What's the Future of the Big iMac?

I have been a longtime user of the iMac, indoctrinated into the Bondi Blue clan since late high school. I've owned a 27" 2009 model, and a 27" 2013 one. But there's no longer a clear, linear upgrade path for longtime users of the big iMac.

According to Quinn Nelson of Snazzy Labs, this is a good thing. On a technical level, there is still an iMac. Apple makes a functional 24" iMac that straddles the line between the old 21" and 27" models, though for professional work, you need to upgrade beyond the base 8 GB of memory and 256 GB solid-state drive. But all of that ignores the elephant in the room: you give up the gorgeous 27" monitor that photographers have grown so accustomed to for so many years.

I wrung out every inch of life out of my 2013 iMac, using it for as long as I could before I finally had to throw in the towel. Ironically, I didn't sunset it because it didn't run well. It was a loaded model with an i7, 16 GB of video memory, and a 512 GB SSD, not bad for even today. However, while it (still) processes photos and edits video just fine, in the course of the last year, literally every piece of key software stopped being supported. Because it's stuck on Catalina as its final operating system, I couldn't upgrade to Photoshop with its new AI features. I couldn't update Premiere Pro either. The final nail in the coffin was basic Microsoft productivity apps being cut off for updates, too. I caved and bought an M2 Mac Mini and hooked it up to my 27" Dell Ultrasharp monitor. It's not at all a suitable replacement.

Sure, performance is fine, but the whole Mac experience loses the all-in-one experience of an iMac. I can't control brightness from my keyboard. I had to buy speakers which have independent volume controls from what's run through the keyboard. I have no more webcam and have resorted to using my phone again for those needs. I get the basic Mac experience, but that's all. My only other option is to pony up north of $1,449 for a Studio Display. When that's most of the way to the price of the old iMac, it's a tough pill to swallow.

So, while Nelson is optimistic about the future of Apple with its current iMac, I'm hoping the bigger iMac makes a return.

What are your thoughts on Apple's handling of the iMac lineup? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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I have been an iMac user for many years. And of course I love my 27" 5K screen in the all-in-one format. This is really the only computer that fits my needs. I have had a 24" iMac and I have had a 21" iMac, and they just aren't suitable for me. And I have had computers that are not all-in-one and they are not suitable either. And I absolutely HATE laptops for anything. Been there, done that, hope I never own a laptop ever again.

So, Apple, why did you discontinue the only computer that makes any sense for my uses and purposes? I really don't get it.

When my 2015 27" iMac goes obsolete and I can't get software that is compatible, what will I do? Probably buy a newer 27" iMac model on the used marked off of Craigslist, like a 2020 or 2021 model. But what do I do when that goes obsolete? I'll be okay for the next 5-7 years, but beyond that I feel that the future is hopeless and that I will have to settle for something that does not fit my needs well. I would HATE to go with a windows-based computer, but if that is the only all-in-one with a huge 5k screen, I may be forced to.

I have heard that one reason Apple has abandoned the 27" iMac is because they consume so much electricity to power the display. I have ZERO interest in conserving power usage, and HUGE interest in a great big super high resolution screen. Give me what I want, Apple!

Agreed. I don't care about the power usage.

We should all have an interest in conserving power where possible. Also why don't you just buy a mac mini/studio and hook it to a decent monitor of your choice?

g coll asked,

"Also why don't you just buy a mac mini/studio and hook it to a decent monitor of your choice?"

Because that would not be a feasible apparatus for my usage. I regularly and frequently take my computer with me when I leave the house. The all-in-one format is perfect for my needs because I can pack it up in a minute, put it in the back seat of my car, and take it anywhere. a Mac mini with a separate monitor would not be as convenient, and a laptop would have that pathetic little screen.

Also, I already explained that I have little to no computer savvy, so figuring out how to hook a monitor up to a separate drive would be confusing for me. The all-in-one iMac just works, without me ever having to figure anything out. And that is perfect for me!

I get it and for your uses the iMac does seem nice and convenient. Perhaps you could rig a mac mini to be fixed to the back of a sturdy monitor.

If a mini is small enough to mount like that then yeah, that may be ideal. I could pay my computer guy to hook it up to a monitor and then just leave it permanently attached. And hopefully it would still fit easily in the back seat of my car. And maybe I could get a 32" monitor, which would be even better than my 27" screen. Then that configuration would be even more useful, but just as convenient and easy to use, as my current 27" iMac.

I mean, as I wrote up there, hooking a Mac Mini up to a monitor just isn't the same. I mean I'm doing it, it's OK, but it's not the 27" iMac. And in theory, wouldn't doing this consume more power than the 27" iMac since it's now two devices that need powering?

yes, also, what in the world would I do if the connection between them ever became undone? How in the world would I know what things to click on to get them "talking to" each other again? These things are very real concerns that we never have to worry about with the 27" iMac.

Just use open core legacy patcher if Catalina is your problem... I use a 2012 iMac with Sonoma without any issue.

For those like myself, who have practically zero computer ability and expertise, is this something you can hire someone to do for you? I mean I had to hire someone to download Topaz for me because I can't figure out how to download new programs that I purchase, so what you suggest sounds great, but also sounds like something that I would not be able to do myself (I take my iMac to the Apple store for periodic updates because that confuses me, too).

From the various Apple rumor mills, the 27" is a goner for good for a simple reason -- sales.

The world is moving to laptops and tablets. Some modest number of folks want desktops, but that world is immediately split into those who want all-in-one machines like the iMac, and those who want the display to be separate so that they can buy a great display and keep it forever. Apparently, the 27" iMac sales fell progressively over the years to the point where Apple decided not to continue the investment in updated designs.

I've owned a few 27" iMacs over the years; I now have the M1 24" iMac (not bad for Lightroom and P-shop) and a 13" M2 MacBook (great for on the road photography). For the latter, I have a 32" 4K monitor for use at home, and use an HDMI cable to plug into the hotel room's 4K TV when on the road. Not as convenient as an all-in-one as Mr. Ahmad points out, but it's what I can do.

For Tom Reichner -- when the day comes, get a MacBook, a large display, and a 2nd Apple keyboard and mouse. Use the MacBook in 'closed' mode. It works.

Steve White wrote:

"For Tom Reichner -- when the day comes, get a MacBook, a large display, and a 2nd Apple keyboard and mouse. Use the MacBook in 'closed' mode. It works."

I appreciate the suggestion, but I am concerned that I would not be able to figure out how to get a separate display to work with a MacBook. It took me years to figure out how to get a thumb drive to work and to learn how to copy files to it. I mean years - before that I took my computer and thumb drive to a computer store and paid them to copy image files for me, so I would have backups. This stuff with buying separate components ... I think that is best left to those who have at least a modicum of computer competence.

That's why I love my all-in-one so much, because there is really nothing to "figure out". It just works without me needing to have any special knowledge.

Are you seriously saying you wouldn't know how to hook up a laptop (or Mac Mini) to an external display? On my Mac Mini a cable goes into the HDMI (or the thunderbolt) port and the other end goes into the back of the external monitor. It really is that simple. Your issue does sound like quite an isolated problem though. I doubt there are that many who would struggle to hook up a monitor to a MacBook or Mac Mini. Back in the old days of beige computers we all had to hook up our beige PC towers to an external monitor. My 79 year old Dad managed to get his Mac Mini, display, wireless keyboard and mouse working and this is his first ever experience of a Mac.

Is it really that simple? I ask because often, somebody tells me that all you have to do is .... and then when I go to do it, there are actually other things that must be done, that the person who advised me didn't even think of because they take such "simple" things for granted. Like when you plug or unplug a cable and then a little pop-up box appears and asks you something and you have to click somewhere on it to continue. How in the world do people know what option to click on? These things ALWAYS come up and "simple" things always involve a bit more than the people giving advice said.

The thing about the Apple brand is that it's always, since day one of its existence, been designed for ease and simplicity of use. If you can change lenses on your camera, you can connect an external monitor of your choice. For what it's worth, there are several 3rd party professional grade 27" monitors. You sound in this thread like you're trying to convince yourself of your inability to do any basic task related to operating your computer.

Most of the things we say we can't do, we don't learn by choice. Unless there's a learning disability that you haven't mentioned, I would be almost certain you can do all the things that you say you can't. The computer functions you're describing are no more complex than operating a camera, and I see from your camera gear that you're above the level of an all-in-one, point and shoot camera set to auto mode.

I tried for many months to do the laptop-hooked-up-to-the-monitor thing and it's just not for me. Was with a MacBook Air circa 2017 or so.

I thought about buying the last of the Intel Macs used as a replacement, but I imagine it won't be long before Apple claims some part of the new OS won't support it anymore.

I gave my beautiful 2015 27 in. iMac to a family member desperately needing a desktop computer. I could not update the OS and many of the apps due to its age (a policy I don't like). As Apple does not think users want a 27 in. iMac in their product line, I did not replace it with a 24 in iMac. Also, I refuse to go with a Mac Studio and 5k retina monitor at the prices Apple now demands. I left the Apple family and went with a high performance custom Intel box and monitor with great graphics, speed, and storage running Windows. Sorry Apple, you don't seem to care about your computer product line or its users as once was. It's phones, watches, tablets, AR/VR headsets, etc.


I relate a lot to what you said at the end of your comment.

Years ago, Apple showed us that they were shifting their focus when they abandoned Aperture. It was around the same era that the iPhone and smartphones in general really exploded in popularity. It's like they decided to put easier profits ahead of profits that they would have to work much harder for.

Personally, I want to buy one Apple product every 12 years or so, and then all throughout that 12 years depend heavily on the free support that Apple provides, making several calls to Apple Phone Suppoprt every year, making one or two appointments at an Apple Store for personalized in-person support, etc. Apple has to work very hard once they have sold me something, just to keep up with my neediness. But that is why I bought the Apple computers in the first place - because there are always real people to do things for me that I can't figure out for myself. But they do seem to be shifting away from that business model and just wanting to sell watches and phones these days.