It seems strange, but the iMac – the computer that saved Apple from bankruptcy and self-destruction in the 1990s – has long been underestimated and left behind by everything else Apple makes. Today that has changed. The major redesign that was unveiled at the Apple Spring Loaded event could be the launchpad for not just the complete revitalization of the all-in-one, but the entire future of the Mac range.
That is largely down to one thing. Of all of the new iMac features Apple has unveiled – and there have been many – one stands above them all: the Apple M1 chip. I've seen firsthand how amazing this tiny piece of silicon is. When I tested the latest Mac Mini, its M1 chip was incredibly fast – in fact, it was one of the fastest CPUs we've seen. Now the iMac can join the party, leaving behind the mediocre Intel chips that it has been tied to for so long.
However, the impact of the M1 doesn't just depend on the power you feel. It can also be felt in what you hear. Because the M1 is so insanely efficient, its cooling needs go through the ground. That said, you'll barely hear the iMac, and Apple said it should only hit 10 decibels under normal load. Compare that to the old iMac that started to gasp and stutter. The fans would spin to their max once you opened a simple Pages document, and I know which one I would rather have.
The M1 can be felt elsewhere as it has also massively shaped the new design of the iMac, which is a fraction of the thickness of the old iMac. And yes, I'm talking about the old iMac that bent into a razor-thin spot on its edges. But that thinness was an illusion as the center of the old iMac fattened up into a bulbous crest down the center. Now you get an iPad Pro-inspired flat-back design that is shockingly thin the entire way. That's thanks to the M1, which doesn't need an army of fans to stay cool.
It even – finally – enabled Touch ID to be introduced into the iMac's Magic Keyboard, paving the way for Face ID on the Mac. With the Secure Enclave of the M1 chip, Apple finally has the confidence that your biometric data will be securely hidden in your device and protected from the interference of dissatisfied people.
Imagine the future of the Mac
What makes the iMac redesign so exciting is not just what it means for the all-in-one desktop, but what it means for the entire Mac lineup. When Apple brought the M1 chip to the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini, the exterior designs were largely kept intact. Apple preferred a quick toggle to get the M1 out as soon as possible rather than waiting for major redesigns, and it made sense at the time.
The new iMac shows that it doesn't have to be that way. Apple isn't tied to a slow, hot processor and has more freedom to customize the iMac the way it really wanted it. Not only could it offer more space – a bigger display, better speakers, great microphones – but it could take things out and make everything thinner so that, in the words of Apple's Colleen Novielli, “it makes the computer go away. “It's probably closer to how Apple wants the iMac to look than we've ever seen it look.
Now imagine that on Apple's other Macs. Without the chunky cooling system, everything would be thinner and lighter, even the MacBook Air, and especially the rather clunky Mac Mini. Face recognition would be available and would be taken into account. Features that we previously took for granted, like the webcam and display, can use M1-enabled technologies like the image signal processor or the advanced display engine. The devices would be designed around the M1 and everything that it enables. It's an exciting step forward.
The chip that changed everything
It's easy to look at the iMac redesign and ask a simple question, "Why not sooner?" Why did it take nine years to get thinner bezels? Why did it take so long to downsize the design? And why did we have to wait so long for better performance?
The answer to all of these questions is the M1 chip. Without them, none of what Apple showed in the iMac today would have been possible. That's huge for the future of the Mac because it means Apple can make the products it really wants without being nearly as constrained. For a company with pockets as deep as Apple, that could mean almost anything is possible.
No doubt the rest of the industry is taking note of what Apple has done and what lessons must be learned from it. If you want to build the computer of the future, doing things your own way helps.