Apple and design used to go hand in hand, helped somewhat by the presence of design guru Jony Ive who was the head of design at Apple until he left in 2019. We don't doubt that Apple can continue to innovate beautifully designed products without Ive, but we are starting to feel concerned that the part of Apple's DNA associated with design expertise has been locked away somewhere, because there are a number of products that have maintained the same design for a long long time.
Longest of all is the iMac. The iMac has not visually changed since 2009. Even then it was only a minor change - a slightly more tapered, thinner side-view made possible by the removal of the DVD drive (remember them?) Prior to that the Aluminium iMac design still familiar today had been introduced in 2007.
This is one reason why we are hoping that the rumours are true and that in 2021 Apple will finally get around to redesigning the iMac. For more reasons why Apple needs to update the iMac design read: Why the iMac needs a redesign.
It's not only a redesign we are hoping for though. 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 what Apple can do with its own M-series chips inside the iMac - and it seems that Apple is planning an even more powerful processor for the 2021 iMac, as we will discuss below.
When is the new iMac coming out?
Apple said we would see some new Macs with Apple processors in 2020 and subsequently launched its MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini in November, but there was no new iMac.
This might have been disappointing if you were hoping for a new iMac, but it's probably good news as it means the upcoming iMac update will be worth waiting for. We anticipate that Apple will be introducing a brand-new design for the iMac and adding an even better M-series chip. Perhaps an M1X, or even an M2 (more on that below).
So when can we expect to see this brand new iMac?
A report in The China Times back in October 2020, discussed here, suggested that the M1 iMac would launch in spring 2021.
We think this new iMac could appear in the spring. There are rumours that Apple will hold an event in March 2021, so it is feasible we could see it then. However, we think that Apple might make us wait until June and launch it at its WWDC event.
Aside from the new processor (discussed in detail below) there is something else coming that is 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. 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?
Sources quotes in a 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.
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
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.
Speaking of the iMac Pro, read about the changes coming to that model: New iMac Pro rumours.
Bigger 23in 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.
The rumours (via the China Times) suggest 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 is high time that Apple rethought its stance on touch screen 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:
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.
We anticipate that the next Macs to get the M1 treatment will be the other smaller 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.
So, just how powerful will these new iMacs be? Can we expect Apple to produce something even better than the M1 MacBook Pro?
As we said above, we think that the smaller iMac is likely to see an Apple processor sooner than the 27in models. This is based on the fact that it was the consumer-focused Macs that gained Apple's chips first and it's thought that it will take Apple longer to develop the CPU and GPU's required by creative professional Mac users.
What can we expect? 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 China Times report from October 2020 that we mentioned above suggested that the new iMac model would be equipped with an A14T processor (code name Mt Jade) alongside a new graphics processor (code name Lifuka). This new GPU could giving the M1 iMacs a greater graphics boost.
The good news is that 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.
Patents and concept designs
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