New iMacs likely to have Magic Keyboards with Touch Bars (perhaps Intel’s Optane, as well)

Now that Apple has confirmed to Daring Fireball that new iMacs are coming this year, recent patent applications show that we can probably expect a Magic Keyboard with a Touch Bar on such all-in-ones — or at least offered as an option. 

Patents 20170090596, 20170090597 and 20170090654 are for a “keyboard with adaptive input row.” Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “The adaptive input row may be positioned within an opening of a device and include a cover for receiving a touch and a display that is configured to present an adaptable set of indicia. The adaptive input row may also include one or more sensors for detecting the location of a touch and/or the magnitude of a force of the touch. The adaptive input row may be positioned adjacent or proximate to a keyboard of the electronic device.”

In the patent filing, Apple notes that user input to a computer includes a keyboard having dedicated keys or buttons. The operation of each key or button may be tied to a particular function or command. However, traditional keyboard systems lack the flexibility to accommodate expansive features offered by newer devices, operating systems, and software. 

A traditional keyboard may include some keys that may be used to perform multiple or alternative functions by pressing the key at the same time as a "shift" or "function" button. However, such configurations provide limited flexibility and can be awkward or non-intuitive for a user to operate. Apple wants to overcome this.

As for new iMacs, Apple told Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighitold TechCrunch (https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/04/apple-pushes-the-reset-button-on-the-mac-pro/) that the company will be introducing new iMacs this year with unspecified spec bumps that will make them more attractive to those pro users and that they’re being worked on now.

Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller also emphasized to Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller that Macs are still very important to the company. The Mac user base is nearing 100 million users. As a business it’s also nearing a $25 billion run rate and is close to being a Fortune 100 company on its own. Apple now ships computers at a ratio of 80% notebooks to 20% desktop computers. The MacBook Pro sales have been strong, with 20% growth year-over-year in fiscal quarter one.

As far as the 2017 iMac, it could sport Intel’s “super-fast” Optane memory and SSD products. PC World says that the first Optane products will likely be SSDs and reach enthusiasts' computers this year. Optane memory DIMMs, which can be plugged into existing memory slots, are also coming.

Optane technology was introduced at IDF 2015 and will first come to market in a new line of high-endurance, high-performance SSDs beginning in 2016, according to Intel. The technology combines 3D XPoint non-volatile memory media with the company’s system memory controller, interface hardware and software IP. 

3D XPoint technology was unveiled by Intel and Micron in August 2015, creating what the companies say is the first new memory category in more than 25 years. 3D Xpoint memory media can be 10 times denser than DRAM, and is reportedly 1,000 times faster and durable than flash storage. Intel has demonstrated Optane storage operating at approximately seven times faster than its current SSDs.