For years, Apple made some of the best — and most expensive — displays in the business. Not only did they have great design and terrific panels, they had those Apple logos right up front for people who wanted that look and that experience beyond an iMac — for their Mac Pros to MacBook Pros as well. We got generations of Cinema Displays, LED Displays… Thunderbolt Displays.
But then, just a few years ago, Apple went and stopped making them. From hero to zero, something to nothing in one Thanos snap flat. There were rumors — there are always rumors — of a 4K display that Apple was working on but never shipped. But for an agonizingly long period of time, measured in pro-user angst years, Apple just didn't offer anything for anyone who didn't want an all-in one.
Until now. Or, well, soon at least. It's complicated.
Apple 6K Pro Display: The History
Almost three years ago, at the end of June, 2016, Apple discontinued the Thunderbolt Display. And I was bummed. I liked Apple displays. They typically brought new technologies like IPS panels and Thunderbolt connectors to market more quickly, because they could do things like leverage iMac volumes. But, also because they did so in really well designed and integrated ways, like one cable to connect to your MacBook.
As much as I didn't like the discontinuation personally, I also thought it was bad for Apple in general. You know the halo effect, where getting customers to buy one product, like an iPhone, gets them to buy additional products, like an iPad or Mac?
Well, I believe there's also an equal and opposite horn effect, where forcing customers to buy things from competitors encourages them to keep buying things from competitors.
Especially when those things are as prominent as a display. Look, just like for most people, the interface is the app, and, for most people the display is the computer. And, if people are staring at an LG or Dell or Samsung logo all day, even if they're using a Mac, what they're seeing is LG or Dell or Samsung, not Apple.
So, all this to say that I'm not only happy Apple is getting back into the display business, but I'm super happy Apple went so far as to pre-announce, all the way back in 2017, that they were getting back into the display business.
Apple 6K Pro Display: The Rebirth
We all know the story by now: After years with no updates and no news, in 2017 Apple brought a tiny group of media type people together to talk about how the old Mac Pro had bet wrong on the multi-GPU future and hit a brick wall with thermals. So, they were starting over with a new, modular design, but one that was still at least a couple of years away. What's more: Along with it, would be coming a new Pro display.
Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, via Daring Fireball:
As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a pro display as well. Now you won't see any of those products this year; we're in the process of that. We think it's really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that'll take longer than this year to do.
But what does that mean exactly? Would it be the 4K one that'd been rumored for a while? An 8K panel right out the most fervent, fevered display dork dreams?
I know what immediately leapt to my mind: An absolutely cutting edge, exquisitely calibrated and perfectly color managed panel wrapped up in a design that looks iconic the moment you lay eyes on it. Plus all the ports.
Apple 6K Pro Display: The Rumors
More recently, there have been a couple of rumors, notably from supply chain exfiltrator extraordinaire Kuo Ming-Chi and his big 2019 Apple product prediction chart:
31.6" 6K3K monitor
Yeah, that's it, at least in that one. But, let's stop the record and rewind that.
Since the Apple Cinema Display debuted in 1999, Apple has offered it and the displays that followed in a couple of aspect ratios and a variety of sizes, including 20-, 22-, 23-, 24-, and 30-inches all at 16 by 10, and most recently, 27-inches at 16 by 9.
That makes 3.16-inches for the Pro Display, if accurate, decidedly on the big side of that scale. And, if 6K3K means 6K horizontal and 3K vertical, that would mean a 2:1 aspect ratio — much like this video — and even more decidedly on the wide side as well.
Now, I love 2 by 1 for video, obviously. But the old web developer and designer in me loves 16 by 10, hell, gimme 4 by 3 like an iPad and I'll be happy all day.
Where wide wins though is not in displaying a narrow, single column of content, cut off at the bottom, with far too much space on the sides. No, it wins at displaying wide content with tools and palettes beside it, or multiple columns or windows of content side-by-side.
So, again, if accurate, is this a move away from traditional computer displays and even the HDTV standard and towards what we're seeing in more modern smartphones, including the iPhone?
Last month, Kuo added this, via MacRumors:
We believe that mini LED, compared to OLED, will be a more suitable solution to offer wide-color gamut (WCG)/high-contrast/high dynamic range (HDR)/local dimming features because of its longer life and no burn-in issues for Apple's medium- and large-size products targeting at productivity positions.
Similar as the names may be, mini LED and micro LED, which is another technology Apple's working on, are different things.
microLED is a next-generation display technology that uses arrays of microscopic light emitting diodes. TL;DR it offers a lot of the advantages of OLED, without a lot of the headaches that come with it. Kind of like the best of both display worlds. That is, when it's finally mature enough to be brought to market, which isn't today and might not be tomorrow.
Apple's been developing it for the Watch, which because of the small size and harsh power constraints, is the perfect test bed for new display tech.
Mini-LED, at least in its current state, is more of a half-step towards a half-generation. TL;DR, it makes LED better not by eliminating the backlight but by improving it. So, they don't have all the advantages of OLED but they don't have all the disadvantages either.
What you end up getting is faster response times, better contrast, wider gamut, and better energy efficiency, and in something much easier to mass produce than microLED, at least for now.
The bottom line is, if the miniLED part is accurate, the new Pro Display should also be a damn fine looking display, especially for photographers and videographers and, yeah, display nerds.
Just a couple days ago, Gui Rambo wrote about some of the other features on 9to5Mac:
Known only as J290 by the people involved with its development, the new pro monitor will be a DCI-P3 display with support for HDR, auto-brightness, Night Shift and the True Tone technology, which can adjust the white point of the display to match the ambient light color.
Gui also says it'll be deeply integrated with devices so you can tune minimum and maximum brightness, color space, auto-brightness, white point, Night Shift, and more, save presets to menu bar shortcuts, and even export and import them between devices.
As far as ports go, there haven't been any rumors yet, but here's hoping for a full complement of USB-A, USB-C, Ethernet, and SD Card — you know, everything that puts the pro in pro.
Apple 6K Pro Display: The Release
So, when could we see it? Well, if everything is on track for the new Mac Pro, possibly as soon as next week at WWDC.
Back in 2013, Apple showed off the then-new trashcan Mac Pro at WWDC. In 2017, same thing with the iMac Pro. Neither shipped until the end of their respective years but because WWDC is the big pro show, Apple chose to give everyone watching just a little peek at what was coming for pros.
Will Phil Schiller or John Ternus, Vice President of Hardware Engineering, take the stage this year to show off the iMac Pro and Pro Display? We'll just have to wait and see.