Opinion: An Apple display with built-in eGPU could be a smart move right now

Many were disappointed by Apple’s apparent decision to abandon the display market in favor of recommending LG models. While LG’s 5K UltraFine is an excellent display in many ways, neither the design nor the build quality live up to Apple standards.

As I said in an earlier piece, it may be shallow to care about the aesthetics of the monitor, but a display is something we stare at all day long. Given that part of the reason we buy Apple kit is the beautiful designs, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect an officially-recommended display to live up to the same standard.

Apple could satisfy many people by simply putting the 5K UltraFine innards into an Ive-designed casing. But I think a new Apple display could also help the company solve a second – less shallow – problem …

One of the key challenges faced by Apple is its somewhat schizophrenic position. Apple is, today, a consumer electronics company which also makes a few business products. It’s entirely understandable that it would focus most of its attention first on consumers rather than professionals, and second on the iPhone rather than Macs.

But many professional users feel aggrieved because the company grew to be successful on the back of our loyalty. Early Mac enthusiasts were writers, photographers, musicians, videographers and the like. We were the people who were evangelists for the platform and the company, and introduced Macs to our friends and colleagues. Without our enthusiasm, Apple could never have achieved the success it has. Had we not helped Apple turn the Mac into a popular and profitable product, there would never have been an iPod, iPhone or iPad.

Some pro users feel the company has all but abandoned them, adopting a ‘thanks for your past support but we don’t really need you now’ attitude.


For example, while the majority of readers found that the MacBook Pro switch to all-USB-C ports wasn’t a big deal, others were still left feeling that Apple didn’t appreciate all the kit they needed to connect to their machines.

Worse, the company’s flagship Mac, the Mac Pro, is now more than three years old without an update. We don’t even know whether or not Apple plans to update the machine: while Tim Cook has sought to reassure us that there are more ‘great desktops’ on the way, it was notable that he made no specific reference to the Mac Pro.

It’s not possible for Apple to please all of the people all of the time. But given that GPUs are increasingly as important as – and for some applications, arguably more important than – CPUs, it seems to me that Apple could at least partly mollify its pro users by offering them the option of an external display with a beefy graphics card built into it.

Thunderbolt 3 provides the bandwidth needed for high-performance external GPUs, and we demonstrated yesterday just how much difference they can make to both work and play. There was a report last year that Apple was at least exploring this route, though things have gone very quiet since.

This approach would allow Apple to pitch its machines more at a mass-market audience, while offering pro users the ability to boost their capabilities. Build-to-order displays with varying tiers of graphics cards could work in exactly the same way as build-to-order Macs now.

While we’re on the topic of Thunderbolt 3, let me throw one wildcard possibility out there. With the prospect of Apple making the switch from Lightning to USB-C connectors for future iPhones and iPads, what if Apple could find a way to make it Thunderbolt 3-compatible?

This is admittedly a pretty far-fetched idea. Thunderbolt is an Intel spec, so enabling it on an ARM-powered device would be decidedly non-trivial – for reasons of processing power, bandwidth, power consumption and cost. There is also the question of whether Intel would ever agree to license the technology for use in a non-Intel chip.

But in the unlikely event that all those obstacles could be overcome, that would make for a future iPad rather closer to Apple’s claim that an iPad Pro can be a full PC replacement. The claim may be justifiable today for those with basic computing needs, but it’s nowhere close to true for pro users. Thunderbolt 3 compatibility, together with the continued increase in iPad performance, could conceivably change that for some at least.

What are your thoughts? Should Apple make a new Apple Thunderbolt 3 Display with a range of build-in GPU options? And do you think we’ll ever see Thunderbolt 3 in an iPad? As ever, please take our poll and share your input in the comments.

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Concept image: Edgar Rios

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