• Should You Buy a New Mac Now or Wait?

    December 10th, 2005

    As silly questions go, this might seem to sit on the top of the list. After all, Apple recently upgraded most of its Macs, except for the Mac mini (if you can forget that allegedly “silent” upgrade where slightly faster processors appear in some units). True, the upgrades may not amount to much, particularly in the case of the PowerBook, but it should be enough to reinvigorate the line for a short time anyway.

    Or has that short time expired?

    Well, here’s the problem, at least for Apple. Both rumor sites and industry analysts expect Apple to introduce the first Macs with Intel processors in January. They might not be for sale immediately, but the expectations are high enough to make you wonder whether putting a Mac on your holiday shopping list is a terribly good idea. Yes, you know that iPods are just flying off the shelves, and Apple is struggling to keep up with the demand. But what about a new computer with the Apple logo on it?

    I don’t pretend to know, although there is some speculation out there that laptop demand may be cooling in anticipation of those new models. You don’t really hear much about the Mac mini these days, of course. It’s widely expected that Power Macs will be at the end of the food chain when it comes to the great MacIntel transition, so a PowerPC with dual core will have to suffice. The iMac G5 is getting rave reviews from just about everyone who has examined the product in depth, but I’ll reserve judgment for a few days until my examination of a newly delivered unit is complete.

    So what should you do? Well, because an analyst says Apple is going to do something doesn’t mean the company will really go ahead and do it. Apple delights in confounding both its fans and critics, and there would hardly be any element of surprise if everything folks anticipate is really announced in some form or another next month. At the same time, the Macworld Expo is a place where new Apple hardware of some sort will be introduced, and it won’t just be an iPod update. Last year brought us the Mac mini, for example.

    Now if you’ve been following my commentaries for any length of time, you know that I usually don’t take rumors seriously. At the same time, it is generally known that Intel will be releasing a new processor, code named Yonah, early next year and it’s ideal for laptops and small desktops. Will it arrive early enough and in sufficient quantities to power a new iBook, for example? I suppose if a new iBook and perhaps a Mac mini, which contains similar hardware, was announced in January and shipped, say, by the end of February, it would satisfy those hopes and dreams. Of course, it would also halt sales of those two models dead in their tracks, so I rather suspect Apple would want to be able to shipping in reasonable quantity within days rather than weeks.

    So what do you do now? Do you wait for the new models, with no guarantee they’ll appear? Well, whether Apple expected to get them out, a lot of folks will be disappointed if the first MacIntels are not unveiled. Sure, Apple has only promised they’ll show up by June of 2006, and if it held off till then, you can’t say it didn’t keep its promise. But the psychological factor, long anticipated, will grow substantially well before then. Does Apple have a choice?

    If you want to buy a new Power Mac, it’s fair to say that it won’t be updated for a while. I’m on the fence about the iMac; it was just upgraded in September, and a fourth month lifecycle is a little short. At the same time, it’s always possible that Apple will expand the iMac’s media offerings, with a TV tuner/recorder, but that could also be supplied as an outboard box, meaning it’ll work, like Elgato’s EyeTV, with any Mac with sufficient processing power. So I wouldn’t give up on the iMac.

    On the other hand, the iBook is feeling a bit long in the tooth, and some feel it’s overpriced compared to the Windows-based competition. The Mac mini, on the other hand, is still a great computer for those of you on a budget, where maximum power isn’t all that important. It does a lot better job than you have a right to expect, so I wouldn’t set this model aside.

    Now if the iBook does go MacIntel within the next few weeks, where does that leave the PowerBook? The last upgrade showed signs of desperation, because it was limited to a screen with more pixels, and minor hardware updates that might eke a bit more performance, but nothing you’d readily notice. A new iBook could likely gut PowerBook sales for a time, unless it goes Intel right away also. If not, it’s always possible Apple will reduce prices sufficiently to boost sales until the line is upgraded.

    For now, of course, if you really want to buy someone a new computer this holiday season, I suppose you could always get a gift card, and let them redeem it next year, when the new product picture becomes a little less confusing.

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