It took a while, but Apple finally has a 4K iMac. Along for the ride came yet another new model of 5K iMac, as well as a refresh of the entire line of Magic input devices, including a new, and very expensive, updated trackpad with Force Touch. What do we think? Join some of the MacNN
team for their thoughts on the releases.
The 4K iMac is here, and it uses a custom Apple-only panel (at least for now). Good move, or supply problem in the long run?
Mike Wuerthele, managing editor
: This is what held up the release of the iMac in the first place, I think. The processor in the smaller 4K is more than six months old, so that means that Apple had it more than a year ago. Apple's probably got enough laid in for a while, so I don't think supply issues on the LG-produced panel are a problem for Apple -- but, they will be for third-party repair shops for a while.
William Gallagher, contributor
: Either is possible but Apple's done very well with its bringing silicon design in house so I'd bet on it being at least a good move and possibly a great one. I just don't know how long it will be before we know which.
Charles Martin, editor
: I don't see the exclusivity of the panel as a problem -- Apple has been using 21.5-inch panels for quite some time now, this is just a high-end version of the same panel. The iMac may be Apple's top-selling desktop, but those numbers are likely to be pretty far behind the notebook line, so I don't foresee a shortage. The size has proven popular with non-pro buyers, and Apple continues to sell the non-Retina models for people who don't want to spend the extra couple of hundred bucks for the Retina display.
: Custom panels lock repair places into the Apple ecosystem, or questionably-sourced ones from Ebay. I'm fine with the overall concept of a 4K 21.5-inch iMac, but I'd like a hair more repairability, and the custom panel makes fixing it that much harder.
: Haven't you heard, man? Repairs are so last decade! But seriously, the reliability factor in modern Macs is way, way up from the days when you and I were working in repair shops a decade ago. Apple is surely developing a secondary (and probably beyond) source for those panels, so that's probably not a long-term problem anymore than when a panel (very rarely) dies on a non-Retina or other-sized iMac -- or any other all-in-one.
No discrete GPU on the 4K iMac. Is this a problem? What about the GPU lineup for the 5K? Good or underpowered?
: Well, let's step back and look at the larger picture of typical desktop buyers in 2015. If you look at what non-pro people typically do with home computers, the lead app would probably be Safari, and that's mostly for browsing and Facebook. Much better than 90 percent of buyers aren't doing anything terribly demanding of a modern computer, apart from the occasional game or the occasional bit of video editing. The Intel chipsets long ago surpassed the needs for all but the most gamer-oriented or pro-app-oriented users, and for them there is a model that is far more suited to their purposes in the 27-inch (5K) iMac.
: As the discussion goes, if a computer costs that much, it should be a good gaming computer. Well, this is -- it's just not a good 4K gaming computer. The onboard GPU will push 1080P around fine, but not fantastically, so the market its shooting for will be fairly well-served. The iMac can game -- it's just not designed for gaming. A hammer can be used as a demolition implement, but a 20 pound sledge is a better tool for that job. Right tool for the right job applies to the computer industry as well. You want a gaming computer? Buy one.
This all said, the PC gaming industry is in no way ready for 4K or 5K gaming. So, the lack of a "gamer" GPU in either the 4K or the 5K iMac that will do it isn't terrible, for right now. Ask me again in the next iMac update in about five months.
: For my work this makes exactly zero difference. To the extent that I doubt I'd notice if you hadn't told me. Plus I say this as a writer but I now also edit video, and I'm doing that fine on my old 2012 iMac, I don't think I'd be complaining about this new one. How typical is my experience with Apple's market?
: As for the discrete GPU in the 5K iMac, I'm of the view that anything beyond 2GB of video RAM is overkill for all but the 3D rendering, simulation and hardcore gaming markets, and those people wouldn't be buying this, so again no. Your typical user wouldn't see the slightest bit of improvement if you swapped the present cards or chipsets out for a "heavy-duty" video card now or five years from now, and again if you're really the sort who has to have a beefier video card than the 2GB Radeon, you're probably using a Mac Pro ... or not in the market for a Mac at all.
Most of my "creative pro" colleagues switched to the 27-inch iMac quite some time ago -- its a better machine for the print and photo industry, and is far cheaper than the Pro as well. In effect, it is
the Mac Pro for creatives, whereas the actual Mac Pro is more likely to be seen in the pro video or pro audio world.
: Speaking of pixels, though, that was the one thing that made me hesitate three years ago when I got my 2012 iMac: it was rumoured that the Retina iMac would be coming Real Soon Now. There is always something better going to come but this time it seemed so sure and it seemed so specific that I thought about it. Yet, I had a particular job to do and I also had the money to do it with so I went ahead and bought it. I have only once even had a tremor of uncertainty that I made the right decision and that was when the first Retina iMacs came out exactly a year ago. I went into an Apple Store to see one and couldn't get to it because a teenager was singing along to a YouTube video playing on it.
Steve Jobs once said that computers are splitting into "trucks" and "cars" (and, I would argue, scooters). This roughly works out to "light duty and Internet machines" for the vast majority of users, a "prosumer" level for creative pros and enthusiasts, and a workstation for a handful of purposes that really need everything a computer can give and then some. That top group is a very small one indeed, that middle group is smaller but important, and the light-duty group is who buys 90 percent of computers. Apple has, I think, responded to this stratification of users pretty well with its offerings -- though the Mac Pro is clearly in need of an update.
Magic Peripherals. Did Ive and company take aesthetics too far?
: There are some design choices I'm not thrilled about. I know what Apple is trying to do with the charging port on the bottom of the new Magic Mouse, but the inability to use it while charging at the expense of the lines of the product is ludicrous.
: Agreed. Sure, a smart user will keep an eye on it and charge it overnight one night a month to keep it always good -- but users aren't always smart about this. An inductive charging mouse pad or the port located where a wired mouse would have had it, or something where you can still use the device while it's charging would have been a better idea.
: Not a bit. Have you tried them? Love at first sight. No, correction, at first sight the keyboard and trackpad look like photographs rather than real peripherals. It's at first touch, that's when I began lusting after them. I've no interest in the mouse, didn't even try it, but you're asking because of this business of the Lightning connector being on the bottom. I don't care. I was bothered when the iPhone headphone jack moved but this is a shrug. So you turn the mouse over and tickle it on the tum every month or two. Fine.
: We spoke about the Magic Keyboard in the forums -- it was never going to have a numeric keypad. Not because Apple doesn't want you to have one, they just don't want to sell one. This is Apple doing what Apple wants, and I'm sure that their focus groups told them that slim and minimalistic was better than a keyboard with a numeric keypad. Yes, I know that people use them. Apple knows too -- they just don't think you need a wireless one from them.
: Focus groups? At Apple? Uh, sure. I have to disagree on this: this isn't Apple being capricious, it's Apple not catering to the sub-one percent of users that actually need this. Number pads are a quaint relic of the 10-key adding machine days, but the bottom line is that this is what third-party accessory makers are for, and they're doing a fine job of it for the tiny, tiny niche of people who would actually benefit from them.
Heck, my primary use of number pads back when they were standard was to remap them as directional keys in games! I mean, seriously -- why doesn't Apple make an iMac with a rotating monitor for portrait-oriented web pages? Oh wait, same reason.
Not having seen the new peripherals in person, it is really difficult to say whether they "went too far," whatever that means. The Magic Mouse 2 looks on the surface to be unchanged in overall design apart from the internal things which just make it go far longer between charges, and the keyboard looks great to me -- obviously, as a writer, I am very keen to try one out, I'm of the opinion (not shared by everyone) that the new "butterfly" keys are a big improvement, so it interests me.
I haven't decided if I like the new butterfly keys yet. I guess if I haven't decided that I do, I probably don't. I need time to use them, where I'm forced to adapt, to really see, I think.
: Like the rest of the staff, I'm kind of scratching my head about the price of the Magic Trackpad 2, but the larger size is quite appealing and the "taptic" engine to replace the traditional clicking works fine (based on my experience with the Retina MacBook). I suppose the price increase is down to the Force Touch technology, but I think we're a year or three away from that being an important part of typical program use on the Mac so that cost is pretty hard to swallow at the moment for your typical buyer.
I just don't see where people are going to get an extra $70 worth of value out of it at present, so I think this is a rare case of Apple making a genuine pricing error. It's an optional buy, and I predict it will not do very well at that price (I love my present Magic Trackpad, but have zero interest in replacing it with one of these).
This is the third iMac 5K upgrade in a year. Is this finally fulfilling the promise of frequent updates that we were given with the shift to Intel?
: Yes. However, I'm not entirely sure why Apple chose to update the 5K with the new screen and the sixth generation Intel processors right at this minute. It could have waited until after the Christmas season without much difficulty. I guess they decided with the P3-based screen update that they were in the neighborhood, so they might as well upgrade the processor as well.
: I'm not sure what can be added of significance: there will be speed increases and I'm sure we'll get more storage but this may be the last update where it's a big enough deal to debate.
: The hazard of frequent updates is just as William said yesterday in his editorial about the Mac Pro
-- You're concerned that when you plunk down your money, that there'll be a new model before the charge clears. This is literally the case with the seemingly second-rate 5K iMac released earlier this year. Expect Internet drama
about the short cycling of the iMac, just like there was when the iPad was migrated in less than a year from the iPad 3 to fourth generation. Nobody remembers that anymore, really, so this will be forgotten in time as well.
: The rapid iteration of the 5K iMac is the result of Apple's deciding that it is the modern-day Mac Pro for most users (see above), so as the "consumer" iMac improves, so must the 5K one. We've gotten used to roughly yearly updates on most of the other Mac hardware, which is all you can really expect given that the chief changes in Intel processors has been power efficiency rather than speed. Most computers in 2015 are only marginally more powerful than the ones from 2012, they just run cooler and use less power.
The present computer market has hit a plateau, which is why you see falling sales for companies not called Apple. The real "innovations" lately have come from other areas -- connectors like Thunderbolt, wireless tech like Bluetooth and 802.11ac, SSD storage, the shift to mobile devices, the shift to cloud-based storage and services. In terms of actual use, users are also at a plateau -- there aren't any huge changes in their needs in the last five years, particularly compared to the five years before that -- it's mostly a matter of just refining what they've been doing (working in 1080p video all the time now versus SD video, with a small-but-growing 4K contingent as an example). El Capitan is a good metaphor for what's going on generally at the moment -- no revolutions, just refinements (till the next revolution).
If you were just handed $2500, what are you buying from Apple?
: I'd take a Magic Trackpad 2 if they gave me one (or gave me the money for it), but I'm not buying one at that price. For myself, I'd get an unlocked iPhone 6s for sure, but beyond that I'm actually pretty torn: after having initially snubbed the Retina MacBook (and it's still overpriced in my opinion), I'm beginning to think that I'd be happier with a 27-inch iMac at home and a Retina MacBook for the road. I presently use a MacBook Pro as both my home and road machine, but this means I am generally carrying more than I really need when I'm out (which is why I often carry the iPad Air 2 out instead).
As this $2,500 budget wouldn't quite stretch to cover all that, at present I'd have to go with a beefier i7 MBP as my new "car" computer -- I have to have a laptop for presentations, work, and travel -- but really I'm kind of waiting on the next revolution. Ideally, a super-light, long-battery-life "scooter" notebook that stays in sync with a "truck" of a Retina iMac at home would be my preferred setup in a "money-no-object" scenario for my current needs.
: Not the iMac -- but either are worthy machines for many reasons. I'd put it towards a new 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, as it more suits my lifestyle. There is an argument for a 4K iMac and a iPad Pro for me, but I just can't quite wrap my brain around using the iPad for work here -- and some of our staffers wrangling our CMS with 80 percent success validates that.
: This is my own personal barrier but take it as a help to you: the old iMac from 2012 is still brilliant. Think how great the new one will seem to you. More than seem, it will be brilliant and I've not one pixel of doubt that the new machines are worth the money.
Still, let's not be hasty here: I'm not so disappointed that I wouldn't buy a new iMac with these peripherals and then a second one for my wife Angela Gallagher if the opportunity (nee cash) came up.