Looking back at Apple’s history, it seems that the venerable iMac, the desktop computer that once saved the company from bankruptcy, may be running out of steam.
From 2002 to 2009, the iMac was constantly updated every two years. Then the gaps began to grow: There was a gap of more than three years between the “unibody” iMac of 2009 and the “slim” iMac of 2012 and another three years before the iMac Retina in 2015. Then we got the iMac Pro, but that was it. kind of your own thing; the true successor to the 2015 product didn’t arrive until 2021, nearly six years later. That was the iMac in which Apple’s Silicon would debut.
Since then, we’ve gotten an update to the M1 Mac Mini, two generations of the Mac Studio, and a somewhat inexplicable update to the 2019 Mac Pro. There’s been a new MacBook Air and a larger MacBook Air and a whole bunch of MacBook Pros. period, almost the entire Apple lineup has been upgraded to the M2 chip (or M2 Pro, or M2 Max, or M2 Ultra). But not the iMac.
In fact, as of this writing, Apple You haven’t updated your iMac in more than 800 days – which is the longest gap in recent memory and double the average gap between updates over its history. And that noticeable hole in the M2 lineup has me wondering: In a future where MacBooks rule the market and most of Apple’s desktops are niche enthusiast products, where will the iMac fit in?
Several factors could explain why Apple has been slow to update the iMac. One could argue that it has to do with your target audience. The latest iMac isn’t widely marketed to professionals. It is promoted as a family product, much like the 1998 original. It comes in one size, seven colors (with matching keyboard and mouse accessories), and only a handful of configurations. It’s just as port-poor and not upgradable after purchase as Apple’s line of laptops.
It’s been over 800 days since the current iMac came out
of Apple promotional images show people making video calls in their living rooms and kids watching movies from bed. (If you have an iMac installed at the foot of your bed, please let me know. I’m intrigued.) Its array of color options (including the bright yellow that my TikTok feed fell in love with) makes it, you’re told, customizable for various areas of the home. Given that this iMac is a distinctly consumer-focused non-professional device, perhaps your audience’s workloads are largely not pushing the M1, and therefore the M2 won’t push them much.
The obvious counterpart to that is the MacBook Air, which is about as consumer-focused as a computer can get. Apple not only put the M2 chip in the Air last year, but also shipped an even bigger MacBook Air this year, which is essentially no different from the regular M2 Air, apart from its size. In neither case has the company reconceptualized the MacBook Air’s form factor or pushed it toward an untapped demographic. He seemed to recognize the value of keeping the most popular laptop on the market up to date.
Another theory I’ve seen is that Apple is doing an economics calculation: desktops just don’t sell as well as laptops, and therefore Apple is putting all its eggs in the MacBook basket. There is certainly truth in the first part. The desktop market, as a whole, faces major obstacles. The first quarter of this year saw GPU sales reached its lowest point in decades. It’s also common knowledge that Apple’s MacBooks sell much better than their desktop computers. Pro and Air account for nearly three-quarters of Mac sales, according to a recent CIRP survey.
But I don’t fully buy it either, because Apple updated the Mac Mini and the Mac Studio. Those models, the same research indicates, each account for a whopping 1 percent of Mac sales. That’s right: Those two flashy models account for 2 percent of Apple computer sales combined. The iMac is 13 percent. (It’s hard to find data on who buys which Mac models, but anecdotally, I certainly see a lot more iMacs in doctors’ offices, spas, and other customer-service businesses than Mac Minis, and the former certainly has a friendlier, cleaner-looking cozy than, say, Pro Display XDR. I wonder if that’s part of it).
There is no shortage of other cynical ways in which one might view the iMac’s lack of updates. Maybe Apple wants to rein in the all-in-one desktop to sell more of its own screens. Maybe you’re worried about reducing sales of your new Mac Studio. But I choose, partly for my own sanity, that an iterative M2 update was skipped for another reason: that for the iMac’s 25th anniversary, Apple is planning something very cool.
While the latest MacBooks are fantastic machines, and the portability they offer is quite valuable to many people, I still think the iMac occupies a unique place in Apple’s lineup. For one, where else can you get a yellow Mac? (You can’t, and no, rose gold doesn’t count.)
But more importantly, the iMac offers a large, high-quality screen and a simple setup in one. If you buy the Mac Mini but also want an Apple display, your options are the XDR professional display (in which case you can say goodbye to a whole a lot of money) or Studio Display (which also costs more, on its own, than most current iMac configurations). You can use a third-party display, of course, but the build quality won’t be as good.
Even if the prices for a screen, microphone, and webcam aren’t prohibitive for you, the iMac is simple. Reviewing the Mac Studio was a whole process of opening a bunch of boxes, arranging cables, and plugging in all sorts of things. Reviewing the 2021 iMac was a matter of setting it down on a desk and turning it on, unchanged since simple and easy experience Apple provided in 1984 and 1998.
And it’s not just families who value that kind of convenience with a giant screen. There is also a market for it in the professional space. I remember the days before Apple Silicon when every designer or video editor I know was on a 27-inch iMac 5K. The office he worked in at the time had a truckload of them strewn across its editing bays. They were huge, and the fans always seemed to be running at full speed. These days, most of those acquaintances have moved on to the MacBook Pro. They love that it’s a cool, quiet, simple all-in-one system, and that its combination of speed and efficiency is unparalleled in the business PC space. , but the most common complaint I hear is about the size of the screen; When you’re working in programs like Premiere, especially for those with vision that isn’t exactly 20/20, 16 inches can be a bit small.
I like to imagine an iMac with the slim, functional design of the current model but with the power of Mac Studio and a screen the size of a Pro Display XDR. While it may be soon for a complete redesign of the current 24-inch device, it’s about time we got a new version with the screen space and power ceiling of Intel’s latest 27-inch models. And while kids watching movies in bed may not mind incremental chip hits, video and design professionals certainly do.
Rumors have been predicting new iMacs for a while; maybe Apple has something special in store for the iMac’s silver anniversary.
The rumor mill seems to agree that something like this is coming. For one thing, we’ll likely get a new iMac of some kind before the end of 2023. The exact forecast has been a bit tricky: first it was the second half of this year, which has been postponed until early next year. , but now it could also be October of this year, but it seems likely that this new iMac is one of the first Mac models to include the M3 chip that has not been released yet. Perhaps the next iMac has features or capabilities that made it the best possible showcase for the CPU’s debut. Exciting! Oh, and there may be a monster 32-inch model in a few years, too. That’s a lot of inches.
The iMac was once the computer that everyone I knew had on their desk. That is now, without a doubt, the MacBook. The laptop, as a category, has come so far and permeated the culture so deeply in the last two decades that it’s hard to see a desktop, regardless of its supposed numbers, as a mainstream option. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like the Mac Studio, the iMac leans more into a niche in the next few years. Maybe those are the offices that want a beautiful setup. Maybe it’s people with yellow rooms.
Or maybe it’s the high-performance space. If there’s an opening in the market for a premium desktop like the Mac Studio, I don’t see why there isn’t a bigger one for a premium iMac. Essentially, it could be a MacBook Pro with a much larger built-in display than any MacBook Pro can provide. Also, maybe this one could come in yellow too.