When is the new iMac coming and what features will it have? Let's break down rumors and spec out the speculation!

Updated April 2017: Added information from the Mac Pro interview and rumors from Pike's Universum.

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, despite the fact that neither model was updated in 2016. But that does make us wonder: When will Apple release the next iMac, and what new features will the company add when it does?

When will the new 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

That makes October the timeline for a significant new version of the iMac. For less significant updates, though, including spec bumps, Apple can and has done them in the all through the year — January 2013, June 2014, May 2015 — basically, whenever they were ready.

According to Pike's Universum, Apple's upcoming pro-focused iMac will launch this fall. Apple previously announced that a professionally-oriented iMac would debut later this year when it announced an upcoming revision of the Mac Pro.

Will iMac 2017 have a touch screen?

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.

All that said, 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.

Touch Bar and Touch ID?

Touch Bar is a very 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.

What about Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C on iMac 2017?

iMac 2015 has Ethernet, four USB-A, SDHC card, and 3.5 mm headphone jack ports. MacBook Pro 2016 has two to four USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports. Doing the math, it's not difficult to imagine Apple will subtract the old and add the new.

Yes, that will mean dongles for some people for some amount of time, but it will also further push the standards forward so we can all ditch those dongles even faster. Until the next set of dongles, of course. There's always a next set of dongles...

Speakers? Speak to me of booming speakers!

The 2015 iMac has good speakers but the 2016 MacBook Pro has really good speakers. So does the iPad Pro. Bringing better sound to newer computers is always something to hope for.

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

Two and a half years ago we got 5K high-density. A year and a half ago we got DCI-P3 cinematic color gamut. That's two screen technology improvements in as many updates. The latest version of macOS Sierra also brings 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 9.7-inch, 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.

Intel Kaby Lake processors are a lock, though, right?

the 27-inch iMac 2015 has Skylake processors. The 21.5-inch iMac 2015 has the previous generation because Intel chose not to make the Skylake version Apple uses in that model. Whether or not iMac 2017 has Kaby Lake in either or both models depends on Intel's timeline, how long Apple is willing to wait, and how long any integrations they do together take.

Then there's the performance increase they offer — or lack thereof. We're past the days when new processors offered significantly more power. These days it's all about power efficiency, and that's not as important for desktops as it is laptops.

Still, it's hard to believe at this point Apple would ship without Kaby Lake in the iMac; Pike's Universum also claims that a high-end option might include Intel's Xeon E3-1285 v6 processor, along with 64GB of ECC RAM.

Any chance we'll get VR-ready graphics? Finally?

Right now if you want to get an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift you have to get a Windows PC. That's because Macs simply don't have graphics cards (like NVIDIA's CUDA collection) that are powerful enough to drive the headsets.

NVIDIA comes with a lot of overhead. 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.

Still, AMD has cards that can handle VR. Apple just has to decide they're worth the tradeoff and make them an option.

Your iMac 2017 predictions?

Got anything on your iMac 2017 wish list? Let me know what you think we'll get and, if I missed anything, what you're expecting!