The iMac hasn't significantly changed its look since 2009 when the 24in iMac became 27in and the 20in became 21.5in. Then in 2012 the iMac got a slightly slimmer, more tapered profile made possible by the removal of the DVD drive and in 2015 it gained a Retina dispay. But fundamentally today's iMacs are still rocking the original aluminium design introduced in 2007.
We're optimistic that Apple will finally get around to updating the iMac design in 2021 - and give the iMac an Apple Silicon processor at the same time. Having seen the achievements of Apple's M1 chip inside the MacBook Air, 13in MacBook Pro and Mac mini we can't wait to see an even more powerful M-series chip (perhaps an M1X, or even an M2) inside the iMac.
In this article we round up all the latest leaks and hints about the launch of a new iMac in 2021, covering its likely release date, design changes, tech specs, new features and price. The release looks imminent now that multiple build-to-order options for the current iMac models have been officially removed from sale on the Apple store.
When will the new iMac come out?
We expect a new iMac to launch at a spring event in early April 2021.
This theory has been doing the rounds for a while: a report in The China Times back in October 2020, discussed here, predicted that the M1 iMac would launch in spring 2021. But the evidence has really started to mount up more recently.
The first clue is the disappearance of current models from the Apple store, something which generally precedes the introduction of new ones. In late February/early March certain configurations started showing up as unavailable; later in March these build-to-order options were removed from the menu entirely. For example, you can no longer buy a 500GB 21.5in iMac, the only options are 256GB or 1TB Fusion Drive.
We've also seen signs that an unreleased Apple Silicon iMac is currently in testing. Developer Dennis Oberhoff spotted logs related to an iMac powered by Apple Silicon in Xcode's Crash Reporter.
Plus, the latest beta version of Big Sur 11.3 references "iMac21,1" and "iMac21,2" - which are thought to be the model designations for 2021. In fact, as we explain in New iMac models spotted in macOS 11.3 beta these references were found to relate to the codenames for the new iMacs with Apple Silicon chips revealed by Bloomberg earlier in 2021: J456 and J457 are said to relate to the next generation 21.5in iMac and 27in iMac. (More on that Bloomberg report in the redesign section below).
Now, it's worth sounding a small note of caution at this point: these clues indicate that a new iMac is on the way, but they do not necessarily indicate that it's on the way within the next month. Apple would always be expected to begin product testing multiple months ahead of commercial launch, and it may only be commencing a gradual phasing out of the various iMac models.
If Apple does choose to hold off on an iMac announcement at the spring event (which we expect to focus heavily on a new iPad Pro) we may have to wait until WWDC 2021 which is scheduled to start on 7 June, to see the redesigned iMac.
Aside from the new Apple processor (discussed in detail below), something else is coming that's just as exciting, if not more so. The iMac is said to be getting a redesign.
There are lots of reasons why we think it's time for Apple to redesign the iMac: it's not very ergonomic, the design looks dated, and the screen is no longer worth bragging about. As we said at the beginning of this article, our main criticism is that the iMac design hasn't really changed in over a decade. This is, in fact, the longest Apple has ever gone without refreshing a product's design. In a separate article we discuss why the iMac needs a redesign.
So, on the assumption that Apple must be looking at redesigning the iMac, what do we expect to see?
Sources quotes in a January 2021 Bloomberg report indicate that we can expect to see Apple slim down the boarders around the screen - often referred to as the bezels. The size of the 'chin' below the screen will also be reduced. Additionally the iMac will have a completely flat back, rather than the curved rear it has currently. Read more: Redesigned iMac and G4 Cube-like Mac Pro coming. Bloomberg's sources indicates that these new iMacs are known by the codenames J456 and J457 will replace the existing 21.5in and 27in iMacs.
Alongside slimmer bezels we expect to see a bigger display and better display tech on the iMac, based on the redesigns that other Macs have undergone. By transitioning to slimmer bezels we could see a bigger screen on the iMac without the iMac itself getting any bigger. There are in fact rumours that a 23in iMac is destined to replace the 21.5in model (more on that below).
The new model could take design cues from the Pro Display XDR display (pictured below) and it will apparently adopt an "iPad Pro like design language" and "Pro Display like bezels". As per Sonny Dickson's tweet here:
New iMac incoming at WWDC. iPad Pro design language, with Pro Display like bezels. T2 chip, AMD Navi GPU, and no more fusion drive— Sonny Dickson (@SonnyDickson) June 9, 2020
Speaking of an iPad inspired design language - we are excited to hear rumours that the 2021 iMac will come in iPad Air colours. It's been twenty years since Apple last introduced a colourful iMac and we think people are ready for the return of fun colours.
With so many people working from home now we can see people really being inspired by a nice colourful iMac and how it might look in their home office, living room, or bedroom.
Watch Jon Prosser's big reveal of the new colourful iMac below:
It's not only the outside that will change. As the tech inside the iMac gets more powerful it gets 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.
The expectation is that Apple will reduce the bezels to allow for a bigger screen. 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, as we said at the beginning, back in 2007 these screens were 20in and 24in. With many modern displays larger than 30in, the 27in iMac display looks small by comparison and the 21.5in is just tiny.
At the beginning of April 2021, Apple leaker L0vetodream tweeted a cryptic message indicating that the new iMac will have a bigger screen than currently.
The tweet is in Chinese, but put through Google Translate, L0vetodream's vague prediction reads: "The iMac's screen is really big, bigger than the biggest one."
L0vetodream later followed up with a second tweet joking that: "I mean iMac is bigger than the biggest iPhone. It's okay. I don't know why you guys like to overinterpret my words." But this doesn't necessarily negate the earlier claim: L0vetodream is known for being jokey and vague, but they are often accurate.
It's not as if this is the first time that we have heard a rumour that the new iMac will have a bigger display though.
In April 2020 there were rumours (via the China Times) suggesting that the new smaller iMac screen will measure 23in diagonally. Our own calculations suggest the smaller model could gain a 24in display without Apple having to change the dimensions of the iMac.
With smaller bezels we could conceivably see a 30in display on the larger iMac without the display being much bigger. In fact, 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 accommodate 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.
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.
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 produced for its TV+ streaming service (which is 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 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).
One reason for the delay to Apple's iMac redesign plans could be due to Apple's wish to transition the line up to mini-LED, with analyst Ming Chi Kuo saying that coronavirus-related delays have pushed Apple's plans to use these screens (which should allow for thinner and lighter products, deeper blacks and better HDR) back to 2021.
We have one final wish for the iMac display. We think that with the arrival of Apple Silicon processors and the ability to run iOS apps on the Mac it's high time that Apple rethought its stance on touchscreen Macs.
Other iMac design changes
There are hopes that Apple will change more than the screen size when it redesigns the iMac. From new colour options, to improved ergonomics and a reduction to the size of the 'chin' here's what people want to see:
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.
We anticipate that the next Macs to get the Apple Silicon treatment will be the other 13in MacBook Pro models (there are rumours that there's a 14in MacBook Pro in the works) and the smaller iMac - an update to the current 21.5in iMac range.
It may not be the M1 chip that Apple uses in the new iMac. Apple is said to be working on an M1X chip with a 12-core CPU and a 16-core GPU. Read: Everything we know about the M1X chips.
But even the M1X might not be destined for the iMac. We may see something even better: an M2 Chip is rumoured to offer 16-core CPU. According to a Bloomberg report in December 2020: "For its next generation chip targeting MacBook Pro and iMac models, Apple is working on designs with as many as 16 power cores and four efficiency cores."
The biggest difference between the iMacs and the Macs that have already been transitioned to the M1 chip is the inclusion of discrete graphics (with the exception of the entry-level iMac). This is likely to be one reason why the new iMac didn't arrive at the same time as the other M1 Macs - Apple is likely to be developing a solution that will mean that new iMacs with integrated graphics can compete with the previous models that had discrete graphics.
The GPU capabilities of the M1 Macs that are already here are proving to be impressive and are beating the existing Intel Macs with integrated graphics. However, they are not beating Macs with external GPUs, suggesting that discrete graphics will still best the Apple integrated GPU. Read: M1 MacBook beaten by MacBook Pro with eGPU.
Apple's pro creative Mac users may be wondering if the Apple Silicon graphics processors will ever be able to match the solutions from AMD. Read this for more information about Apple's graphics plans: Details of Apple's Silicon graphics plans emerge.
Face ID for iMac
Just above an iMac screen is the FaceTime camera. Apple's been criticised recently for the poor quality of the video cameras on Macs - highlighted by the widespread use of video calling during Coronavirus lockdown.
The iMac Pro and the 27in iMac (since the August 2020 update) feature a superior FaceTime camera, offering 1080p compared to 720p on the iMac. It's time for his camera to make its way to the 21.5in iMac.
Many would also like to see Face ID arrive on the iMac as an easy way to unlock and enter passwords and there is evidence that Face ID is coming to the Mac - the Big Sur beta contains code that references the TrueDepth camera. This suggests that Apple is incorporating the TrueDepth camera technology that was introduced on the iPhone into the iMac display, however it is likely that this functionality will require Apple Silicon, hence it not appearing until the Apple Silicon iMac launches.
If the rumours are correct it's bad news though: it seems that Face ID won't come to the iMac until 2022.
Patents and concept designs
We're hoping for a complete redesign but what might Apple have up its sleeve?
First up we have an image from Jon Prosser and Concept Creator (aka Dutch designer Jermaine Smitreated). This mocked-up image shows how the iPad Air-inspired iMac might look.
A patent application discovered in January 2020 shows a Mac where the whole body is constructed from one piece of curved glass. Concept Creator has created a visualisation of how the new iMac could look based on the patent. The concept was shared on LetsGoDigital and shows what the new iMac - or iMac Pro - could look like if it was made from one sheet of glass as per Apple's Electronic Device with Glass Housing Member patent.
We're not convinced by this design - it certainly wouldn't overcome the issues with ergonomics, but it does indicate that Apple is looking at alternative designs.
You can watch a video showing what Smitreated thinks the new iMac might look like here:
Another concept created by Daniel Bautista also imagines what the new iMac could look like. Those images, including the one below, are shared on the Behance website.
That's all the iMac rumours for now, but remember to check back regularly for the latest news - leaks seem be popping up on an almost weekly basis as the launch approaches. And browse our roundup of the best iMac deals if you'd like to pick up a bargain on the current models.
And for broader information about all the hardware launching in the coming months, read our guide to the new Apple products coming in 2021. We think it's going to be a bumper year.