It has to be frustrating. Every single day, there are hundreds of newarticles written about the iPhone, about what it is, what it isn’t, and lots of stuff way in between. About the only news that actually concerns Apple’s former “main” product line, personal computers, is the recent report that sales of MacBooks and MacBook Pros have topped 14% in the U.S. retail market. That would be unheard of just a year or two ago.
Sure, Apple’s note-books just got minor speed bump enhancements, so they are current with Intel’s state of the art; well at least the MacBook Pros, which sport the new Santa Rosa chipsets and all. So it’s not as if Apple hasn’t been lying low.
Then again, there hasn’t been any action on the iMac front in months, and I have several friends and clients that are looking to buy one once they’re assured that the model they choose won’t become obsolete the very next day. But other than enhancing the processors, graphic chips and maybe adding more drive storage and RAM, what is Apple to do? Make the white case brushed aluminum? Does that really make all that much of a difference, except to those of who feel that externals need to be upgraded every so often to stay relevant?
There’s also the Mac mini that some suggest is due for the closeout bin any day now, because not an awful lot are being sold. This would be unfortunate, because I think the mini is an excellent computer for the small business environment. In fact, I gather they’re even being used as cheap Web servers, which argues strongly in favor of their reliability. On the other hand, I suppose this model has been Apple’s reluctant stepchild. I suspect they were pushed kicking and screaming into entering the cheap PC arena, and it tends to be ignored more than it should.
But everyone I know who has purchased a Mac mini absolutely loves it. From the tiny form factor to generally good performance — if you’re not into playing computer gamesÂ of running 3D rendering operations of course — it can definitely get the job done. It’s also a wonderful way to leverage the display and input devices you may have salvaged from the last PC.
I can’t say much more than you know about the Mac Pro. I haven’t added one to my roster yet, but the folks I know who use them say they are superb professional workstations, capable of absolutely blistering performance even if you don’t possess the cash to upgrade to eight cores.
But there is still something missing in Apple’s lineup, and it’s a model I’ve argued for previously, and others have as well.
It’s an expandable desktop computer with, say, the guts of the iMac, but without the built-in display. Now I realize Apple made its reputation on all-in-one computers, and certainly a note-book fits into that category. But if you want a full-blown desktop with easy expandability beyond a memory chip or two, you’re forced to go with a Mac Pro, and is probably too much of a computer for most of you.
So what does Apple offer to fill this market? No, the Mac mini won’t cut it. It’s not that a computer with the innards of the MacBook is necessarily a bad thing. But it’s not built for simple expansion. Even adding RAM requires flexibility with a putty knife, and that strikes me as an awfully silly design choice.
But what about a middle-of-the-road expandable box with, say, two internal slots (one for the graphic card of course), a second hard drive and maybe half the RAM slots of the Mac Pro? Equip it with the same processors as the iMac, from the Intel Core 2 Duo family, and sell it for, say, $999.
I can, of course, see the arguments against such a box. It will cannibalize sales of the iMac, and thus work against Apple’s profit margin. But a sale is a sale, and I can see legitimate reasons why the iMac won’t be suitable for a particular purpose, and the Mac Pro would be gross overkill, just as the Mac mini would be severely underpowered.
Of course, having a logical solution doesn’t mean Apple is going to listen. One of the pleasing aspects of their product lineup is that it remains simple across the board. They don’t enter every niche, and it’s pretty easy to figure out which is which. You don’t have to cope with a thousand and one meaningless model names and configurations to figure out the differences. I can even see the sensitivity against the proliferation of products after the Performa debacle of the 1990s.
But I also see where Apple is not offering sufficient choices for their customers, and don’t get me started about a thin and light note-book.
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