When does a Retina display hit critical mass? Well, Apple and other smartphone makers have been selling mobile gear with Retina displays, meaning you can’t see the individual pixels at normal viewing distances, for several years. The price of your iPhone, or iPad, never changed. You just got more value for the same money.
To be fair, it does appear that you still pay a somewhat higher fee for the MacBook Pro with Retina display, though it may be no more than a $100 premium based on current pricing. But with the 27-inch 5K display on the iMac, you might believe the premium is fairly large, or you did until this week.
Now at $2,499, the former base high resolution iMac did offer, in addition to the marvelous 5K display, other enhancements over the regular iMac that included a faster processor, beefier graphics, and a 1TB Fusion Drive, the combo SSD/hard drive that offers close to the performance of a pure SSD. Subtracting the higher resolution display, it actually represented only a modest cost increase to get all those extra pixels.
Now Apple has essentially wiped out the difference. So a somewhat lower-end 27-inch Retina 5K iMac debuted this week for $1,999, same as the previous high-end model with the standard display. A notable change is the 3.3GHz Intel i5 processor, down from 3.4GHz on the previous standard resolution model, a very insignificant and slightly cheaper move. Apple also cut $200 from the price of the original 5K iMac. Together these moves essentially eliminate the price penalty, which makes this machine an even more impressive value.
Indeed, I gather than those who ordered the previous $1,999 iMac, and haven’t had it ship yet, are being upgraded to the new model. I suppose anyone who bought on of the older models in the past month has the right to complain as well. The iMac 5K is that much of an improvement that it’s worth trying to switch to one if you can.
Now to give you an example of just what this means, one of the lowest price third-party 5K displays is the HP Z27q, also a 27-inch model, which lists for $1,999 at the company’s site, although I’ve seen it advertised for $1,299 or even a little less. I have not seen direct comparisons yet, but if you want to regard HP’s entrant as equal to the iMac’s 5K display, that means the actual computer costs $799, which is pretty cheap.
In short, by normal standards, the iMac 5K is a pretty good deal, and that raises the question of how Apple plans to serve the needs of those seeking a high resolution display for a Mac Pro. Its potential value among content creators, most particularly video editors and 3D artists, is tremendous.
But Apple is still selling an aging 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display for $999. It addition to a panel that’s even older than the one on the regular 27-inch iMac, it’s saddled with USB 2.0 and the original Thunderbolt port. It represents a poor value, and I wonder why Apple continues to sell it.
If Apple were to switch to 5K, and update to USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 2, and the newer MagSafe connector, I suppose it could be priced at $1,299, same as the HP counterpart. So where is it?
I suppose one might indeed be in the works for release soon. Maybe Apple was waiting for prices of 5K panels to come down, and to be available in sufficient quantities to allow for mass production of a dedicated display, perhaps one that more closely resembles current iMac designs, with their super thin edges.
Now with Mac sales climbing, still, this year’s Mac refreshes make plenty of sense. Installing Force Touch trackpads to the MacBook and MacBook Pro with Retina display is brilliant. It takes the venerable input device to a new level of flexibility. I can see why it’s still absent on the MacBook Air, where prices are kept at a minimum, though perhaps it’ll show up next year. Sure, the upgraded hardware isn’t much faster, and battery life may or may not be somewhat longer depending on the model. But Apple has made Macs a better value than ever, and the price reduction of the iMac 5K, and the new entry-level version, is really going to appeal to content creators who don’t need a Mac Pro, or can’t afford one.
When Apple cut the price of the MacBook Air by $100 last year, in lieu of altering performance much because of the lack of new Intel parts, sales appear to have increased. The 2014 Mac mini is also $100 less the than previous model, although you can’t get the quad-core CPU or upgrade the memory anymore. The sole Mac that probably needs an upgrade right now is the Mac Pro, perhaps to provide up-to-date graphics and maybe a somewhat lower upgrade price for the larger SSDs. Perhaps that’ll happen at the WWDC, although the main expectations are more about new versions of iOS, OS X, and perhaps Apple TV.