When Apple unveiled its colorful new iMac line at a virtual product launch earlier this week, reactions were divided: They’re beautiful. They’re ugly. What is with that ‘chin’?
The event was one of the most exciting product launches from any tech company in a while. Apple (AAPL) introduced an entirely new product — its AirTag location trackers — updated iPads, a revamped Apple (AAPL) TV, and the biggest design change to the iMac in years.
After being stuck inside for over a year, staring at lackluster computer screens, the iMac’s new look and vibrant colors are a breath of fresh air.
Now at only 11.5 millimeters deep and just 10 pounds, the iMac resembles an iPad on a stand more than a standard computer. The desktop computer is so thin that Apple moved the headphone jack to the side of the display; it no longer fits in the back because that is now deeper than the screen itself.
The company’s new in-house M1 chip – a processor that will make everything run twice as fast as its predecessor – is tucked into what people have come to refer to as the chin, or the white frame that sits just below the screen. The previous iMac also featured a chin but had a large logic board and thermals due in part to its power-hungry processor, and other components such as CPU and GPU were separately located in the system.
Now with M1, everything is consolidated into a much smaller logic board. Conceivably, Apple could have sacrificed some thinness to eliminate the chin.
Many people criticized the decision, calling the chin distracting and unbalanced with the rest of the screen. Memes circulated of what a similar design would look like on an iPhone.
“Apple made a clear choice around the chin and it was the thin design that was front and center for this iMac design,” said Dan Ives, a director at investment firm Wedbush. “It is focused on creating a uniquely thin iMac, and for Apple, it’s about a 360 degree view, which is why the design team decided not to put the internals in the back.”
While some believe Apple could introduce a screen with less of a bezel in the months ahead, along with more traditional colors, its move to push out a bold design now with equally bold colors draws attention to the line, potentially encouraging more people to upgrade from their existing computers.
Michael Heilemann, principal designer at website building and hosting company Squarespace, was among some designers who defended the Apple’s changes. “The new iMac makes it a statement again,” Heilemann told CNN Business. “Computers aren’t just for spreadsheets or for tucking in the drawer when you’re done. They can be a part of your identity same as your clothes and your furniture. You use them just as much, so why not?
“The thin, sleek design also means that even though it’s colorful and loud, it feels elegant,” he added.
Rather than the space grays and whites of its usual color wheel, the new lineup offers iMacs in red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple and silver. Both the keyboard and Apple’s Magic Mouse will be available in a variety of colors, too.
Each color was hidden in the event’s press invitations, which are often filled with red herrings, and showed up again in the video at the start of the keynote featuring CEO Tim Cook. In the clip, an animation of colorful spirals bounced about Apple’s campus, ultimately forming the word “hello,” a reference that goes back to the very first Mac. It feels like a throwback to how Apple experimented with colors and a few patterns in the iMacs’ early days, as it looked for ways to stand out.
“Up until the first iMac, they were at best inoffensive, trying to make the best of being an office appliance,” said Heilemann. “The iMac changed that and made it something people could have in their homes and not feel like it brought the office home with them.”
Over time, Apple left the colors and eccentricities behind in favor of a more minimalistic, industrial design.
While it’s unusual for desktops to come in so many colors, Ross Rubin, a principal analyst at Reticle Research, noted other companies have tried to stand out in different ways in recent years. HP’s all-in-one computer comes with a panoramic wide screen, Lenovo introduced one that rotates 90 degrees, and Microsoft’s Surface Desktop can be pulled down and forward to the point where it can be worked on as a tablet.
“But the design of the iMac is striking,” Rubin said. “It will be difficult for PC makers to match that level of thinness for awhile unless they start leveraging ARM chips that they have used only in laptops up to this point.”
Although the pandemic renewed interest in desktops as more people worked from home, it’s uncertain if the demand will continue as Covid-19 vaccines roll out and economies reopen. Still, it’s refreshing to see Apple, perhaps, thinking differently yet again.