After more than a year and a half Apple finally updated the iMac and iMac Pro in August 2020 - however despite Apple's claims that this is a "major update" it is merely a spec bump for the 27in iMac, a minor (although welcome) change to the storage inside the 21.5in iMac, and a tweak to the iMac Pro.
This isn't the big iMac update we have all been waiting for. There was no sign of Apple Silicon processors and no redesign. In fact, the 21.5in models were hardly updated at all - maintaining the 8th generation processors (and 7th generation in the case of the entry-level model). As for the 27in models, these gained new 10th generation Intel chips, which it is suspected aren't all that different to the 9th generation chips that previously featured.
If you are disappointed about this lacklustre update, then fear not. There is a lot of evidence that a new iMac is indeed on its way, and that this new iMac will feature a new design - with bigger screens, and Apple's new Silicon processors. Read on to find out what to expect.
On 10 November, Apple unveiled three new Macs, powered by its M1 chip. The new MacBook Air, 13in MacBook Pro and Mac mini all boast the M1 chip that Apple claims can deliver up to 3.5x faster CPU, 6x faster GPU and 15x faster machine learning capabilities.
"M1 is by far the most powerful chip we've ever created," said Apple CEO Tim Cook. This is the chip (or at least a variation of the chip) we're expecting to come to iMac soon, but the 10 November event itself did not house an iMac announcement.
When will the redesigned Silicon iMac launch?
A new iMac is expected to ship with a brand-new design as well as Apple's Silicon processors.
While Apple has said we will see some new Macs with Apple processors in 2020 and subsequently launched its MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini, it looks like we will have to wait until 2021 for the new iMac.
We think a 2021 release date is more likely for the Apple Silicon iMac, but a Twitter fortune-teller had suggested it could come in 2020.
The leaker, known as @Soybeys, tweeted back in July that "the redesigned one [iMac] will be later this year. I had this confirmed by multiple accounts so I hope for this to come out as true as I would not post [an] obvious fake leak."
That tweet has since been deleted indicating that @Soybeys no longer believes it to be true, however.
Wondering what the first ARM Mac will be? Read this.
Silicon iMac specs
Apple had said that it will start using its own home-made processors in Macs soon - with the first Apple Silicon equipped Macs appearing in 2020. These were unveiled on 10 November. It's possible that the iMac could gain Apple Silicon processors, which we now know are called M1, in 2020, but, as we said above, we think that this is more likely to happen in 2021.
However, there is one iMac that could see an Apple processor sooner than the rest: the entry-level iMac could be one of the first iMacs to adopt these new chips.
A report in The China Times, discussed here, suggests that a new iMac model could be equipped with an A14T processor - code name Mt Jade. Like the standard A14 processor, this processor is based on 5nm technology, but the big difference is a new graphics processor called Lifuka.
Some of Apple's pro creative Mac users may be wondering if the Apple Silicon processors will be able to match the Intel options - and more importantly, if Apple will be able to make a GPU as good as those from AMD.
It looks like we won't know the answers to these questions for some time as the consumer laptops are the first to get Apple processors. We have more information about how Apple Silicon compares to Intel here.
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. 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. We discuss why the iMac needs a redesign here.
So, on the assumption that Apple must be looking at redesigning the iMac, what do we expect to see?
We expect to see slimmer bezels 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
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.
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 internal changes to the standard iMac (which since the August 2020 update no longer ships with a hard drive or Fusion drive option).
Speaking of the iMac Pro, we could see this iMac gain a new look before the standard iMac, which could come sooner than 2021 if Apple choose to premiere the redesign on the iMac Pro first.
Bigger, better iMac screen
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. 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 our calculations suggest the smaller model could gain a 24in display. However the rumours (via the China Times) suggest that the new smaller iMac screen will in fact measure 23in diagonally.
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 is high time that Apple rethought its stance on touch screen Macs.
Face ID for iMac
Just above the screen is the FaceTime camera. Apple's been criticised recently for the poor quality of the video cameras on Macs - highlighted by the proliferation of video calling during Coronavirus lockdown. The iMac Pro an now 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.
Other 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:
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.
Patents and concepts
We're hoping for a complete redesign but what might Apple have up its sleeve? There is some evidence that the company is considering a pretty dramatic new look for the iMac. A patent application discovered in January 2020 shows a Mac where the whole body is constructed from one piece of curved glass.
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.
This patent has inspired a designer to create visuals of what the new iMac could look like if Apple chooses to use this patent.
Concept Creator (aka Dutch designer Jermaine Smitreated) 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.
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.
For more information about what Apple will launch in 2021 read: New Apple products guide to what's coming out in 2021