Once upon a time, Apple’s approach to monitors and displays was pretty simple: Apple made Macs, and Apple made displays for those Macs. This began with the company’s 15-inch Apple Studio Display back in 1998, and evolved over the course of 18 years, through an era of Apple Cinema Displays, and later Apple Thunderbolt Displays. Apple’s lineup of displays were some of the best designs we’ve ever seen in a display, and of course perfectly matched the aesthetic of Apple’s Macs.
Then something strange happened in 2016: Apple discontinued its Thunderbolt Display, and then surprised everyone by partnering with LG to produce displays for its Macs instead. As part of the deal, LG designed two specific UltraFine displays — a 4K and 5K version — in partnership with Apple. These displays were sold exclusively in Apple Stores, and were primarily targeted at users of Apple’s new Thunderbolt 3 equipped MacBook Pros.
Apple’s Return to Displays?
Although LG’s UltraFine displays were acceptable from a quality and technical standpoint, the black plastic screens left many Mac enthusiasts wanting for more, but despite hopes of a Twentieth-Aniversary Studio Display in 2018, it really appeared that Apple had abandoned the standalone display business entirely.
Of course, the vast majority of the computers Apple now sells — MacBooks and iMacs — include their own built-in displays, so there was arguably little need for the company to produce a perfectly matching standalone display to go with its computers. At the time, the Mac mini hadn’t been updated in a few years, and Apple’s new Mac Pro design was a shadow of its former glory. Last fall, however, Apple released a new Mac mini, sans display of course, and long-standing rumours of a modular Mac Pro seem like they’re about to come to fruition this spring, with Apple expected to at least offer us a glimpse of the new Mac Pro design at its Worldwide Developers’ Conference in June.
With a new Mac Pro on the horizon, it wasn’t surprising to hear reports that Apple would be getting back into the standalone display business by building a high-end display to accompany it. Rumours appeared suggesting that Apple was preparing to build a 31.6-inch 6K Apple Display that would also serve as its pilot project for moving to mini-LED technology.
What has remained less, clear, however, is what Apple is planning to do with its normal display offerings. Most originally assumed that LG, with its relatively inexpensive displays, would continue to fill that space for buyers of the lower-end Mac mini and those MacBook users seeking external displays.
However, when Apple begin to pull the LG UltraFine Displays from its stores last month, many started wondering if that was the first step to the company releasing its own lower-end 4K displays as well. After all, it seemed pretty odd that Apple would require customers purchasing a Mac mini in its stores to go and find an actual display for it somewhere else. Of course, Apple said nothing at all about it, but the LG UltraFine displays continued to disappear from Apple Store shelves, leaving customers to look elsewhere.
A New LG Display Mysteriously Appears
Now, however, it seems that Apple may have quietly snuck a replacement display from LG into its stores. TidBits reports seeing a new 23.7-inch LG UltraFine Display on the shelves of an Apple Store — an almost-unheard-of LG model — 24MD4KL — that seems to only have appeared in certain physical retail stores.
TidBits writer Julio Ojeda-Zapata went to his local Apple Store in Minneapolis to try and grab the 21.5-inch LG UltraFine 4K display before it disappeared completely from shelves.
While the 21.5-inch version was still available in that particular store, the Apple employee that Ojeda-Zapata encountered tried to up-sell him to a new 23.7-inch version that he had never before seen.
In fact, when Ojeda-Zapata attempted to research the display in question, he could find nothing about it on either Apple’s online store, or LG’s web site, or really anywhere else.
A Google search for the exact model number turned up the expected certification pages to show that the product existed and had passed regulatory muster, but no other information. The version seen in the Apple Store was also explicitly labeled as being designed for Mac users, but omitted any mention of it being a “4K” display.
Ojeda-Zapata visited another local Apple Store to inquire about available Mac displays, and in this case, the employee had no idea about a 23.7-inch display, but was able to locate the product in Apple’s database on his iPhone terminal, confirming that it was official.
Oddly, whatever the strategy is between Apple and LG, it appears to be a very quiet one. Neither company has said anything about the display, and Apple PR has not yet responded to any requests for comment. Most Apple retail employees seem to have no idea the display exists.
While it seems like a safe bet that Apple intends to sell this new LG display as the answer to the discontinued UltraFine displays, rather than building its own, it’s also rather odd that the resolution of the display — 3360 by 1890 — doesn’t even quite qualify it as a Retina or 4K display.
In other words, while it sits right in between the old LG 21.5- and 27-inch displays in size, it’s a downgrade in terms of resolution and quality.
Our guess is that this new display is primarily targeted at providing an inexpensive option for Mac mini buyers, many of whom will need to walk out of the store with a display to accompany their computer purchase.
While it will of course still work as an external monitor for MacBook users, and fits about as well into the Apple ecosystem as the prior LG models did, with ThunderBolt 3 and USB-C ports built in and the necessary cables for easy connection to a Mac, those looking for higher resolutions or a greater variety of ports will still need to look elsewhere, at least for now.