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The Tech Behind Apple’s Impossibly Thin New iMacs (wired.com)
30 points by ishake 1605 days ago | hide | past | web | 50 comments | favorite

Of course it looks thinner if you take care to only photograph it from angles where the hump isn't visible. It's also interesting that the cover glass was a challenge, since monitors don't need cover glass; it's purely an aesthetic addition.

It doesn't just look thinner. It is thinner. Yes, there is a hump around the base's hinge, but it is still significantly, noticeably thinner – per the article, the machine's volume was reduced by 40%.

I believe the reference thickness the parent was referring to was the thickness of the same iMac, not the previous one. In other words:

If you take pictures from the right angle, the computer looks thinner than if you take pictures from the side showing the entire bulge and stand.

> It's also interesting that the cover glass was a challenge, since monitors don't need cover glass; it's purely an aesthetic addition.

Screens don't need it, but that's not purely aesthetic. Having glass upfront means you can use whatever you want and clean that stuff, as the material is resilient and there's no leak around the seams. Also it's more robust against people poking their fingers into the screen, and more rigid overall. In D.Rams parlance, "good design has a purpose", and here it's a blend between form and function.

This was absolutely the first thing I noticed on the Apple website. Where is the profile shot? http://i.imgur.com/OvNJO.jpg

Here, with the full iMac history for the sake of comparison: http://www.apple.com/imac/design/#evolution

It's not featured anywhere is my point. It's not in the gallery, it's not in any of the big shots, it's a small shot in a sequence.

The number of angle shots of the computer effectively make it appear as though the computer is 100x thinner than it is.

Agreed, and I noticed it too, but I'm on the fence on that one.

Given the attention to detail in the design phase, I'd argue the apparent thinness was part of the spec, and since component space leads to a bump, the resulting angle value towards the bump comes from the design+engineering following the spec. From there, the marketing shots could very well follow the actual design and showcase what you will feel of the device most of the time. That is design => marketing, not marketing => design.

Where they dropped the ball is that they could really have put a nice side shot in the gallery. That's where I really expected to find one, and it's not like the thing is thick either so I fail to see the harm.

I disagree, I don't think this is purely aesthetic.

What follows is just an opinion:

The smaller you make the package, the harder it is to do active heat management with fans and big heat sinks. Apple spends a lot of R&D dollars on reducing the power usage of their computers - Macs are way more power efficient than their competitors.

Thinness is the authentic, unfakeable, consequence of all of that power management engineering. Competitors can't copy the look of an iMac without also investing heavily in design work to reduce power consumption.

In an ideal world, Apple could just publish power usage figures, but that doesn't really sell computers outside of the data center universe. Thin computers on the other handle are much more marketable, so Apple is using thinness as a marketing proxy for power efficiency.

Colours look better under glass too, though obviously it has its downsides (glare).

An LCD is already glass; I'm skeptical that adding another layer improves contrast.

It's not just as aesthetic addition it makes the iMac more durable.

Given that families are a big market for iMacs it seems to be common sense that you would make it as kid friendly as possible. Last thing you want is an errant toy to destroy your screen.

How ironic that you mention reliability as an advantage of a mostly unserviceable all-in-one.

Serviceability has nothing to do with reliability, for one.

They're designed to not be serviced by anyone - not customers, not retail staff. So, they have better quality parts that reduce return rates, and get replaced by new or refurbished units if they are lemons. Nothing wrong with the advances of mass production.

If the machine is as unserviceable as you claim, then the increased reliability is indeed an advantage (or at least a mitigation). I'm not sure I see the irony.

This is interesting, but I have no idea why they're spending money making a desktop thinner. Using the old thickness(which was fine) and todays technology could produce a better computer. Why do people want thin desktops(or why does Apple?).

Because it looks great.

I really don’t understand why some people are completely mystified how that could be an argument. So you don’t care about looks? Fine. Others do. And computers are a part of the furniture.

Some people buy those really nice looking but functionally identical faucets that cost three time as much, some don’t. That’s all.

There is nothing ridiculous about that, it’s just a difference in taste.


Why is it crazy to think that people just want something to work and look nice? It's an argument that I see people have to make on HN all... the... time.

There is another amusing point. Take cars (again!)—aesthetics are very important there and design of a car is one of the main talking points. However you don't even see it when you use. On the other hand we stare at the computers all day long and some still say that looks of it do not matter.

I see your point, but when you consider you are rarely even going to see it, since it is all behind the monitor. From the front, these new machines do not even look different.

Not everyone's desk is positioned against a wall.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think it looks really ridiculous with it's hump. But you don't see the hump on the normal Apple pictures.

The older iMacs looked great. At least in my opinion, thinner doesn't make them look better. Not worse either... just different.

Not to mention no mess of cables.

Power and heat distribution are more valuable in a desktop than how it looks.

I love the look of the last iMac, no idea why they did this stupid design and removed ram upgradability for the sake of it looking thinner (from some angles).

I predict it will fatten up again when they go retina

For apple it means less raw materials, perhaps less parts, less volume to move around, and they must have other secondary benefits in other areas that we don't know.

The older parts might also get more difficult to get from the supply chain as time goes by (a bit like the old processors that drop off the manufactory chains after a few years), and you don't get much in not using a recent/smaller version of the components.

iMacs are already a very good value proposition I think, and you wouldn't have your better computer without bumping the price point way over what an average consumer would buy I think.

I used to think this too. I was the guy that thought DVDs were unnecessary and that VHS was fine. But then I got a DVD player and of course there was no going back after that. Likewise, when I caved and bought an Air, there was no going back.

I'm not trying to compare Apple products to DVDs (except that I am) but this whole obsession with thinness is another great example of Apple giving us something we didn't know we wanted.

And on another note, which I have zero evidence to support, I'm sure there's a psychological effect of thinner feeling "faster."

I too find that design decision perplexing. Personally, it is ongoing choices like these which have pretty much made me decide to build a hackintosh instead and in the long run move away from Apple to Linux (only Photoshop holding me back now Adobe!). I have been using Apple computers for more than a decade so it has not been an easy choice. If I continue to stick with Apple however my hardware choices are:

1. Mac Pro - gouging prices, several generation old tech. 2. iMac - a Macbook Air in a monitor, practically zero expansion options. 3. Mac Mini - poor expansion options, poor graphics, expensive once you start adding the ram you need etc.

Seem to me Apple is now almost entirely focused on iOS and iDevices, which is understandable as that's where the money is. I don't see them investing anything much into the desktop computer line at all going forward. Time to move on.

Mac Pros are due for a significant update. That aside, I think it's disingenuous to say that they're not investing anything into their desktop line. These are the most powerful, most power efficient, computers they've ever released. How different do you really think they'd be if the iPhone/iPad didn't exist? The iMac has never had good expansion options, all the way back to its inception, so this should come as no surprise.

New Mac Pros won't be out till the end of next year, and no one knows what these are going to be. If Apple made a cheaper Mac (sans the 'Pro') with current high-end consumer components I would seriously consider it, but I can't hang-on another year playing wait and see and there isn't really anything tying me down to OS X anymore except Adobe CS. I guess what they think I need is the iMac, but it is too much of a compromise for me. I own a 2009 iMac, and I never really considered it a 'desktop'. It is a screen with a laptop stuffed inside it and it shows; I can't even watch YouTube 720p without the fans coming on full. I am tired of compromising on speed and power for just OS X and nice aesthetics, so I simply will not consider an iMac over a custom built PC for the sole advantage of having a 5mm edge. Building something myself means I get a ludicrously powerful i5 desktop with GTX 680, 16GB ram, 256gb SSD, 1TB HDD, Thunderbolt, USB 3, and a nice IPS monitor for around $1500. I am super happy they made the iPhone/iPad as I own both and the industry needed it, but I do think it has drawn their focus away from the desktop and it is much lower as a priority. Not saying they are going to abandon the desktop line tomorrow however I struggle to believe it will still be around in 5-10 years; I don't want to carry on investing in a low priority OS and Linux is much more mature than it used to be. I am probably in the 10-20% of computer users that Apple doesn't cater to, so I don't think they will lose sleep over it.

- Edited for clarity.

I certainly agree with a lot of this. The lack of a pro machine is certainly a disgrace at the moment. I sometimes wonder if the decisions Apple made when computers were its entire business now need to be revisited now they've diversified a bit. I think they can afford to compete on price now, and not price gouge over BTO options. They've started being more reasonable with RAM prices, but they have a long way to go.

For what it's worth, your YouTube issues are down to Flash. I have an older iMac (2007) and 720p runs fine for me in HTML5.

Agreed, I really wish they had revisited it. I wonder if it was the failure of the Cube that made the mid-tier Mac disappear? I suppose it could be the Mac Mini which replaced it ultimately, I seem to remember the Cube was pretty underpowered.

Anyway thanks for the YouTube tip, I have tried the HTML5 version a few times and it is certainly less taxing on resources (just H264 without the Flash wrapper I guess). Can't remember why I went back to Flash, think I just had a few weird glitches in playback, I'll try it again.

It's good advertising/branding. Form over function.

Form IS function.

Nonsense. People buy desktop computers often to get work done. Function in that case relates to productivity, and productivety often derives from better performance.

I just moved from a Mac Pro to a Linux Box precisely because none of Apple's current lineup can make the power per $ I can buy from a PC box. I just bought a PC that absolutely destroys the best Mac you can buy, and my personal work, be it compilation, digital content creation, or even playing Battlefield 3 @ 2500x1600 on a 30" monitor at great framerates, will be vastly improved. Can you buy a 4.2Ghz i7 from Apple? Can you get a liquid cooled iMac with Dual GeForce 680 GTXs?

If I were to buy an iMac, it's form would absolutely deliver less function. I have ample desktop space, the look of the monitor/CPU combo has zero effect on the function of the software or how I interact with it.

However, the constrained geometry does have a large effect on the thermal/cooling solutions you can pack into it, or whether you can put something like a GeForce 690GTX into it.

Mobile computing, you can make an argument about form and function, since the ergonomics and weight of the device matter a lot. For getting work done on the desktop, its completely irrelevant unless you're trying to show off.

If the iMac were a stand-in for an Apple TV, and the computer needed to be hung on the wall, then by all means, make it a flat panel. But desktop boxes in tower configurations in no way inhibit most people, often the desktop sits under the table anyway, and only the monitor, keyboard, and mouse are above the desk.

Now, I realize this is going to insult a lot of iMac owners, but I am a power user, I've owned nothing but top of the line boxes, until I got my 2006 Mac Pro. I stuck with it for along time, hoping Apple was going to get seriously about keeping up with top-end PCs on the GPU and CPU front, but they never caught up after being briefly ahead. And so, I finally got frustrated with Apple's lack of attention to professionals who want to buy Formula-1 machines. I am not interested in desktop machines that are not much different than laptops.

No, it isn't. But getting people to believe that is the RDF's power.

So… you'd rather carry around a briefcase with an attached external handset as a cellphone, rather than a somewhat modern cellphone? What about carrying around a laptop with a tethered cellphone vs. a smartphone? If you prefer the latter options, as many do, then I really do believe that's a solid signal that form is function.

Strawman, I never claimed any of those things. Stop putting words in my mouth.

If I'm arguing a straw man, you're arguing a red herring. There is no "RDF" at play here. Form absolutely does impact function. In fact, form distinctly defines function.

Please, state a cogent argument otherwise.

Yes, it is.

Let's talk about form. The iMac is integrated: it has one cable, you plug it in, turn it on, and it works. That's form. If I were not tech-savvy, I wouldn't need to know my VGA from my USB from my power cables and what goes where and why.

The iMac has a low footprint: I don't have room for a tower. That's form.

The iMac is practically silent: it doesn't distract simply by existing, that's form.

The iMac is accessible: you don't need to be able to build your own machine to get great performance. Look at the SSD + HDD system they have. It's not a cache system, there's no wasted space, the OS always writes to the SSD and transfers rarely-accessed date to the HDD and presents both as a hybrid drive. I don't know if I could replicate that on a custom box. I certainly know no ordinary person could. That's form.

All this form adds up to a hell of a lot of function.

"Form is function" means looking at a computer and seeing more than a list of tech specs.

> But getting people to believe that is the RDF's power

Crap "design" doesn't mean that good design doesn't exist, and cannot be used to waive the latter away.


Right. The concept of 'form is function' is exclusive to Apple.

I mean what world of delusion do you live in that you would ignore the entire industry of industrial design. It's everywhere from cars to irons to cutlery to furniture. How a product is designed affects how it is used.

Strawman, I never claimed that industrial design should be ignored.

I would say this is subjective but even if it were the case 100% of the time surely you will agree this doesn't mean it is an improvement, in this case the choice of form has a functional penalty. This is like making a thinner refrigerator, looks amazing but it is much less useful and practical.

Consider the contrary: what do you get with a thicker computer? These iMacs already have performance (top-end: 3.4 GHz i7, 32 GB RAM, GTX 680MX with 2 GB GDDR5, thunderbolt and USB 3). If they said, "okay, instead of making it thinner, let's keep it the same size and make it better," what exactly do you expect?

The only improvements you could get with a thicker computer are things that would also negatively affect the amount of power it requires. Thinness is just a pleasant consequence of power-concious design.

They're practicing for thin iPhones? It is pretty weird. They could probably release something thicker than the old model and market that just as well.

Why someone want to buy something like this? Just to have an unrepairable PC? And if something inside breaks you have to just buy a new PC? I like to mess with my PC internals, upgrade it and fix it if I can with my poor electronic skills.

If something inside breaks, you can get it fixed. For free, if it's under warranty. Most people have neither the time nor the technical ability to fix something themselves anyway, so this is a non-issue.

For me, I've had an iMac for 5 years and I upgraded both the RAM and the HDD (to an SSD) myself with no issues. And it shows no signs of slowing down and is better than the day I bought it, and is probably one of the best investments I've made. Hell, at the time, and this is still true, buying a monitor of comparable quality would've cost half what I paid for the entire computer.

Which puts you in a very small niche among computer users. Most people want an appliance, like their TV.

I'd rather it stay the same thickness and put more power inside.

It's not like I ever see the back anyway

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