New iMac gets jolt of color in Apple's first redesign since 2012

The new devices pay homage to the original iMacs that changed a struggling Apple's fortunes decades ago.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read
Logo of an Apple store, seen from a music fountain on the

Apple unveiled new colorful iMacs Tuesday.

Apple/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple on Tuesday at its Spring Loaded event unveiled its newest line of iMacs , a rare refresh for what used to be one of the company's most important products. 

The all-in-one devices are a major redesign of the current models, with slimmer borders around the screen and a flat back. The new model has a 24-inch screen, up from 21 inches, and an improved camera , microphone and speakers. The updated iMacs start at $1,299 (£1,249, AU$1,899) for four colors, including blue and red, and $1,499 (£1,449, AU$2,199) for a wider array of colors, including yellow, orange and purple, and more features. Preorders start April 30, and the devices will be available in the second half of May.

Watch this: What we think of the new colorful 24-inch iMac

A new 1080p camera is tailored to video calls, a key feature as millions of people around the world have been forced to work from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Apple said the camera has a larger sensor that helps it perform better in low light. The iMac's keyboard also comes with Touch ID, the company's fingerprint security sensor. 

The computers are the latest devices in Apple's product lineup to use the M1 chip, Apple's own processor built in house. Apple debuted the chips last year with its Mac laptops , a milestone for the company as it sets out to engineer the brains of its products, as well as their industrial and software design.

Apple introduced the new devices at its annual spring event, held virtually, where the company also unveiled new versions of its iPad Pro and Apple TV streaming box.

The new iMacs are the first major redesign of the product since 2012. The new splash of color harkens back to the original candy-colored iMacs first unveiled by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in 1998. The product earned Apple a cult following and paved the way for a historic product run that would include the iPod and iPhone.

iMac throwback: Apple's candy-colored history, from 1999 to 2021

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The iMacs will test the bounds of Apple's in-house chips. With the M1, Apple became the only major PC maker that no longer needs to rely on outside companies like Intel, AMD or Nvidia to create microprocessors to power its devices. But the M1 is new and unproven, and switching microprocessors is a large undertaking. (Even though Apple made the switch to its own chips for its new entry level 24-inch iMac, it still uses Intel's processors for its higher-end 27-inch iMac, which did not get an update on Tuesday.)

Most people may not care about a change to some component in their Mac computers. But Apple's moves could mean big changes both for its Macs and for the tech industry. To create the M1, Apple used at least $1 billion to buy more than half a dozen companies in addition to spending more than a decade on research and development. Now, Apple says, its chips are more powerful and energy-efficient than the Intel chips it relied on before. That could translate to smaller and slimmer designs, longer battery life and new technologies.

By building its own chips, Apple is able to better control the features it releases, as well as better manage the timeline for introducing new devices. And it's able to offer much better battery life than machines powered by Intel chips. When it comes to its own processors in Macs, Apple started with its lower-end computers. The first M1 Macs, which went on sale last year, included the 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

CNET's Ian Sherr and Shara Tibken contributed to this report.

Watch this: Highlights from Apple's Spring Loaded event in 10 minutes