The iMac 2021 design is beautiful — and flawed

iMac 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

It's not surprising that the launch for the iMac 2021 — an iconic Apple product — has gotten those who worship at the Shrine of Jobs all a-flutter. And rightly so, as the latest version unveiled this past week is an eye-catching machine that makes use of the quietly revolutionary Apple M1 chip. But I feel Apple didn’t go far enough with the new iMac.

The simplicity of the best all-in-one computers has long appealed to me — though I very much appreciate that a laptop and external monitor isn't exactly the most complex of setups — and I've been interested in seeing all-in-ones evolve. Some have gone down the entertainment route, festooning machines with speaker arrays, others have embraced gaming, while Microsoft’s Surface Studio has gone after creatives.

The iMac 2021 also goes after the creative crowd, but there's some disappointing trade-offs here. 

First, Apple pulled the most Apple of moves by giving the base $1,299 iMac only two USB-C ports and a 7-core GPU rather than a 8-core one. You also need to spend an extra $200 to get access to the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. Plus, the latest iMac doesn't exactly offer much more than a MacBook Air in terms of computing power. And once you digest the iMac's slimness and peasant pallet of colors, it’s not really a huge step away from the previous model.  

iMac 2021: Ho-hum, it’s just the M1 

Apple iMac 2021 with M1

(Image credit: Apple)

From all the rumors running up to the recent Apple Spring event, I’d been expecting to se the iMac 2021 come with an upgraded M1 chip, supposedly the M1X. That chip would offer an overall boost in performance, making the iMac a machine worth getting instead of buying an M1 MacBook Pro and an external display. 

However, that didn’t end up being the case. Granted, there’s more room inside for the iMac to better cool the M1 chip, but it's not like the processor gets too hot in the current suite of MacBooks. 

Okay, so the M1 is powering a 4.5K display, which is pretty nice in such an all-in-one machine. But you could still realistically buy an M1 MacBook Air and get a 27-inch external display for the same $1,299 price as the base iMac 2021. I appreciate that’s not going to make for such a neat setup and you won’t get features such as Dolby Atmos speakers, but I’m not sure that’s going to matter to a lot of people. 

So outside of the iMac 2021 being a daily computer for a very stylish house — you know, the kind that smells really good when you go through the front door — or a machine for students with limited space, I can’t see the appeal of the new iMac over its M1 MacBook brethren.  

I’m rather hoping a refreshed 27-inch iMac 2021 will change that, offering the rumored M1X chip and power that lets it stand apart from its M1 stablemates; fingers crossed for something like that emerges from Apple’s WWDC 2021 event in early June.  

iMac 2021 lacking that special touch  

Apple iMac 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

When my tired eyes first glimpsed the iMac 2021 being shown off in a slick video from Cupertino, I couldn’t help but feel a stirring of gadget desire. But in the cold light of the next morning, I changed my mind. 

After the concept designs that basically took the Apple Pro Display XDR made it into an iMac, the actual iMac looks a little uninspired. Sure, i’s very slim and has those iPad Pro/iPhone 12 flat edges that really scratch an industrial design itch. But its display bezels are still a little too thick and not hugely attractive in what looks like a glossy white. 

And I’m not a fan of that large chin on the display. Sure, it holds the iMac guts and speakers, but it’s not exactly cutting edge. Furthermore, the lack of height adjustment in a 2021 all-in-one computer seems absurd; the iMac 2021 is tilt only. 

Compare the new iMac to the Surface Studio, and it’s clear which company is drinking the innovation juice. Yes, the Surface Studio is somewhat hobbled by old hardware and a huge price tag, but it’s a lovely machine. 

That slick hinge mechanism on the Surface Studio basically lets it move from an all-in-one PC position to a big digital easel, and it's simply fantastic to use; that’s coming form someone who’s as much a digital artist as Tracy Emin is a hotel maid.   

I know iMacs aren’t seen as devices for touch input, but given Apple has made a song-and-dance about its iPads and Apple Pencil being a dream pairing for creative types, I see no reason why Tim Cook’s crew couldn't have popped a touch-compatible display into the new iMac. After all, macOS can now run iOS apps, so a touchscreen on the iMac could actually be useful.

Apple may want to keep some of its products in specific silos, but it’s shown it doesn't mind cannibalizing itself occasionally. The iPhone ate the iPod, and the iPad Pro has probably gobbled up some former MacBook Air users, especially now that the new iPad Pro 2021 has an M1 chip.

iMac 2021 outlook: I'm waiting for a new iMac Pro

I was genuinely excited to see what Apple could do with the new iMac, given the company that seemingly wanted to shun computers has made some of the most interesting ones in recent years, at least in terms of silicon. But the iMac 2021 isn't the machine I was hoping for, so now I’m waiting to see what happens to the 27-inch model. 

Overall, it seems like the company that asked “what’s a computer?” in 2017 seems to have forgotten what desktop computing innovation is, despite the M1 chip’s impressive nature. That’s disappointing. However, I’d see no harm in giving the iMac Pro a little bit of iPad functionality; heck, I might even consider getting one.

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face. 

  • IvanChew
    Good article. I am a PC user and intends to buy the new iMac in 2021 but now has serious doubts about buying it. I think this is a lost opportunity to persuade Windows users like me to switch to MacOS. Also weird that the iconic Apple logo has now disappeared from the front. If Apple thinks that this logo branding is not so important to the user/customer and can be located at the back , then why should the user/customer buys an iMac and instead go for any generic and more affordable all-in-one PC?
  • niveko49
    I think your'e article stinks. You are the most cynical reporter I've ever read. It is clear that you have no concept of how to design and/or produce high-end computers. Your expectations are a figment of your imagination. The M1 just revolutionized the computer industry; Intel is flat on it's backside and Apple new chip has been a major break-through for their 1st foray into system on a chip (SoC) architecture.

    Your expectations of the M1X chip have been a figment of too many idiots trying to predict what's next (they're wrong this period of time). The 24" iMac 2021 is a baseline desktop computer and really doesn't' need to be a super computer. Most people will use this computer to surf the internet or write letter/e-mails or do homework and the like or maybe play a game or two. An M1x or M2 is not required for this iMac.

    It does take time to develop new high-end chips and build factories to produce these chips on the 5nm or 4nm or 3nm process technologies. Intel is using 10 or 7nm??? The M1 SoC architecture which uses the 5nm process was a break through in November 2020 (last year). Typically, it takes a year to take the next step. I believe that the M2 chip will be out by the end of this year, unless the silicon is hard to obtain (remember COVID-19?).

    The high-end Mac (probably a 30" screen) and the 14" & 16" Mac Book Pros will come out in November/December or the 1st quarter of next year (if silicon is hard to get).

    If I were Apple running a business and not some reporter's daydream. I would go into a 2 year product cycle. The next update for Mac pro, Mac mini, iPads and low end iMac will occur in 2022 (with an M1X), whereas, the high-end iMacs and Mac Book Pros will receive another update in 2023 (an M3/4). Since people only buy a new MAC every 8 years or so (including you), why continue to use a 1 year product update cycle?

    I would stop complaining about what you didn't get and wait for the M2's to arrived. Either that or start designing and producing high-quality, highly reliable computers yourself!