These days news articles about Apple are anything but scarce. Every day there is a fresh new crop of speculation, rumors and discussion regarding the future Apple’s product line and how it will continue to shape the way that we interact with technology.
However, the media hype is largely centered on the exciting and revolutionary products: iOS and its supporting devices. Google “iPad 3″ or “iPhone 5″ and you’ll find no shortage of juicy gossip. If the media gives attention to any Mac, it’s likely going to be the MacBook Air. But what about our favorite desktop machine? Where will the iMac go in 2012?
Our Old Friend The iMac
Once upon a time, this venerable product was the hallmark of Apple’s offering. Despite being usurped by smaller, fancier machines, the iMac has continued to evolve/improve and is still the key player in Apple’s desktop strategy.
For $1,199, you can snag yourself an awesome machine: a beautifully bright 21 inch screen, 2.5GHz quad-core processor, 4GB of memory and a 500GB drive being the highlights. And let’s not forget how truly amazing it is that all of that is packed into a machine with such a small footprint. In fact, the iMac is so good that it has significantly crept onto the radar of the customer base that once gravitated towards high end workstations like the G5 and Mac Pro, leaving an uncertain future for that line.
The goal of the iMac’s evolution in recent years has been simple: slim down the outside, beef up the inside. Like many of Apple’s products, the design has become so wonderfully minimal that it’s hard to picture a major physical redesign any time soon. When your product is virtually all screen, where do you go from there?
Aside from hopes of getting ever thinner iMacs with more powerful cores (the smoking fast i7 will no doubt soon be the default), where does this leave us for future updates? What else do we have to look forward to in the next-gen Mac?
Everyone’s favorite way to speculate about the future of one Apple product is to look around at their other products and choose features that are likely to begin making their way across the line.
Though it’s an unimaginative approach that completely discounts Apple’s taste for innovation, it’s still a decent way to venture some logical guesses about the future. Let’s try this ourselves to see what we come up with.
One technology that we all love is the iPhone’s gorgeous retina display. It’s only a matter of time before a high resolution screen makes the jump to the iPad, and from there the next logical step is the Mac. This notion is reinforced by the discovery that deep in OS X are a few hints at higher resolution displays.
Obviously though, this involves some pretty overzealous reasoning. Manufacturing a 3.5-inch retina display is a far cry from manufacturing a 21-inch one. Technical hurdles and inevitable cost increases make this seem like a fairly remote possibility for 2012.
The most logical path is that the retina display will first jump to the iPad and then to Apple’s new favorite Mac: the MacBook Air. The small size of this product makes a high resolution display more feasible and the Air is the major point where Apple is channeling Mac innovation at the moment.
Will we see a retina Mac in 2012? Perhaps, but will it be the iMac? Don’t hold your breath.
Cheaper Solid State Storage
It’s no secret that Apple is betting on solid state drives for the future. Once again, we can look to the MacBook Air as a great source for speculation about the future of the iMac.
If you’ve ever used a MacBook Air, then you can instantly see the benefits of an SSD. These things are fast. Hit the power button and less than 15 seconds later you’re ready to check Facebook. Beyond speed, solid state drives require less power and aren’t as prone to mechanical failure (they don’t spin like traditional drives).
Once again though, we see some major technical hurdles to this technology making the jump to the default configuration on the iMac. At the same price point as an iMac, you can get a MacBook Air with 128GB of storage. That might be justifiable for a notebook, but that’s downright laughable for a powerful desktop. Bumping that up to 256GB costs you an extra $300. This is the largest SSD that Apple offers, matching the 500GB default iMac drive won’t be easy without a significant price bump.
So does this mean we won’t see an SSD iMac any time soon? It turns out, they already exist. For an extra $500, you can in fact get a 256GB SDD in your iMac. This is currently only available in the 2.7GHz and up models, where a 1TB drive is default. So you go from 1TB to 256GB and pay $500 to do it! That means your cheapest route to an SSD iMac is $1,999.
Obviously, this isn’t an ideal situation. Apple is pushing this technology enough that I don’t think it’s a stretch to see a $1,199 SSD 256GB iMac in the future, possibly as the default configuration on the bottom tier.
Recent shortages in the supply chain due to natural disasters in Thailand are working against this idea with hard disks, causing prices to increase. However, Apple did just buy an Israeli SSD company so the older drive shortages may be a separate issue.
A distant future with a high resolution display and a near future with a more affordable SSD, is that the best we can hope for with the iMac? Obviously, it’s evident that Apple is spending much of their R&D money on other products, leaving the outlook fairly run of the mill for the future of the iMac.
That being said, the crazy ideas are out there. Obviously touchscreen Mac rumors won’t die anytime soon. However, we’re not there yet. It may happen one day, but it’s not on Apple’s immediate radar so don’t make this the thing that keeps you from buying a new iMac because you could be waiting a long time.
The topic that’s been receiving more focus lately is whether or not the upcoming iTV will in fact be an entirely new piece of hardware or simply an upgraded iMac with TV functionality. Forbes started this rumor and its being picked up by every Mac speculation site around.
Call me crazy, but I simply don’t see Apple trying to convince everyone to take their iMacs off the desk and place them on the entertainment center. A new standalone product seems much more likely.
When Will We See a New iMac?
Whether or not you would’ve preferred that I tell you that a touchscreen iMac is on the way, you have to admit that a Quad-Core i7 iMac with a 256GB SSD for under $1,500 would be a more than desirable near future. Perhaps I’m being too conservative with my estimates, or maybe I’m taking them too far? What do you think? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts about the 2012 iMac.
Once thing is for certain, the iMac is in fact nearing the end of its lifecycle. The last two iMac upgrades came exactly 280 days after their predecessors, the average gap is even less at 273 days. We’re less than two months away from this mark. The shiny new iMacs will be here soon, what will it take for you to buy one?