What will Apple’s ARM iMac look like?

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Might a new ARM iMac look like this?
Imagine an iMac that looked like this.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The iMac is far overdue for a redesign. The current “tapered edge” design dates back to 2012, and was itself mostly a slimming-down of the original aluminum iMac from 2007. Viewed from the front, the iMac looks the same today as it did 13 years ago. You could say that the iMac doesn’t need to change its look, and that’s a valid point. But it’s showing its age in other areas too, and that’s more of a problem. Could we soon see an ARM iMac? If so, what might it look like?

Make it like the iMac Pro

The iMac Pro looks like a space gray iMac on the outside, but inside it’s a completely new machine, with much better cooling, and a no more mechanical, spinning hard drive. Short of changing nothing at all, this is the second-easiest iMac redesign for Apple. Just make it silver, and replace the Xeon chips with Core i7s and so on. That would be a fantastic machine right there.

This is a good place to mention the ridiculous fact that the iMac still contains a magnetic hard drive. This surely keeps the cost down on the entry-level iMac, the one that you find on the reception desk of fancy dentist offices, but it makes the computer way too slow. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m still running one of the old boxy-sided aluminum iMacs, only it has the HDD replaced with an SSD. For everyday computing — launching apps, working with photos — it feels every bit as fast as the HDD-encumbered demo units in the Apple Store.

RAM, storage prices

Apple’s RAM and storage upgrade prices are outrageous. The current 27-inch iMac has user-accessible RAM slots, and if you’re feeling brave, you can unglue the screen to swap in a bigger SSD. But unless you’re willing to void your warranty immediately, you’re stuck with overpaying up front.

However, Apple may be about to reduce these upgrade prices. The new 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with 16GB RAM as stock, vs 8GB for the iMac. Increasing that to 32GB costs $600 on the iMac, vs $400 on the MacBook Pro.

Storage is even ore of an embarrassment. Even the highest-spec iMac comes with a Fusion Drive, which is a large hard drive paired with a small SSD. To go a basic 512GB SSD, you have to pay an extra $300. And bear in mind that this $300 isn’t just to add 512GB on top of the existing setup. Apple will also remove the 1TB Fusion Drive.

If you want a 1TB SSD, which is the entry level for an iMac in my opinion, you pay $500. In the MacBook Pro 16-inch, a 512 SSD is the stock option, 1TB adds $200, and 2TB adds $600.

If Apple updates the iMac in March (the previous update was in March 2019), and only changes these upgrade prices, I’d be disappointed, but not surprised.

Screen bezels

The LG UltraFine 5K can teach the iMac a thing or two about bezels.
The LG UltraFine 5K can teach the iMac a thing or two about bezels.
Photo: Apple

The most ridiculous part of the iMac’s current look is its huge screen bezels. You don’t even have to compare it to the iPad Pro, or the 16-inch MacBook Pro, to see how big they are. Just take a walk through any store that sells computer monitors. Even the LG UltraFine 5K , which uses the exact same panel as the iMac, has narrower bezels.

Even if Apple does nothing else, it might want to shrink those big black bands around the screen, perhaps increasing the size of the display on the smaller iMac, and reducing the overall size of the case on the 27-incher.

ARM iMac?

Any time now, Apple will start switching Macs over to its own A-Series ARM processors. These chips run way cooler than Intel’s heat machines, and are also faster. In single-core performance, the iPad is faster than some MacBook Pros, and the iPhone 11 beats out almost all Macs in the same test.

Cool-running chips, optimized to run iOS and macOS, seems like the perfect fit for MAcBook, but they would also mean smaller, thinner iMacs. It you can fit a super-powerful computer into an iPad-sized container (which itself includes a screen), then dropping it into a bezel-free, iMac-sized shell shouldn’t be too taxing, especially as you don’t need nearly as much cooling (no fan in iPads, remember). So, what would it look like?

The Apple Pro Display XDR

This would make a killer iMac.
This would make a killer iMac.
Photo: Apple

Imagine an iMac that looked like the Pro Display XDR. A beautiful squared-off case, and perhaps even a simplified version of its $1,000 stand. It’s not hard to see Apple doing this. If nothing else, all those high-end dentists would replace their machines, because these new ones would look amazing on the reception desks, showing off their holey rears.

ARM iMac Wish List

And while we’re about it, let’s have an iMac wish-list. I want the new Pro Display XDR stylings, with small bezel and adjustable-height stand. I want SSD-only, with a panel on the back to easily remove and swap RAM and storage. And I want cool-silent-running ARM chips inside. Oh, and what about the amazing speakers from the new 16-inch MacBook Pro?

My iMac is getting a bit long in the tooth. It can’t run anything later than High Sierra, can’t AirDrop to iOS, and I’m starting to see “incompatible updates” show up in the Mac App Store. So, even though it’s still going string, I may need to replace it this year. And if I’m keeping it for another ten years, I’d prefer not to have anything with huge bezels, a spinning hard drive, and hot Intel chips. Here’s hoping Apple announces something soon.