All eyes on looming iMac redesign

Will the next iMac design show the future of Apple hardware design, after Jony Ive?

Apple, iPad, iMac, A14, A13, iPhone, Jony Ive, Arm
Christopher Phin/IDG

It's logical to expect Apple’s heavily speculated plan to use its own homegrown A-series processors inside Macs to be matched with new hardware designs.

Which comes first, the iMac or the chip?

Apple recently introduced a 16-in. MacBook Pro that’s around the same size as the 15-in. model it replaced.

For its next step, the company is now expected to transform the design of other Mac hardware, including new iMac designs. The idea behind the change is to fit more display into the computer by slimming the bezels that surround the screen.

China Times claims Apple will start production of a new 23-in. iMac in the current quarter, which implies a summer release schedule for these systems. This follows introduction of a new iMac model powered by faster Intel processors last year.

The basic design of the iMac has remained more or less identical since 2012, which was when Apple took the optical drive out and made the machine much thinner.

A move to slim the bezels may also be an opportunity for deeper design change. It should also be an opportunity for Apple to introduce new display and audio enhancements. The company’s HomePod and outstanding audio in the 16-inch MacBook Pro show how effectively Apple is improving its sound capture and reproduction systems.

Apple’s continued innovations in display technology culminate in the Pro Display XDR, which provides the highest-quality display at an industry-beating price.

What about the migration?

Of course, with Apple expected to begin to migrate its Mac range to its own A-series processors starting in 2021, an iMac refresh could see the company introduce different hardware design concepts as Apple moves into life after Jony Ive.

Almost eight years since the last major iMac redesign and with a new processor migration set to begin, Apple’s iconic product seems a good place to reveal any changes in its approach.

The A14 series chips used inside future Macs will, apparently, be made by TSMC and are likely to be 5-nanometer processors equipped with eight cores. (Think how Pro Mode could work with these chips).

Apple is thought to be exploring 12-core versions and the internal project name is  allegedly Kalamata.

Further down the road, TSMC is thought to be investing in 3nm process designs set for introduction in 2023. The expectation is that it will introduce Macs powered by Apple chips starting with a notebook of some kind.

The result? Apple has a clear processor upgrade path (for the present) culminating in 12-core processors at record-setting speeds with low energy demands.

It will also own the patents, enabling the company to ship Macs at lower prices and with unique features competitors won’t match.

These will almost inevitably include things like on-device machine learning, machine image intelligence, and augmented reality support (for both AR creation and consumption).

It seems logical to expect some changes in the look and feel of Apple hardware given a move to new processors — it’s hard to think of a better time to make such a change.

What about the Magic Keyboard?

Apple’s new Magic Keyboard may also intimate at what a new iMac may be like. When used with an iPad, this provides an experience strongly reminiscent of the G4 iMac, which saw the computer in the base and the display mounted on a pivoting stalk.

It’s as if you could remove your computer from the stand to use it as a tablet — which has limited use when working with a 23-inch display, unless you’re into architecture, technical drawing or design.

Ultimately, the challenge for Apple won’t solely be defined by the technological and operational hurdles it will (and to an extent, already has) needed to overcome to put A series chips inside Macs; it will also need to guide customers into why such a move makes sense.

What are the human advantages of any such changes and how can they be explained?

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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