iMac 2020: Everything we know about this year’s update so far

Alex Blake

With so many Apple products rumored or confirmed to be getting updates in 2020, from the iPad Pro to an overhauled MacBook Pro 14, attention has now turned to the iMac. Apple’s famous all-in-one was last refreshed in spring 2019, but there’s talk that it could be revisited at some point in 2020.

Will it merely be tweaked or get a complete makeover? What kind of performance can we expect? And how much will it cost? We have peered into the mists and analyzed the rumors to get answers to these questions and more.

Price and release date

Details on when we should expect to see a new iMac are very thin. However, there are two main schools of thought: That a release is imminent, or that a release could happen late in 2020 or early in 2021.

Reliable industry analyst Jon Prosser is firmly a part of the first school of thought. On May 6, he tweeted that Apple has a new iMac model “ready to ship,” adding that it “could drop at any time.” That tweet came after Twitter leaker CoinX — who previously provided reliable details about the new iPad Pro and other Apple products — posted a cryptic tweet on March 4 claiming a new iMac was coming “soon.”

Other sources suggest the release date might not be as soon. A report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman in mid-April 2020 stated that Apple is “working on” a new iMac. There were no further details and a release date was absent from the report, perhaps suggesting that the next iMac is still a ways off. A release at WWDC in June is also possible, to line up with an announcement around Memoji and Face ID.

There is not much of a pattern to Apple’s previous iMac releases. It was last updated in March 2019; over the last few years, we have seen new iMacs in June 2017, October 2015, May 2015, October 2014, and June 2014. That suggests updates come roughly every two years, with various models being refreshed within each update year. Given that the last update came in March 2019, an announcement later in 2020 or even in early 2021 seems most likely on the surface. We could get an update sooner, though, as China Times claims, Apple is due to release a low-cost 23-inch iMac in the second half of 2020.

In fact, these two seemingly divergent release periods do not have to be at odds with each other. It could be that Apple releases an iMac with bumped specs very soon, then releases an overhauled 23-inch version later in the year. Apple did something similar with the MacBook Pro in 2019, updating the 15-inch model in the summer, then replacing it entirely with the MacBook Pro 16 in the winter.

What about the price? The current cheapest iMac costs $1,099, but it is horrendously out of date, with a 7th-generation Intel processor, a 1TB hard drive (and no SSD), integrated graphics, and a non-Retina 1080p display. The next cheapest model is more “modern” (although still outdated in some ways by rivals’ standards), with an 8th-generation Intel chip, Radeon Pro 555X graphics card, and a Retina 4K display. If Apple is going to keep the entry-level price at $1,099, it is likely it will keep an 8th-generation Intel model as this low-end option, while bringing in newer versions at the $1,299 price point.

It is also possible that Apple will drop the price slightly to stimulate more interest. The iMac is not the main seller in the Mac line (that honor goes to various MacBook models), and Apple recently dropped the MacBook Air’s price, suggesting the company is not averse to doing so when it feels it is necessary. Offering an entry-level iMac for under $1,000 would be a great way to revitalize interest in the all-in-one computer.

23-inch design with thinner bezels

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The current iMac design has been with us since 2012 (or 2007 if you count the slightly fatter models). As we said in our review of the latest model, you could look at the 2019 iMac and mistake it for a much older version. The thick bezels in particular look wildly out of place in 2020.

There is hope on this front, as Apple showed its willingness to slim down bezels on the MacBook Pro 16. This does not have merely aesthetic benefits — the MacBook Pro 16 occupies almost exactly the same footprint as the older MacBook Pro 15, yet packs in a bigger screen thanks to those slimline edges.

The iMac could get the same treatment. Even if Apple keeps the main chassis the same, thinning out the bezels would not require much effort while bringing noticeable benefits. The 21.5-inch and 27-inch variants could be upgraded to 23-inch and 29-inch models, for example, without the main body having to change. Something like that might be in the works, in fact, as a recent China Times report has claimed Apple will launch a 23-inch iMac in the second half of 2020, which could well be a redesigned 21.5-inch iMac with thinner bezels.

A much more radical approach was hinted at in a recently unveiled Apple patent. It revealed that the company is at least considering an all-in-one iMac made from a single curved sheet of material. We would love to see the iMac’s design finally get an upgrade, and an overhaul like this would certainly be a head-turner. We have not heard much more about this concept, though, so we think it is one to file away for later rather than an imminent design revamp. There is nothing wrong with being hopeful, though.

A mini-LED display and Face ID

Displays have always been one of Apple’s strong points, and that is no different with the iMac. All current iMacs (except the 1080p runt of the litter) offer 4K, or even 5K, panels that boast excellent color accuracy and pin-sharp resolutions.

We expect Apple to keep these resolution options with the next batch of iMacs (although we’re hoping it will finally drop the 1080p version). Resolution is one area where Apple faces little pressure to up its game.

One noticeable improvement could come in the form of a mini-LED display. This could pack in 10,000 LEDs or more, resulting in a display that excels in HDR performance, contrast, and color reproduction. This technology is expected to cost an arm and a leg, though, which could put it out of reach for the iMac. It could, however, come to the iMac Pro, as we will discuss a little later.

Another thing we hope to see concerns not the screen itself but rather the tech embedded in it: Face ID. While various MacBook models have Touch ID for fast logging in and authenticating purchases, the iMac lacks any form of secure authentication altogether.

There is hope, however, in the form of a patent Apple originally filed in September 2019. It detailed a “biometric authentication module” built into the display of various Mac models, including an iMac. It would let you sign in to your iMac by simply sitting at your desk and looking at your screen, providing a much more seamless experience than entering a password or even using Touch ID.

Our excitement over Face ID was heightened when Apple announced that its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) would begin on June 22. The event poster depicted three 3D Memoji characters using Macs. Memoji are only made possible with the advanced technology packed into the iPhone’s camera module, and Face ID makes use of that module. Could this have been a hint that Face ID is coming to Macs and will be announced at WWDC? We have our fingers crossed.

Performance: Intel or AMD?

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In terms of performance, Apple’s current iMacs range from Intel’s dual-core 7th-gen chips on the 21.5-inch iMac up to 9th-gen on the 5K model. This includes the eight-core Core i9-9900K, a powerful chip for content creation and video editing.

As of now, this is the fastest Intel desktop chip Apple could use. The 10th-gen Comet Lake desktop processors are expected to launch in 2020, but these still use the old 14nm process. Apple will likely wait to release an update until these Comet Lake desktop chips arrive.

With all of Intel’s delays bringing 10nm to desktop, this could be a chance for Apple to transition to one of the available alternatives, whether that’s AMD or Apple’s own ARM-powered A-series chips.

There is some evidence that Apple will switch to AMD processors. MacOS code has been unearthed containing references to various AMD processors, including “Renoir,” the code name for the new Ryzen 4000 series of chips. Apple may simply be testing these processors and might not bring them to devices like the iMac, but there are plenty of reasons such a switch would be fantastic for performance.

That same MacOS leak mentioned some intriguing graphics chips too, including AMD’s Navi 21. We consider this a more likely candidate to make it into future iMacs than AMD’s CPUs, mainly because Apple already outfits the iMac with AMD GPUs. Navi 21 is said to be a large, powerful component that is twice as fast as AMD’s 5700 XT graphics card, but for that reason, Apple may reserve it for the iMac Pro rather than the regular iMac (more on that later).

There is one more possibility: Apple-made ARM processors. Rumors have been swirling that Apple will announce it is shifting to these chips at the Worldwide Developers Conference 2020. We think this will come to the MacBook Air first, however, then hit the iMac later. We therefore believe it is unlikely the next iMac will come with ARM processors.

Everything else we want to see

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

What else could we see in the next iMac? Well, a major item on our wish list is for Apple to finally improve the entry-level model. As we alluded to earlier, the current base model is hopelessly out of date — its spinning hard drive is painfully slow, its display resolution and pixel density are low, and it has no discrete graphics card. Offering an iMac without an SSD is especially egregious. Frankly, this model has no place in Apple’s 2020 lineup.

Apple still has to offer an affordable iMac, but we would hope it could at least give people a better option than this. Keeping one member of its current lineup (with 8th-generation processors and a Retina 4K display) at a lower price point while the rest of the range is updated would be absolutely fine with us.

Finally, given the positive reception it received with the MacBook Pro 16, Apple could bring the tweaked Magic Keyboard to the iMac. The MacBook Pro 16’s new keyboard was actually based on the iMac’s own keyboard, then tweaked slightly to bring it up to date. Given this heritage, we think there is a very good chance the new Magic Keyboard could be included with the next iMac.

What about the iMac Pro?

Apple iMac Pro News

The iMac Pro, Apple’s souped-up version of the regular iMac, has not been updated since it first came out in 2017. Things move fast in the world of computing, and even this high-end device, seriously impressive at its launch, is looking a little long in the tooth these days. Kuo, however, believes Apple will update it in the fourth quarter of 2020

Upgrading the specs to make it much more competitive today is an absolute necessity. New processors, better graphics cards, and faster memory are top of the list, and should give the computer a timely performance boost.

We also hope to see Apple focus on the device’s display. Bringing something similar to the Mac Pro’s Pro Display XDR, with its 6K resolution and incredible color reproduction, to the iMac Pro would help make it a very tempting option for professionals who like the Mac Pro’s performance but prefer an all-in-one computer.

There could be another display upgrade in the form of the aforementioned mini-LED tech. According to reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is planning on bringing this to a number of devices, starting with the MacBook Pro and iPad Pro, in either late 2020 or mid-2021. China Times, however, believes Apple’s mini-LED production has been pushed back, and that mass production now won’t begin until 2021.

That suggests we may have to wait a little longer for it to come to the iMac Pro, but we will likely get more details as we progress through 2020, so this could change. There are also other monitors with mini-LED displays right now, including the Lenovo ThinkVision Creator Extreme, so an iMac Pro with this kind of display in 2020 is not beyond the realm of possibility.