Apple just released an insanely high-resolution screen with a computer inside of it. Here are the highlights of what you can do with the new iMac, according to Phil Schiller, the company's head of marketing: edit video and photos, read magazines ... um, look at the pretty app icons.
"There has never been a display to show off that great new user interface as beautiful as this new Retina 5K display," Schiller says on stage at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California. "When you read text, it looks incredible, crisp and sharp, with magazine quality. If you work with photos, you'll have never worked on a desktop display with this level of detail."
You may have noticed a major omission: watching video. That's because there's basically nothing available in 5K definition. Most movies and television shows are made for mainstream high-definition TVs like the one you probably have in your living room. The iMac's screen is seven times sharper than that. You can still watch an HD movie full-screen on the new 27-inch iMac, but it'll just blow the picture up to fit. You won't be able to see every pore on Daenerys Targaryen's cheek.
If you're the kind of person who drops a lot of money on fancy new things, you might have an Ultra-HD TV at home. That has a 4K resolution. (In technical terms, that's one less K than the iMac.) But even 4K content won't take full advantage of Apple's new computer. Apple declined to comment.
Schiller is right that the new iMac is "an incredible feat of engineering." It's just not a very practical product for regular people — in case the $2,499 price tag didn't give that away. They should have just called it the iMac Pro. Film editors and professional photographers will spill gallons of saliva when they see this thing in the Apple Store, especially the ones who can expense it.
"It's really for high-power creatives," says J.P. Gownder, an analyst at Forrester Research. "It's not really pitched to the average user, not by price point. The days of the $2,500 computer is long past for the mass market."
As a consumer product, the 5K iMac stumbles for the same reason most people aren't buying 4K TVs. There's nothing to watch. Gownder points out that networks don't broadcast the Super Bowl in 4K. Or just about anything else, really. You can't buy a Blu-ray that supports 4K today, and one isn't expected to hit the market until late-next year at the earliest. HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Major League Baseball? No Ultra HD.
Amazon.com has a tiny selection of video available in that format. Netflix’s 4K roster is limited mainly to Sony’s newer film releases, "Breaking Bad," NBC's "The Blacklist" and Netflix’s own shows. Despite those slim pickings, Netflix just upped the cost of Ultra-HD access to $11.99.
"The cost to deliver those bits is so expensive," says Dan Rayburn, an analyst at market researcher Frost & Sullivan. "You have a lot of issues with 4K. You have a device problem — most people don't have devices that support it. You have a bandwidth problem. And you have a content problem. On top of that, you have a business problem."
Shooting in 5K is very expensive, Rayburn says, and few Americans have a fast enough Internet connection at home to stream the video. An Ultra-HD iMac or Apple TV set or some other pretty screen isn't going to solve those problems. But man, would you look at those icons.