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The 24-inch iMac: Are We Missing Something?

All right, I’ll confess. I’ve not used a the new, large-screen iMac, I haven’t even touched one, but I have a pretty good idea of the user experience, since I’ve worked on 23-inch and 24-inch LCD displays for several years. Since it’s a tad larger than the former, you can expect text to be a little more readable, especially in small sizes. It will also be supremely fast, as one expects of any computer equipped with Intel’s new Core 2 Duo chip.

The specs are pretty spot-on for the power user who doesn’t need lots of space inside for extra hard drives, a spare optical drive, four processors and all the rest. There’s even a FireWire 800 port, a critical extra if you need a speedy external drive for backups and perhaps video rendering. In fact, even gaming results appear to be decent according to Apple’s own benchmarks, although I suspect the dedicated gamers in our audience will want something better. On the other hand, some of you don’t believe Apple when it tells you how fast its computers run, so maybe you should just wait for the independent reviewers to have their say about performance.

I’m also pleased that Apple actually got the basic consumer version of the iMac down just below the magic $1,000 figure. Yes I am sure that the “nasty, noisy, negativists,” as my friend, Stanton Friendman, refers to skeptics, will tell us all that it’s still too expensive, that you can put together a comparable PC box with a 17-inch flat-panel display for $400 plus change.

But I’ve already dealt with that subject at length, as most of you know. Instead I have another priority this time, which is whether having only one truly upgradeable product line is the right decision for Apple. Yes, an all-in-one is a very convenient product for many of you. At the same time, what happens if you need an extra optical drive, a speedier graphics card, and all the rest of the things you can put inside a regular minitower, even if it doesn’t look as pretty?

I have no doubt that the 24-inch iMac is an awesome computer. I have little doubt it may even cannibalize sales from the Mac Pro, although I suppose a sale is a sale. However, Apple limits your choices severely if you require true expandability. The cheapest Mac Pro, if you pick the slowest processor and hard drive, is $2,124. Sure it packs quite a wallop in benchmark tests, but you still have to buy the display, unless you have one at hand of course.

Now imagine, just imagine, that the guts of the iMac were placed in a box with a slim form factor, with a discrete removable graphics card, plus enough room for one extra PCI Express card, and an extra hard drive, and sufficient memory slots to justify those 64-bit processors. Now imagine if this computer was priced as you’d expect the iMac to be priced without the monitor, say starting at $999 or thereabouts.

Yes, I’m returning to my old argument about the headless iMac, the computer I first envisioned several years ago, before the Mac mini debuted. However, the Mac mini, which is a chore to even open for a RAM upgrade, is closer in concept to a headless iBook. I think Apple needs to deliver something more.

Is there a real demand for such a beast? Well, those of you who have commented so far on the subject seem to indicate there is. Just look at all the orphaned monitors out there, for example, and certainly a business or educational institution would want to repurpose those things and hook them up to a band new box.

Naturally, you can’t ask Apple about the suitability of such a product and whether they intend to produce one. They don’t comment on such things. Or they will just dismiss the idea, even if the rollout is only weeks away.

But one you consider the huge, gray void that exists between the Mac mini and the Mac Pro, which cannot be filled economically or sensibly by an all-in-one solution, you wonder why Apple hasn’t entered that arena.

Today, they would expect you to just buy an iMac, and maybe take that extra monitor and use it to expand your desktop. I’d like to see Apple deliver another option. What do you think?