Apple's iMac 24-inch preorders open Friday: Here's your tough decision

Apple's first big hardware launch of 2021 is headed to preorder tomorrow, with the order books for the first Apple M1-powered iMac opening. Bringing not only Apple Silicon but an array of colors not seen since the iMac G3, the 24-inch iMac also brings with it a potentially tough decision for macOS users.

Unveiled earlier this month, the iMac 24-inch is the fourth of Apple's Mac line-up to use its homegrown chip designs. Unlike the iMac 27-inch – which remains on sale, at least for now – the new all-in-one ditches Intel and replaces it with a version of the chipset familiar from the latest Mac mini, MacBook Pro 13-inch, and MacBook Air.

That transition from x86 to Arm allowed some other significant hardware changes, too. For a start, the new iMac 24-inch is much slimmer than its predecessor: thinner, even, than the first-generation iPhone – with its blue, green, pink, silver, yellow, orange, or purple chassis getting a flat rear panel on one side, and a 4.5K Retina display on the other.

Apple has been imaginative with the ports, too. All but the base iMac 24-inch has two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports, and gigabit ethernet, but the ethernet port is mounted on the external power brick rather than the back of the computer. That brick connects with a single, custom power cable that snakes up through the rear stand of the iMac.

As for which spec we'd pick, the mid-tier iMac 24-inch seems to strike the right balance. Unlike the entry-level, $1,299 version, which has an 8-core CPU but a 7-core GPU version of the Apple M1, the mid- and high-tier iMacs have the 8-core GPU instead. The $200 price difference between base and mid-spec also gets you the extra ports, plus the new, upgraded Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. Anybody who has lived with a recent Apple laptop probably already knows just how useful that fingerprint sensor can be day to day.

Of course, you could also opt to hold off, particularly if you're a patient power-user. Though the M1 chipset proved to be surprisingly potent, Apple's second version of an in-house SoC design – unofficially being referred to as the Apple M2 – is already believed to be in production. That could show up in the second half of 2021, likely in a new MacBook Pro first, but beyond that it's expected to find its way into a new, larger iMac.

Specifications for that all-in-one Mac haven't leaked yet, at least not in detail. However given the current iMac 24-inch fits a larger screen into about the same footprint as the discontinued iMac 21.5-inch, it's not hard to imagine that Apple could potentially put a 30-inch screen into the same sort of size machine as the current 27-inch model. Combined with more performance, that could prove to be a tempting upgrade for pro-users looking to make the transition to Apple Silicon but unwilling to compromise on screen size.

Just how the second half of 2021 will shake out in Mac remains to be seen. The new iMac 24-inch, meanwhile, will go up for preorder tomorrow, Friday, April 30, with shipments from the second half of May. If you want the green, pink, blue, or silver versions you'll find them in-store and online, while the other three finishes will only be offered online.