The iMac has become a computer in search of a purpose

Apple’s Mac news this fall, the updated 24-inch iMac is perhaps the most minor. The only difference between this model and the one from spring 2021 is an upgrade from the M1 chip to the new M3. Along with that upgrade comes improved Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios and a higher maximum RAM option. Nothing else has changed in terms of design, features, use cases, or price.That isn’t too surprising considering the previous model was a complete redesign that replaced the older 21- and 27-inch Intel iMacs. The fact that Apple is updating it at all is a nice acknowledgment that it hasn’t totally forgotten about the iMac, which has gotten far fewer updates than the rest of the Mac lineup. (There was never an M2-equipped iMac, for example.)The $1,299 and up M3 24-inch iMac remains an excellent all-in-one computer for lighter workloads. It’s still gorgeous, still comes in seven different colors, and still satisfies the pitch of the Macintosh all the way back in 1984: a simple, approachable computer that you can take out of the box, plug into the wall, turn on, and go.

But it’s clear at this stage that Apple does not intend the iMac to be anything more than that. The company has confirmed that it will not be making a 27-inch iMac with Apple Silicon, dashing the hopes of many that Apple might be working on a version with a larger screen or more powerful hardware.

That’s also not very surprising. For many years, the vast majority of Mac customers have opted for laptops. It seems that Apple is content to let the iMac stay as a niche device for people who want an all-in-one desktop computer for basic home use or for those trendy shops and spas that love the look of an iMac on the checkout counter or reception desk. But most people will continue to be better served by one of Apple’s many other Mac options.Apple didn’t make any external design changes, but the 24-inch iMac remains as stunning as it was when it debuted over two years ago. When I set up my purple review unit in my living room, my extremely not tech-inclined spouse immediately remarked, “Wow, that looks nice.” There are few computers that can match the iMac as a design statement in your home (or place of business).A big part of that appeal is due to the iMac’s shockingly thin profile — it’s hard to believe, even now, that there’s a whole computer housed in its 12mm thick aluminum frame. And the iMac remains a complete computer right out of the box: inside that frame are the webcam, display, and all the computing parts, speakers, and microphones. With the built-in stand, the whole thing weighs less than 10 pounds. Apart from the included wireless keyboard and mouse (or trackpad), there’s nothing else you need on your desk.

But there are improvements I’d have liked to see. The built-in, nonremovable aluminum stand still only supports tilting with no height adjustment, making it tough to get the iMac up to an ergonomic level without stacking it on a riser or pile of books. Those who want more flexibility need to opt for the version with a built-in VESA mount, but that means you need to provide your own stand — there’s no way to get both VESA mounts and a stand from Apple. It’s surprising that Apple hasn’t figured out a way to combine both options elegantly.The iMac’s port selection remains limited, too. The base model comes with just two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports on the back and a 3.5mm audio jack on the left side. The upgraded models add two 10Gbps USB-C ports and an ethernet jack built into the power brick. Either way, it’s not a lot of I/O, and if I were using the iMac as my main computer, I’d need to plug in a Thunderbolt dock to accommodate the amount of peripherals I rely on.

The 4.5K (4480 x 2520) 24-inch display remains very good, with sharp resolution, punchy colors, and enough brightness to overcome the glare in even the brightest of rooms. I don’t have any problem with the white bezel, and the detail is sharp enough at comfortable distances that I never see individual pixels.But unless you are coming from a 21-inch Intel iMac, the 24-inch iMac just does not have a very big screen. I immediately felt more cramped and had less room to spread out compared to the 27-inch Studio Display I typically work from. Splitting the screen equally between Slack and Mimestream on the 24-inch iMac meant I often had to scroll horizontally to see the content in emails, something I rarely encounter on my 27-inch monitor. Those who have a 27-inch Intel iMac will likely consider the 24-inch model’s screen to be a downgrade. But as I mentioned earlier, Apple has no plans to make a 27-inch iMac anymore.

The other components, such as the speakers, microphones, and webcam, remain great. The six-speaker system is not especially bassy, but it’s very clear and pleasant to listen to for YouTube videos, movies, TV shows, music, games, or video calls. The three-mic array had no issue picking up my voice in Google Meet calls for work, and the 1080p webcam is better than most external webcams I’ve used (and puts the webcam built into the $1,599 Studio Display to shame). Unless you are a very picky person or have specific needs like podcast recording, I doubt you’ll feel the need to augment the iMac with external speakers, mics, or webcams.The lone upgrade for this iMac is a switch from the M1 processor to the new M3. Apple claims it’s up to two times faster than the M1, with a 65 percent more powerful GPU and 35 percent faster CPU. In my benchmarks, the M3 does make the numbers go up. And in the real world, the iMac feels snappy: opening applications is quick; switching between virtual spaces is smooth; and it never really gets bogged down in my typical workload, which involves jumping between mail, Slack, the browser, social media, music, and other apps. It also remained quiet and composed the entire time — the only time I could get the fan to spin up was during very long benchmark testing, and even then, I could only hear it when I held my ear up to the front of the display.

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