How the New M1 iMac Could Be Revolutionary

It even comes in colors

Key Takeaways

  • The new iMac is the first Mac redesigned to use Apple’s M1 chip.
  • The iMac is "just a big iPad," and that’s a good thing.
  • The entire computer part of the iMac lives in its chin.
New M1 Mac in six colors

Apple

The original colorful iMac saved Apple in 1998. Now, we're back with the colorful new M1 iMacs. Apple doesn’t need saving, but this seems like a new direction for the Mac.

The previous iMac design was so good that it stuck around for 14 years, and has found its way into offices, homes, and dentist’s reception desks around the world. But it was the original candy drop Bondi Blue iMac from 1998 that changed the computing world. Computers went from dull beige boxes that nobody cared about, to cool lifestyle accessories that everybody wanted. It was the birth of the modern mainstream Apple. Is the new iMac anywhere near this important?

"This new model is the biggest leap yet and everything about it seems to suggest a move toward a desktop computer as an entertainment hub both for consuming and creating," Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, told Lifewire via email.

New Original

That original G3 iMac did little but ditch a bunch of legacy connections (replacing them with USB), and adding a fancy new case design. But that was enough to turn things around for Apple, which was then close to death. It was the first real collaboration between Jony Ive and Steve Jobs, and it set the path for the future of Apple’s non-workstation Macs. 

The new M1 iMac is similarly radical. Design-wise, it clearly continues the previous iMac’s legacy, but it’s also the ultimate expression of Apple’s design ethos. 

This iMac is the first Mac Apple has designed to take advantage of its new M1 chip. The M1 MacBooks and Mac mini launched last year were simply gutted versions of the Intel machines, with M1’s dropped inside. We already knew that Apple Silicon enabled slim, powerful devices, because we’ve been using impressive iPhones and iPads for years. Now, Apple has shown that the iPhone and iPad will shape the Mac. 

Laptop in a Desktop

The iMac has almost always been a desktop machine with laptop components. Earlier versions used small, 5,400 rpm laptop hard drives to save space in the slimline machines, and while later iMacs were powerhouses, the ethos was more about convenience and looks than raw performance.

The M1 iMac continues this idea, although instead of a laptop’s innards, it’s essentially an iPad with a giant screen. The entirety of the iMac computer is in its chin. The computer is so thin the headphone jack had to be moved to the edge, like an old iPhone, and the power plug sticks to the rear with magnets, only poking a little into the shallow aluminum body.

M1 iMac with magnetic power cable

Apple

It also utilizes the exact same M1 chip Apple uses in the MacBooks, and now the iPad Pro. One criticism leveled at the iPad in its early days was that it was "just a big iPhone." Now, one could say the iMac is "just a big iPad," although it’s hardly an insult.

The message from Apple is clear: this is how all its devices will be from now on. Absurdly thin, and yet still more powerful than the competition. In a way, this beautiful device is like a concept design intended to show off what could be  possible, only it’s not a concept. It’s a real product you can buy.

Differentiation

Now that the iPad and the Mac share not only a design language, but the same M1 chip, what is the difference between them? The Mac can run iOS apps, for example, so why can’t the iPad run Mac apps?

The answer is: it probably can. But Apple has decided to standardize the hardware, while optimizing the software for different uses. It’s a smart move, because it lets each device be true to itself. Reaching up to touch an iMac screen gets painful, fast. Equally, Mac apps on the iPad are impossible to use because the Mac’s "touch-targets" are designed for ultra-accurate mouse pointers, not fingertips.

Side shot of the iMac (left) and iPad (right)

The Mac will run iOS apps now, and you can kind of use Mac apps on the iPad via SideCar. But the experience is poor, and really only proves that Apple is on the right track keeping things separate.

So, while the iMac is no longer the most important product in Apple’s lineup, this new M1 model is a clear signal of intent. "Look at what we can do," Apple is saying, "when we control everything." One can only wonder what redesigned M1 MacBooks are going to do.

"The M1 chip bodes well for the future of other Mac products in terms of processing power," says Freiberger. "The market has shifted away from desktops, but they're still powerhouses when it comes to performance."

Was this page helpful?