the design - and there are disadvantages to the iMac’s design.
With the arrival of the new Apple Pro Display XDR can we expect to see slimmer bezels and better display tech on the iMac in 2020? We investigate.
What's wrong with the iMac design
There is no doubt that the iMac is iconic and its as beautiful as ever. But it's stood still for more than a decade while the rest of the industry has evolved around it. The iMac needs a makeover for the next decade, not just to ensure it continues to stand out, but also because there are a number of problems with the current iMac design that we will discuss below.
It’s not ergonomic
The iMac screen might look nice but it can’t be positioned in an ergonomically friendly way. If you want to position the screen at head-height, so that you aren’t looking down at it, you need to position your iMac on top of something, such as a book (which is what we do since we are keen to avoid neck ache). The iMac’s short arm means it can only be tilted slightly upwards downwards. It looks nice, but it’s impractical. Bring back the ‘angle-poised lamp’-style iMac of 2002 we say!
A potential eronomic solution has arrived with the new Pro Display XDR. There is an optional stand that can accompany that monitor (for which you have to pay $1,000 on top of the already pricy display, more on that later). The monitor attaches magnetically to the display allowing you to adjust the height (you get 120mm worth of adjustment) and viewing angle. This sort of set up for the iMac could go some way to counter the problems we have with its ergonomic positioning.
The bezels are BIG
Over the past couple of years we’ve seen the bezels on the iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air and other Apple products reduce and the screens get bigger. In comparison, the iMac bezels look positively huge! Just imagine how big that screen could be if those bezels were smaller.
It's not only the bezels of the iPhone, iPad and MacBooks that have got smaller. Much of Apple's competition in the all-in-one space - such as the HP Envy - also have smaller bezels and bigger screens for a more modern look.
Want to get an idea of how an iMac with smaller bezels could look? Check out Apple's new Pro Display XDR (pictured below). The new display has a tiny 9mm border around the edge of the screen.
It’s not cool enough
In both senses of the word ‘cool’. The 2009 iMac looks practically identical to the 2019 iMac and with the design unchanged in a decade the iMac is in danger of losing its wow factor.
In addition to that, while we’re not saying that the iMac has a cooling problem right now, it may have in the future. When Apple built the iMac Pro it needed to redesign the internals of the iMac to accommodate the cooling system required for more powerful components. The more powerful the iMac gets the greater the need for improvements to the existing cooling system.
Will Apple redesign the iMac?
It’s possible that the iMac design will never change. With desktop computers less popular than laptops, perhaps the iMac’s days are numbered. It may be that Apple has decided that investing in a redesign for the iMac is unnecessary, choosing to focus on laptops instead.
However, Apple has said that the iMac was the number one desktop in the US in 2019, so the market is clearly there and Apple has made it clear isn't ignoring its traditional iMac customers who tend to be creative professionals. Apple launched a new Mac Pro and a new standalone display in December 2019 and we know that Apple saw enough interest in the iMac from creatives to start selling the iMac Pro. So, it certainly seems that there is enough demand for the desktop Mac to warrent some attention.
What we think is most likely is that the changes to the design of the iMac will come first to the iMac Pro but we'll have to wait and see.
So, with the above in mind, what do we hope to see in the new iMac for 2020? Read on to find out.
New iMac release date
Below we will discuss all the changes we think will arrive with a new iMac, from a new design to mproved specs, but first a few words on when we are likely to see a new iMac.
We think we could be waiting until June 2020 before we see it as the WWDC keynote would be a great opportunity for Apple to reveal a redesigned iMac. However, if the company does update the iMac Pro first we could see somethign even sooner, with Apple perhaps inviting creative pro focused journalists to a small event in the spring of 2020.
New iMac redesign
As we’ve said above. The iMac design hasn’t really changed in a decade. This is, in fact, the longest Apple has ever gone without refreshing a product’s design. So, on the assumption that Apple must be looking at redesigning the iMac, what do we expect to see?
Smaller bezels, bigger screen
This seems likely given that display technology has evolved in such a way as to accommodate smaller bezels, and smaller bezels is likely to mean an even bigger screen.
Currently you’ll find either a 27in or 21.5in display on the iMac. With many modern displays larger than 30in, the 27in iMac display looks small by comparison and the 21.5in is just tiny.
With smaller bezels we could conceivably see a 30in display on the larger iMac without the display being much bigger, while the smaller model could gain a 24in display.
We could potentially see a 32in screen on a larger iMac - similar to Apple's new Pro Display XDR which measures 32in and offers 6K resolution.
Although the new iMac wouldn't need to be that big to offer a 6K display. A 30in display with smaller bezels could still accomodate the 6,016 x 3,384 pixels for Retina 6K resolution and a 6K iMac. It’s surely only a matter of time before we see this technology arrive on the iMac, although we have a suspicion we’ll see it first on the iMac Pro.
Speaking of which, the iMac Pro is available in Space Grey, could we see a Space Grey standard iMac? The original iMac was famous for its fruity selection of colours but over the past few years the iMac has been available in initially white, and then silver. In comparison, Mac laptops are available in Space Grey (like the iMac Pro), Silver and Gold. It is time for Apple to spice up the iMac colour palette!
Now that we have Dark Mode how about a black iMac?
How could Apple adjust the iMac to make it more ergonomically friendly? We mentioned the angle-poised lamp design above, might the company bring back the hinged arm? Would a longer arm with more flexibility just look unsightly or could Apple’s head of design Jony Ive work his magic and come up with something both beautiful and functional. We hope so.
Returning to the display, the iMac screen isn’t just surrounded by bezels, it has a giant chin at the base. With all the components squeezed in behind the display it seems a bit unfair to criticise this 2.5in aluminium section as it’s a requirement of the all-in-one design, but there is one component that we’d like to see the back of, and removing this could mean that space is freed up. We’ll talk more about these changes below.
Shaving off part of the chin could go some way to giving us the bigger screen we want, however, what we wouldn’t want to see is the iMac screen lose any more of its height, since that would just make the ergonomics even worse.
New iMac features
We hope that the design will change, but that's not all. Here's what we hope to see in terms of new features.
One of the biggest design changes could be a bigger display, and a bigger display will mean more pixels. Currently the 27in iMac offers 5,120 x 2,880 pixels for a 5K Retina display, while the 21.5in offers 4,096 x 2,304 pixels for a 4K Retina display. As we said above, a new iMac with a larger screen could bring enough pixels for a 6K display.
In addition to more pixels we could also see HDR. The iMac screen is already able to display one billion colours, which is great, it’s just that until Apple offers support for 4K HDR content on the iMac display all the new content that Apple’s been working on for its TV+ streaming service (which will be available on the Mac via the TV app) will be squeezed into the P3 colour profile. Surely Apple will want to make sure that this content will look its best on an iMac screen.
A quick look at the new Pro Display XDR can give us an insight to some of the other features we could gain with the new iMac screen, although we certainly wouldn't expect to see them all.
The Pro Display XDR offers:
- A maximum of 1,600 nits of brightness, 1000 nits brightness (sustained, full screen), 500 nits SDR brightness
- XDR (Extreme Dynamic Range)
- 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio
- P3 wide colour gamut, 10-bit colour depth for 1.073 billion colours
- A superwide viewing angle at 89 degrees left, 89 degrees right, 89 degrees up, 89 degrees down
- Monitor works in both landscape and portrait orientation.
- Standard screen is engineered for low reflectivity, but the optional nano-texture glass surface (which adds $1,000 to the price) etches a matt finish into the glass "at the nanometre level" to scatter light and avoid glare.
Another change we could see is an ultra-wide screen. Ultra-wide displays have become a bit of a thing over the past couple of years, and it might be something that Apple could adopt for the iMac, although it might be something we see for the new Apple display first. We’d love to see an ultra-wide iMac with a 21:9 aspect ratio, compared to the 16:9 aspect ratio currently seen (which is a standard widescreen aspect ratio).
We have this guide to the differences between the 21.5in and 27in iMac here.
FaceTime camera/Face ID
When Apple updated the MacBook Air back in 2018 it added a Touch ID pad to the keyboard. The MacBook Pro also has Touch ID. Touch ID is a handy feature for unlocking these laptops.
Bringing such a feature to the iMac isn’t so simple. Sure, Apple could incorporate a Touch ID pad in the Magic Keyboard, but such a move seems unlikely. More likely, we think, is that Face ID could find its way into the iMac, with Apple incorporating the TrueDepth camera technology that was introduced on the iPhone into the iMac display.
In addition we’d like to see Apple improve the FaceTime camera on the iMac. The iMac Pro already features a superior FaceTime camera, offering 1080p compared to 720p on the iMac. It’s time for his camera to make its way to the iMac.
New iMac specs
It goes without saying that a new iMac will bring with it better specs. We expect to see improved processors, better graphics cards, and other changes.
As we said earlier, as the tech inside the iMac gets more powerful it will get hotter. When Apple introduced the powerful iMac Pro in 2017 it was necessary for Apple to make some changes on the inside in order to incorporate the necessary cooling system. To make room for these changes Apple only ships the iMac Pro with an SSD and does not offer a Fusion Drive option.
In the future we expect to see similar changes to the standard iMac, but clearly Apple’s not felt it was necessary to do so yet.
Earlier we mentioned that we would like to see the back of one of the components inside the iMac. We think it’s time for Apple to switch to flash storage in the iMac.
There are Macs that still ship with 5400-rpm hard drives - an ageing technology that has many more disadvantages than advantages. While shipping a Mac with a hard drive means that it’s possible to buy an iMac with 1TB of storage without it costing a fortune, we feel that isn’t worth the penalty of a far slower machine.
Right now our advice is to buy an iMac with a Fusion Drive if you really believe you need that extra storage space, because a Fusion Drive combines a large hard drive with a small SSD, so that you can benefit from the speed increases and enjoy the extra storage. But do you really need that extra storage? We think not. Many years ago our hard drive was full of photos, music, videos and more. But these days nearly everything is stored in iCloud.
Of our 128GB of storage we are only using 90GB on our Mac while in iCloud there’s 270GB of storage space being used of the 2TB that we have available. The need for storage on the Mac is less than it was. Sure, if you are working with large files that need to be housed on the local drive a 1TB or 2TB hard drive might be what you need, but we still don’t think that’s worth the slowdown.
There’s another reason why we want to see the back of the hard drive and Fusion drive though. The hard drive is probably the largest component inside the iMac and removing it would free up a lot of space. Space for a better cooling system that could enable Apple to use even more powerful processors and graphics cards.
The 2019 iMac ships with new six core, 8th generation processors from Intel's Coffee Lake range in the 21.5in model, while the 27in model offers 8th and 9th generation Intel processors. Those 9th generation processors are the second generation of Coffee Lake, which arrived in October 2018 and bought up to eight cores option.
What’s next? There are a number of successors to Coffee Lake in the running. Cannon Lake and Ice Lake are coming soon from Intel. Another option could be Comet Lake.
Cannon Lake are 10nm mobile processors that have been plagued by delays. The iMac generally uses mobile processors so these could be a contender.
Ice Lake is another 10nm processor, expected to arrive towards the end of 2019 or early 2020. Again they are mobile processors, perhaps better suited to the MacBook or MacBook Air.
Comet Lake is also 10nm and like Ice Lake should arrive towards the end of 2019 or early 2020.
There are also rumours that Apple could start using its own home-made processors in Macs from 2020. The company is said to be frustrated with Intel’s delays and has started designing its own chips as part of a project codenamed Kalamata. This Bloomberg report from April 2018 stated that "People familiar with the plans" said that Apple is planning to use its own chips in Mac computers beginning as early as 2020. We’re not sure that we will see an Apple chip powering the iMac as soon as 2020 though.
While we may have a longer wait until we see Apple’s own processors powering the iMac, the company does already use its own chips in some of its devices. For example. Apple’s T2 chip is used in the iMac Pro, Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro, where it powers the System Management Controller, image signal processor, audio controller, and SSD controller, as well as keeping Touch ID data secure and offering encryption and secure boot capabilities. It was a surprise not to see the T2 chip in the 2019 iMac.
We expect incremental updates to the graphics cards used in the iMac. Our main hope is that Apple continue to use discrete graphics in the iMac line up. Currently, except for the under-powered entry-level model, Radeon Pro cards are standard across the line up, with the addition of Radeon Pro Vega options if you choose to build-to-order.
It’s not always been the case that the 21.5in iMac has been equipped with discrete graphics, so our fears are founded. As recently as 2015 all the 21-inch iMacs, even the top of the range, 4K iMac, featured Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200. That was the case until 2017, when all bar the entry level iMac got discrete Radeon Pro graphics cards.
Some 2019 iMacs got a nice boost to the RAM with Apple tweaking the RAM from 2400MHz to 2666MHz in every 27in iMac and the top-of-the-range 21.5in model. This improved RAM should give users an increase in speed because it is able to transfer data faster and process operations quicker.
In addition, the 2019 mid-range and top-of-the-range 27in iMacs offer up to 64GB RAM. While the iMac Pro can be configured to 128GB RAM, we don't expect to see such an option on the 27in iMac, not as soon as 2020 anyway.
What we would like to see in terms of RAM is an easier mode of updating it on the 21.5in model. Currently it is easy to update the RAM in the 27in iMac thanks to a hatch on the back of the display. The 21.5in model lacks this hatch.
Staying with the back of the iMac for a moment longer, we hope that we will still be able to find four USB-A ports on the back of the new iMac, alongside the two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, and ethernet port. We aren’t sure we can expect to continue to see the SD card slot for much longer though.
Read about how the iMac, iMac Pro and Mac mini compare here.