Apple updated its line of iMacs today. They’ve been updating them for 17 years now, constantly making them bigger, faster, and generally better. This year’s model is no different: Faster processors thanks to Intel’s new Skylake chips, improved graphics performance, and Fusion Drive hybrid storage for everyone. But if you look closely—and you really do have to look closely—you’ll see a screen more lifelike than anything Mac users have seen before, and cool new accessories that rethink how we’ll interact with computers.
The iMac is Apple’s most mature product. (It’s telling that a new keyboard design is the most obvious thing about this year’s model.) It’s very good, year after year, and this year’s almost certainly is the best yet. Above all, it’s a desktop, one designed for productive people to do productive things. But now Apple is trying to help the iMac find its way in a world dominated not by big computers but by tiny ones.
Still, the iMac is a desktop, and desktops have big screens. And that’s the banner feature here. Every 27-inch iMac, beginning with the base model ($1,799) now has a 5K display similar to the one Apple announced on the highest-end model last year. A smaller but roughly equivalent (4096×2304, which is true 4K) screen slots into the most expensive SKU of the 21.5-inch iMac, too, which starts at $1,499. The Retina iMac’s screen is jaw-droppingly high-res, and now it’s available to many more people for considerably less extravagant amounts of money.
The screen’s somehow even better than last year. The resolution is the same—5120×2880—but Apple’s widened its color gamut to a standard called DCI-P3. All the technical gobbledygook would make your head spin, but it breaks down like this: Your eyes are capable of distinguishing among an incredible range of very slightly different colors. Most RGB displays (which is most displays) can’t show that many, so they’ll take a hundred shades of red and render them all the same way. “P3,” as it’s usually called, can show about 25 percent more colors. It’s also closer to the new standard for digital capture, designed to mimic old film cameras, so your camera’s raw output is a lot more accurately displayed on a P3 screen than an RGB.
It shows more detail, particularly in reds and greens, and it makes everything a little more vivid and lifelike. It really does look fantastic, but then again, so did last year’s screen. And, of course, you’ll only see the benefits of P3 on your iMac and a few other super-high-end displays for now—your Instagram followers won’t get the benefit of your slick new screen.
I haven’t had time to properly but the new iMac through its paces, but I can fairly confidently say most people won’t really feel most of the hardware changes. At least not yet. This is just the iMac getting better, the way it gets better every year.
Yet there is one thing in the iMac’s trapezoidal box that feels like a huge change: Apple has, for the first time in a long time, redesigned and re-thought its keyboard, trackpad, and mouse.
Sleight of Hand
They’re all called Magic now: Magic Keyboard ($99), Magic Trackpad 2 ($129), Magic Mouse 2 ($79). The keyboard felt most different to me, if only because I’ve been using an Apple Wireless Keyboard for the better part of a decade. I switched from Mac to Windows and back again, always with the same keyboard. It feels…different. But good.
The new model is, above all, smaller. The cylindrical roll at the back of the previous model, which propped the keyboard at a slight angle, is gone. (Apple didn’t build it that way for ergonomic reasons, but because they had to fit a pair of AA batteries somewhere.) The Magic Keyboard lies almost flat, which takes a minute to adjust to but otherwise feels great. The keys are still the same size and the same layout, but their scissor mechanism has been changed a bit. There’s a lot less wobble on the keys, and they don’t travel nearly as far. It’s not as drastic a change as the new MacBook’s super-shallow keys, but I miss the satisfactory thwack of the old keyboard. I’ve already found I make fewer mistakes on this one, though—it’s just way harder to errantly register the edge of the key next to the one you were looking for.
All three new accessories have Lightning ports, both for charging and for connecting to your computer
Just like the old Magic Trackpad, the Magic Trackpad 2 comes in a near-identical profile to the keyboard. They look nice as a set. This trackpad is white all over, and much larger than the last model. And most importantly, it now supports Force Touch gestures. It doesn’t click at all, instead using haptic feedback to make it feel like it’s clicking at multiple levels of pressure. It’s the exact same tech as the MacBook Pro’s new trackpads, Apple says, just lifted out of the palmrest and placed on your desk. (The Magic Mouse doesn’t support Force Touch, oddly enough; Apple says it’s thinking about whether it makes sense on a mouse, but hasn’t changed anything other than making the mouse a little smoother to maneuver.)
All three new accessories have Lightning ports, both for charging and for connecting to your computer. They’re all made to be used wirelessly via Bluetooth, but they’ll now pair with your computer the instant you plug in the Lightning cable. It takes about a half-second, and then pairs and connects wirelessly just like any other Bluetooth controller. It’s sort of a brilliant hack: Apple seems to assume that if you own an iMac you probably also own an iOS device, and if you own an iOS device you probably have a Lightning cable handy. I managed to pair all three peripherals to my own machine and then again with the new iMac (they come pre-paired in the box) in about ten seconds. All three will charge in a couple of hours, Apple says, and a single charge will last more than a month.
You can spin this two ways. One is the Apple way, which is that it’s constantly reinventing even the things it has supposedly already perfected. No one complained about the last keyboard and trackpad, but they say they want to keep doing better. No AA batteries means the new keyboards are better for the environment; Lightning charging and pairing makes life easier; and slimmer, sleeker profiles mean they’re easier to use and carry around. There’s also the other side: Apple makes a lot of money on accessories, and there are a lot of people like me who bought a keyboard seven years ago and haven’t upgraded since. Apple hates when people don’t upgrade, so they invented a reason to make people do so. I suspect the answer is yes to both.
The Keys to the Future
The iMac is a tool. It’s a power-user machine, made for people who sit and desks and do work. For most of them, the new iMac will probably be a welcome upgrade—there are certainly people who’ve been waiting for the Retina screen to come to more affordable prices, and now that day is here. Particularly for photographers and videographers, anyone doing graphic creative work, the improved display might be important. For most people, it’ll still be what it’s been for a while: way more than you’d ever need in a computer, and a lot of fun to use as a result.
The keyboard and trackpad signal something bigger, though. Apple’s in the process of looking at all the ways we interact with technology, finding ways to bridge those gaps and smooth out transitions between devices. The keyboard’s a little shorter, a little more like typing on a touchscreen—and more in line with the new MacBook, Apple’s clear bet on the future of PCs. The trackpad senses force and doesn’t physically click—sound familiar? These aren’t the first changes Apple’s made to its input devices, and they won’t be the last. If the Apple Wireless Keyboard wasn’t sacred, nothing is.
UPDATE: The video above says the price of all three new accessories is $69. That is, sadly, not correct. The Magic Keyboard is $129, the Magic Trackpad 2 is $129, and the Magic Mouse is $79. So they’re all more expensive.