Apple’s launch of a new iMac at Tuesday’s ‘Spring Loaded’ event highlights the best, and the worst, of Apple, all wrapped up in a single design. The innovative Apple Silicon M1 chip is at the heart of the iMac, but once again the cost to deviate away from the basic spec will make the new iMac an expensive purchase.
The iBest Of Times
The biggest change is of course the move away from Intel’s x86 architecture and hardware, to Apple’s own ARM-based Apple Silicon processors. These chips power the mac Mini, the MacBook Air, and the lowest tier MacBook Pro, and are putting up comparatively stellar performance compared to similarly priced hardware.
The new iMac now joins that group. Sporting Apple’s M1 chip, it should bring more performance to the desktop when using native applications, and the Rosetta 2 emulation allowing x86 apps to run on the M1 chip has proved to be reliable if not perfect. Apple is also offering a 1080p webcam, as well as the new speakers and mics found previously on the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
It’s easy to bring out the superlatives for this arrangement.
The iWorst Of Times
Yes, the M1 chip is a huge advancement, and being your own supplier and designer is a very advantageous commercial place, but if we put the processor aside, everything else around the iMac looks like the bare minimum required for an upgrade to the iMac platform.
Across the board every iMac is limited to 8GB of unified memory – the same limited option as the previous M1 chips. There’s no official upgrade route for memory or for storage, so you are locked into the soldered-down SSD that you choose at the point of purchase. And as always if you want to go from 256 GB storage to 512 GB storage, not only are you forced to buy the highest priced model, but the premium for the extra 256 GB of storage is $200.
Or you can look at the paucity of I/O ports Two thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. That’s it. Your $1299 comes with a grand total of two ports. If you want two USB 3 ports and ethernet, you’ll have to ignore the $1299 model and go for the $1499 mid tier. Admittedly you get the 8-core rather than the 7-core M1 chip, and you get biometric identification on your keyboard, but these feel like the basics that you should be getting on an expensive desktop, not a premium feature.
Apple has always been a company that demands you work with your hardware in the way that Apple intended, rather than the way you already work. For countless millions this is not a problem, their workflow is already compatible with the one true way coming out of Cupertino. If they are looking for a new desktop, then the obvious choice is the iMac.
Thanks to the proliferation of services, along with specialised first- and third-party software, and hardware compatibility, Apple has a soft lock-in with its consumers. The iMac extends that reach, in no small part because of the M1 chip. It offers more power than an equivalent Intel chip, if developers switch to native code and develop specifically for it. Which in turns means consumers are investing time and money in applications that run on a solitary platform provided by a single manufacturer.
A Final Thought
How could I forget that it comes in seven new colors! That makes all the difference… but you can only have yellow, purple, or orange, if you buy the higher priced models.
Well played, Tim Cook. Well played.