Where Does the iMac Go From Here?

by James R. Stoup Mar 12, 2007

The original iMac came out in 1998. Four years later, in the first month of 2002, the second version showed up. Two years after that saw the third (and current) design. What started life as a multi-colored egg, morphed into a swiveling lamp and finally settled on a floating window look. All of this is well and good, but it does beg the question: where do you go from here?

I can understand looking at the G3 iMac and thinking that the CRT monitor needed to go. And I can understand looking at the G4 iMac and thinking that there were too many moving parts. But how do you look at the current iMac and realistically make a fundamental improvement? How exactly can you make it dramatically better?

Wait, let me change that. Forget dramatically, let’s just go with “better.” How would you make the iMac better?

Uh. . . make it thinner?

Ok, and?

Uh. . . make it smaller?

Ok. Anything else?

You see the problem? The way I see it, Apple has only three ways of improving this particular product.

  1. Make the case thinner.
  2. Relocate the components that take up the bottom portion of the fixture (I hate that big waste of white space).
  3. Redesign the stand.

Unfortunately, none of these imply groundbreaking redesigns. However, it is possible that, in a few years, Apple might finally achieve the dream of so many Sci Fi writers. They might, and in all likelihood will, release an entire computer that is basically a floating monitor. There will be only one cable, and that will be for power, and everything else will be wireless.

And once we reach that point, the only innovation we can expect is in squeezing more computer into basically the same shape. Now, I’m not exactly saying that if we reached this point, that it would be a bad thing. I really like the iMac in its current incarnation. And I really like the thought of reducing it to the point of a frameless, floating monitor in which all of my input devices interact in a wireless manner. I think that’s great, wonderful, fabulous…but it’s also kind of boring.

In other words, the iMac may soon reach its ideal state. And by that I mean that soon, it will reach the point where (for what it does) it is the most efficient design. In a way, it is kind of like the fork. The fork, as we know it, has been around for more than 1,000 years. And yet, its basic shape hasn’t changed that much. It has 2-4 prongs, a handle, and a slight curve. It can be made of several different materials with various ornamentation, but regardless of these minimal changes you immediately know a fork when you see one. And a thousand years of progress haven’t really changed it. We have put a man on the moon, we can fly faster than the speed of sound, we created the internet, we are working on controlling machines with our minds…and we still eat a steak with the same basic tool the Romans did. Why? Because there really isn’t a better way to do what a fork does than with a fork.

I predict that in 20 years every basic computer (not workstation) is going to resemble today’s iMac. If for no other reason than eventually everyone is going to realize there just isn’t a more efficient way of doing things. How Apple will adapt to this, I have no idea. Maybe by the time this happens they will have moved on to three-dimensional displays. But until then the iMac looks to have reached the end of its redesigns. Like I said before, I don’t think this is a bad thing; however, it may be a sad thing. After all, innovation is always inspiring, and I hate to see it end.


  • I think multi-touch has the potential to change things again.  I can’t imagine people lifting their arms all day to smear their fingers all over a perpendicular screen.  Unless, of course, the future is one of toned and buff shoulders.

    ricksbrain had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 14
  • Even if the outside appearance changes, I think the biggest change will be inside.

    Leopard’s Time Machine needs a backup drive.

    I won’t be surprised if the next version of the iMac is released at the same time as Leopard and includes two hard drives.

    Hugmup had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 40
  • “Where Does the iMac Go From Here?”

    It leaves the Apple Store and goes onto my desk.

    Tanner Godarzi had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 70
  • I’m not sure that the iMac is about to reach some sort of basic design plateau.  If it has though, then look to what companies do when their products have plateaued and are descending into commoditization.  Look at Swatch and the low end of the cell phone market.  They’re not selling just watches and phones anymore, they’re selling fashion.  Perhaps the iMac isn’t headed that way but surely the iPod is.

    The iMac (and computers in general) still have a ways to go though before plateauing.  I don’t know if it’s really attainable but the endpoint for home PC development is HAL.  (The computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey)  Between here and there is a long way though and there are a lot of stops in between.

    tundraboy had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 132
  • iMac DS - touchscreen keyboard/mouse input separate from the multi-touch monitor.

    MacNuggets had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 17
  • *My New iMac* if I were Ives or working for him…

    Wouldn’t be an iMac. Rather it’s a MacBook with a 180* flip screen that get’s docked into my iMac stand. No plugs to worry about as it uses bluetooth, wifi, and metal contacts. The base has a built in Mac Mini looking stand that has my backup drive and superdrive.

    Ok, dreaming aside… But with the popularity of the MacBook and the capabilites of the current platform to work this way… Who says I am.

    Some facts we can see however are the intro of the Socket P Intel Core chips. With better power saving features, 800mhz bus and the capability to use DDR3 Ram it would most likely be a screamer over it’s current version, ok screaming to 20% increase in speed…

    xwiredtva had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 172
  • What if… I know I’ve stated this before but it surely seems more of a possibility now.

    Apple drops the 17” imac. The new Quad Xeon’s (lo-power units) go into the 20/24 models. We may see them in MacBook Pro’s too (uses 12.5 watts of juice compared to the current 34watt units). This brings the iMac up to true desktop power.

    Mini gets new Socket P chips, Mini Pro is released to take up the slack of the 17” iMac and fill the desktop gap between the Mac Pro and Mini unit. GMA X3000 onboard video subsystem with ADJUSTIBLE Ram.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 172
  • As far as we know computer design and form-factor today, the iMac is the pinnacle. Where will Apple go from here? The same place they always go—two or three steps ahead.

    Remember when the iMac first came out? Where was the floppy drive? Why did everything depend on USB? Remember all that? Apple will do the same thing again, because it’s what they do best.

    Aurora77 had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 35
  • I think getting rid of the fat bezel at the bottom is the way to go - I find it ugly and distracting. There’s room to expand towards the back without making it overly bulky, especially compared to a CRT. Imagine something the thickness of a MacBook - that would be fine, and the fat part is hidden behind the lithe floating screen.

    Sebastacat had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 1
  • I think people forget why the iMac has a fat bezel below the LCD — heat.  Heat behind the LCD would create off-color or incorrectly activated pixels.  Notebooks don’t suffer from this because the heat source and LCDs are physically separated.

    iMacs with all the internals right behind the LCD would have a heat dispersion problem. Since iMacs use full-size (not notebook) disk drives, they also have more heat to dissipate than the notebooks do.

    I’m not saying that it won’t eventually happen, but it wouldn’t be as aethetically thin, or they’ll have to come up with some other novel solution to disperse the heat better to keep it from affecting the LCD pixels.

    Xeons also have a lot of heat to dissipate, so count in the Core2 Duos being around for a while.

    Personally, I think the iMac needs more BTO video card options on the lower end. You need to buy a 24” to get the good video card… I’d like a 7600 GT in a 20” form factor, please. (Keep dreaming…)

    vb_baysider had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 243
  • I really like the current design except for one thing; I wish it were height adjustable.

    If I could get that one thing, the only other I would wish for would be to have to option of a touchscreen like the iPhone. I can imagine sitting at my desk and typing e-mails and working in Photoshop with my mouse, keyboard, pen stylus, etc, but sometimes I just need to walk over to my computer and look at swomething while standing or change my song in iTunes, etc. If I am brainstorming I like to work standing up often.

    It would even be great if there was the option to wall-mount the iMac.

    The only other thing I can think of is to put a couple of USB/Firewire ports on the front for easy access.

    None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but like you said, it’s a pretty good machine as it stands.

    Gabe H had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 40
  • The problem with amazing new designs is that usually they are something no-one has ever thought about or imagined. And here we are, saying we can’t imagine anything different.

    The thing I CAN imagine is Apple selling an iServe + 3 iMac-like-displays. The displays would mainly contain a graphics card with some small speakers (hence thinner and cooler than iMacs). Some options would have a DVD-R (no CPU or hard disk - or perhaps options for a VERY simple CPU + OSX-lite + flash ram disk?).

    Could Apple sell an iServe + iMac-display for a similar price to todays iMac? Is there demand for multiple iMac-displays? Could an AppleTV, or iPhone (or iTablet?) also be used as remote displays?

    Again - it’s what we can’t imagine that will surprise us. And I don’t know what I can’t imagine.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 228
  • Obvious answer is that it will totally eliminate the “screen” as we know it. Options to diplay the desktop wirelessly through a projection system and/or via an eyglass monitor display will change it all again. While they are at it, they may make it small enough to mount on your belt. Thus the iMac may morph to the MyMac. A wearable personal computer that will change it all yet once again.

    I would buy mine today! Would you?

    hanksd had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Here’s what I’m saying - spatial hand-gesture control of a 3d projected environment.  No longer will the iMac be a screen, oh no.  It will embed into your desk and from it project holographic desktop goodies.  Umm.. Also, it will take voice commands and talk back to you.  Lets see what else would be cool…  Oh!  In the immediate future how bout a proper mount for desk-attachable monitor swing arms?

    I agree with Greg Alexander above, that it’s always hard to envision what’s next, because if nothing else, “what’s next” is a product of what is, and what’s becoming… If too many copycats start doing the iMac thing, greater innovation will be required based on the tech at hand and Apple’s ability to bring that tech to market.

    They’ve shown they can bring dramatic change to the market in the past: personal computer, mouse/mac, ipod, perhaps the iPhone in the future…  I don’t see why they couldn’t do it again.

    Zamyatin had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 7
  • Oh yeah, let’s also not forget the mac mini - direct cybernetic attachment to my medulla oblongota.  Back when I was a Windows user I didn’t really have faith in a Windows-based interface plugged directly into my brain… viruses, you know.

    But nowadays with my trusty iBook and iMac by my side, I’m ready to make the leap.  Bring it to me Steve!  Ghost in the Shell here I come.

    Zamyatin had this to say on Mar 12, 2007 Posts: 7
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