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In Apple’s Mac line-up, there is this peculiar thing that is happening. Right now, Apple is selling an all-in-one computer which starts at $1,299. That computer, the iMac, comes with a 24-inch display. A slightly bigger display, the Studio Display, is priced at $1,599. Why does Apple sell a standalone display that costs more than an all-in-one computer? And is that Studio Display worth it against the iMac?
To understand why Apple’s Mac and Display line looks like this, you have to peek back at history. Before Apple Silicon came to the scene, there were Intel Macs. And back then, there were two flavors of the iMac instead of the one that we currently have: the 21.5" 4K iMac and its bigger brother, the 27" 5K iMac.
When Apple Silicon came into the scene, it enabled Apple to create the thinnest iMac yet. It was so thin that the headphone port had to move sideways instead of the back. Apple enlarged the smaller iMac from 21" to 24" and to maintain the same pixel per inch density, it upped the display resolution from 4K to 4.5K.
Apple took a different strategy for the 27" 5K replacement. Instead of introducing a larger iMac as they had done since 2004, Apple decided to keep iMac a single size. They took the 27" display from the iMac, slap an iPhone 11 at the back and rebrand it as Studio Display. Instead of an all-in-one like the iMac, you’ll have a modular computer for the Studio Display. That Studio Display can be connected to a $499 Mac Mini, a $1,999 Mac Studio, a MacBook Pro, or even another iMac.
iMac vs Studio Display
Now, let’s compare the difference between the iMac and the Studio Display
- The display resolution: The Studio Display is wider by 640 pixels and taller by 360 pixels than the iMac display. That doesn’t sound a lot but that’s 3 million more pixels pushed by the Studio Display than the iMac. The G3 iMac which was sold for $1,299 back in 1998 has a resolution of 800 by 600 pixels. The pixel gap between Studio Display and iMac is 6 screens of that G3 iMac.
- Size: Standing side-by-side, the Studio Display is slightly larger than the iMac. The iMac looks bigger thanks to its chin. The Studio Display has a beefier profile.
- Ports: The base iMac has 2x Thunderbolt 3 port on it’s back. A higher version adds 2x USB-C USB3 ports at the back. There’s also a headphone jack at the side. And a power button. And on the power brick, there’s an ethernet port on some models. The Studio Display only has 1x Thunderbolt 3 port (which will be used for display) and 3x USB-C USB 3 ports. There’s no headphone jack because every Mac that is connected to the display will have one. Ditto for the Ethernet port. There are no controls whatsoever because everything is controlled by the Mac that is connected to it.
- The sound: Both use the same speaker system which means a six-speaker system with woofers that support spatial audio, but the Studio Display is beefier thanks to having a larger internal chassis.
- All-in-one vs modular: This is the biggest difference between the iMac and the Studio Display. For the same price at $1,599, you can get a decent computer with one of the best displays on the market. However, the disadvantage is that you will stuck with that computer forever. With the Studio Display, it’s one of the rare 5K monitors on the market which can be switched with other Macs in the future. Yes, there a higher upfront costs, but the Studio Display is more future-proof.
Apple changed the Mac lineup to the current one because the Mac has changed since the advent of Apple Silicon. For the consumer, Apple has opted to provide the ultimate all-in-one that is good enough for 90% of the consumers who are looking for a desktop. It’s not a coincidence that the starting price of an iMac and the 15" MacBook Air is the same at $1,299.
The Studio Display is targeted at the computer enthusiast or the prosumer who wants more than what the iMac (or base Apple Silicon) can offer but is not yet willing to pay the professional grade Mac Studio / Pro Display XDR prices.
The iMac and Studio Display might converge at a certain price point, but for one, it’s the end, the other is just the beginning.
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