iMac rumor roundup: Everything you need to know!

iMac desktop screen
iMac desktop screen (Image credit: iMore )

Apple's all-in-one iMac — with its spectacular 4K and 5K wide-color-gamut displays — is still one of the best desktop computers in the world. With Kaby Lake processors, updated graphics, and compatibility with external graphics processors (eGPU), the iMac is current again. But what and when will be Apple once again make the desktop truly new?

When will the next iMac be released?

Unlike iPhone and iPad, where Apple makes or controls almost all the components in the box, the iMac is dependent on Intel, AMD, and other chipset suppliers. That means, in order to make significant updates, Apple has to wait for Intel to announce a next-generation chip, ship the specific version Apple needs, and then work with Apple to get everything from wake-from-sleep to Power Nap just right. And that can take a while.

Here's the previous timeline for major updates:

  • October 2009: Aluminum unibody
  • October 2012: Slimmed down unibody
  • October 2014: 5K Retina display
  • October 2015: P3 wide-gamut display
  • June 2017: Kaby Lake processors

We could see spec bumps, even an architecture bump to Intel's next-generation 14 nanometer Coffee Lake platform in 2018. Given the less-than-yearly update schedule to date, though, 2019 might be a better bet.

What will Intel's Coffee Lake architecture bring to iMac?

If and when Coffee Lake is available in the types of chipsets Apple uses in iMac, there are a few things to look out for:

  1. Coffee Lake will allow for a higher number of cores per processor. Previously available primarily on the higher-end Xeon line, pressure from AMD's Ryzen Threadripper has gotten intel to push desktop chips up from 4 cores and 8 threads to 6 cores and 12 threads.
  2. Faster memory speeds.
  3. Updated Thunderbolt and USB support. Thunderbolt 3 still doesn't support even older DisplayPort standards. We'll see if Coffee Lake fares better.

Will iMac ever get a touch screen?

Non-Retina iMac

Non-Retina iMac (Image credit: iMore)

Apple has said it doesn't think touch screens on Mac make for good user experiences. Of course, Apple also once said it wasn't making a phone, and that no one wanted to watch video on an iPod. What Apple says in that regard can — and will — change depending on what products are or aren't ready to ship.

Regardless, macOS isn't currently designed for touch input. Apple could spend half a decade re-engineering it the way Microsoft did Windows — and maybe even do so better and faster. But Apple already has a hugely successful touch-first operating system with iOS. Time the company could waste retrofitting macOS for touch would be better spent making iOS more powerful.

There could, however, be a middle ground: Gesture support similar to what's found on the Magic Trackpad. Simply being able to swipe-to-navigate could be enough.

Touch Bar and Touch ID?

Touch ID on the MacBook Pro

Touch ID on the MacBook Pro (Image credit: iMore)

Touch Bar is a long, short iPad-like screen embedded above the MacBook Pro keyboard with a Touch ID fingerprint identity scanner that fuses an Apple Watch-like processor and secure element together to handle authentication. Putting those in an iMac-style vertical case wouldn't be ergonomic or convenient, but putting it into a Magic Keyboard that connects wirelessly to iMac...

Apple already includes connected authentication in macOS so you can use an iPhone's Touch ID to approve Apple Pay for Safari on the Mac. That should make implementing it for Magic Keyboard and iMac 2017 far more likely than not.

What about Apple Pencil support?

Apple Pencil benefits from the multitouch sensors in iPad Pro but has pressure-sensitive technology in its own tip as well. It's even small enough that it could make touch targets out of macOS interface elements that would otherwise be far too small.

That said, adding some form of touch only makes sense if Apple also makes a mechanism for turning the giant iMac screen into something closer to a giant iPad screen.

And, as much as the artist and designer in me would love that, it's not something I'm holding my breath for.

True Tone! Any chance of that in the iMac 2017 display?

In 2014 we got 5K high-density. In 2015 we got DCI-P3 cinematic color gamut. In 2017, 10-bit HEVC (4K HDR H.265). That's two screen technology and one processor display improvements in as many updates. macOS Sierra also brought Night Shift with it, which is Apple's time-based color shifting system that tints everything colder (bluer) during the day and warmer (yellower) at night, so as to interfere less with sleep patterns.

So what does that leave?

True Tone.

Currently only available on the iPad Pro, True Tone uses ambient light sensors to measure the color temperature of the room and then match the display to that temperature. The result is a screen that looks less like a light and more like a piece of paper. Many of those who have used it want to see it everywhere. Including me.

Any chance we'll get NVIDIA graphics? Finally?

Mac VR

Mac VR

Apple has been using AMD graphics in iMacs as of late and, while they're getting better, they still don't offer the gaming and VR experience of NVIDIA. And they don't offer the CUDA cores some graphics pros crave.

NVIDIA comes with a lot of overhead, though. If you want to write to the lower levels, they want you to use their own CUDA framework. Apple has Metal, and as such, so no interest in CUDA. AMD has no such hangups about giving Apple access and integration, so that's what we've gotten in the past.

Your iMac 2018 predictions?

Got anything on your iMac 2018 wish list? Let me know what you think we'll get and, if I missed anything, what you're expecting!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I think that the current iMac is still the best product in Apple’s portfolio, and also good value given the 5K screen. Kaby Lake seems very likely, otherwise why wait so long between updates? Decent GPUs would be nice but Apple generally don’t seem to care about top-end graphics power. At least Thunderbolt 3 will provide the possibility of using powerful external GPUs. I hope they don’t go exclusively USB-C like the MacBook Pro. Tim Cook mentioned desktops having a "variety of I/O” last month, so I hope that means more than just an ethernet port and a few USB-C ports. People will be very annoyed if they need dongles for their wired keyboards and mice!
  • If Apple are to keep their products consistent, which they should, it will just be USB-C ports.
  • The touch bar. What an embarrassing design mistake that thing was. Apple says that it is hard to touch the screen on a laptop and they are correct. The ease by which you can trigger some unwanted action via the touch bar is its greatest failing. It has that in common with the stupid touch sensitive mouse that does things you don't want if you accidentally brush it (like changing the volume when you are trying to watch a video). A touch screen on the other hand is obvious in its usage and is sufficiently far from the keyboard that you won't touch it if you do not intend to. It is funny that after years of touch screens being available on Windows laptops, I have never once heard someone complaining that their arms are tired. Apple needs to just come out and admit that they screwed the pooch on this one.
  • I disagree and never want Apple to go with touchscreen anything. I hate the concept. The last thing I want is to cover my computer screen with disgusting fingerprints and the touchbar, although might need tweaking, is the best solution for touch on a desktop machine. Keep your hands where they belong.
  • Zooming and selecting is dead easy with the trackpad… that's a terrible argument for having a touchscreen. The Touch Bar is a great idea and has helped a lot of people already
  • I would like to see all of the models adopt an all SSD system. I have just sold my 2015 iMac because of the Fusion Drive, it's ok but as soon as you go over the 128GB SSD limit you hit slow access times. Not quite as bad as an all mechanical drive system but no where near as good as my MacBook Pro. Surely we are at a point now where offering a minimum of 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage in a desktop computer should be quite low on a high volume production device. I also think that all models should be Intel Core i7s like the 15inch MacBook Pro, I don't see any need for the iMac to use an i5, I know that they are Quad Core but they should be using the i7 on all iMac product lines and just offer different speed options. For me, the base model 27inch 5k should be a 2.6GHz Intel Core i7, 16GB of 2133MHz RAM, 512GB of SSD storage and a relatively high end GPU, I'm not fussed which one but it should have 4GB of GDDR5 RAM. After that the models can differentiate themselves by offering higher speeds, more cache, RAM, storage and perhaps an 8GB GPU of some sort. The 27inch version should also keep supporting user accessible RAM but increase it to up to 64GB. I'm not fussed about touch, I'm quite happy to keep that on my iPad Pro, but the Touch Bar I find quite useful and I have yet to accidentally activate any functions with it. Whilst we are at it, a Space Grey version would be nice :)
  • "I would like to see all of the models adopt an all SSD system." I understand that you want a 3 TB all-SSD system for your iMac, fine. But why demand that the whole iMac product line be tailored to your preferences only? Are you planning to buy all the iMacs they sell? Weird thinking.
  • The only touch screen computer I have used is a Surface Pro 4, I don't see the advantage whilst using AutoCAD. I was no faster or slower on the Surface Pro 4 or my MacBook Pro. You may like Touch Screen and think that it is brilliant and genius, I just don't think that it is necessary or accurate enough to replace a mouse whilst doing the things I need to do. I like it for browsing the web and flicking between photos on my iPad and on the Surface Pro but I don't miss it when browsing using a mouse. But that's just my opinion and is only relevant to me. If they built one with it built in and I bought one then I would adapt.
  • A touchbar on the keyboard for the next iMac is a no-brainer. It's a genius concept and I would love to see Apple continue to evolve it. You don't need to pinch zoom on a screen when you have a touch trackpad that does the same thing without covering your screen in fingerprints.
  • Touchscreen works great for the iPhone and iPad, but doesn't work on a Mac. Professional applications on the Mac require the precision of a mouse cursor, and to have a touchscreen would mean that the whole OS UI and UI of applications would need to be updated. Updating the UI would also mean making buttons/tools bigger to accommodate the larger target area needed for optimal touchscreen usage, which means less on the screen and more in hidden menus. This would actually make things slower and harder to use, so it doesn't work on the Mac. The Touch Bar is a very nice addition however, which has already increased people's productivity a lot
  • The touchscreen isn't faster, and would mean redesigning the whole UI including that of all the apps you download to be optimized for touchscreen. Touchscreen controls mean less controls on the screen and more in hidden menus, since touch requires a bigger target area to press. Professional users using applications like Logic, Final Cut and Photoshop need the precision of a cursor and also so that they can have UIs with many tools on the screen at once. It would actually be slower to use a touchscreen because more tools would have to be placed in hidden menus, activated by some sort of gesture. The Touch Bar is great because it enhances an already great experience, rather than replacing it with a touchscreen which would make the existing experience worse
  • I wouldn’t like macOS to become totally touch oriented, but I would like it if multi-touch was available when I needed it. For example I am a developer and I'd love to be able to control the iOS simulator on my iMac using the same touch gestures that I use on the device. The keyboard/mouse combinations to simulate multi-touch are awkward to say the least. I would imagine that users who do image manipulation would also like multi-touch, and there are probably loads of other operations that are much easier with multi-touch (using map apps for example). I really like the look of the Touch Bar, and think that it has a lot of potential, but it is of no help with such multi-touch operations. I am not saying that macOS should become completely usable by touch - I would hate trying to code using a touch screen - but it would be handy if touch was available to make some operations easier.
  • I shudder to imagine the price on a Xeon based iMac. the current iMacs are already Xeon DYI PC level money. The level of "Apple Tax" has tripled in recent times. In the past (2013/2014 rMBP prices) their prices commanded a $500 premium, give or take, which was exorbitant enough.. Now it's more like $1000 - $1500 extra over similar spec'd non-Apple hardware. Their component quality doesn't come close to warranting that kind of premium. It's all just mostly just on a superficial level, hardware wise.
  • Never mind the price, although a Mac Pro would be even more expensive. I'd be worried about heat dissipation. I had the original G5 iMac and that thing got so hot. Sometimes under heavy loads the fans would kick on like jet engine. Even the G5 PowerMacs has problems, Hope Apple solves heat problems before they even attempt to squeeze something like that in that thin iMac.