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  • Memo to Apple: Please Don’t Discontinue Cheap Macs!

    July 9th, 2007

    There are troubling signals in the wind about the possible fates of the 17-inch iMac and the Mac mini. None of this has been confirmed, of course, but when it seems that a product is not getting much promotion, you have to wonder whether it’s destined for the closeout rack.

    When it comes to the mini, I suppose its obituary has been written and rewritten for a while now. You don’t hear much about it, and it’s been a while since the product line was updated. Even the recent speed bump for the MacBook, with which it shares many internals, didn’t migrate to the Mac mini.

    Now it may just be that Apple has lost interest in building products below the magic thousand dollar plateau, simply because sales are tepid. More profits are to be made with more expensive gear, and it’s certainly true that Apple’s sales growth is exceeding that of the PC market as a whole. Here in the U.S., for example, Apple’s note-book share is now over 14% in the retail chain, even though the cheapest MacBook is $1,099.

    So in that respect, Apple isn’t being hurt by lower-cost products. Or maybe they are, but not sufficient to warrant price cuts or new entry-level models.

    Now in retrospect, I wonder if Apple didn’t grudgingly enter the cheap PC arena. They had been urged to do so for so long, particularly by tech pundits who claimed that Apple couldn’t succeed if it didn’t have something in its product lineup that had a price close to that of a basic Dell or E-Machines.

    However, the Mac mini is not something you’d casually dismiss. True, it has some serious design shortcomings, such as the convoluted process of opening the case and adding memory, which was made even more complicated on the Intel-based model. But that’s not something that couldn’t be addressed in a more carefully considered redesign.

    Besides, the average Mac mini user is probably not going to upgrade memory after the initial purchase, so that annoying task can be left to the dealer.

    In fact, I know several people who swear by their Mac minis. They upgraded from much older Macs, so the mini’s apparent performance shortcomings do not exist for them. What they have is a simple, reliable personal computer that just gets out of the way and allows them to concentrate on getting their work done. Sure, it has integrated graphics, but folks who aren’t into gaming may not care, because the mini is perfectly capable of handling digital video with aplomb, particularly if you max out the memory and didn’t buy the original single-core Intel model.

    I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but some mini owners have even set up their computers to serve duty as Web servers. They may seem highly underpowered for such chores, but if you don’t saddle the sites with high-bandwidth multimedia content, they are probably powerful enough to serve up less-demanding content.

    But if sales haven’t otherwise taken off, I can see the wisdom of discontinuing the Mac mini. That is, unless Apple really does have an upgrade in mind, and no, I’m not talking about the Apple TV. It does seem interesting, though, that Apple TV and the new AirPort Extreme base station both have case designs based on the mini. So Apple isn’t abandoning that form factor. Maybe they’ll surprise us yet!

    Then there’s the claim that the 17-inch iMac will be gone when that model gets its next upgrade. When will that happen? Well, I can see where Apple isn’t inclined to want to upstage the iPhone, so you probably won’t see anything for another week or two, though I could be wrong. However, such an upgrade would not come later than the middle of August, the better to guarantee sales to students before classes begin, although we’re well into the school year here in Arizona by then.

    Now if the upgraded 20-inch iMac’s price were reduced from its present $1,499 to $1,099, you might not miss the 17-inch version all that much, even though its starting price was $100 cheaper. Also, the slim, all-in-one style doesn’t seem to come into its own until you migrate to the 20 inches. The 17-inch model’s screen seems overpowered by the vast white space beneath it.

    As I said, I have no special insights into Apple’s product plans, nor do I pretend to be a marketing expert. But I do believe that folks who don’t have a lot to spend on a new computer should be able to buy a Mac without stretching their bank accounts or credit cards beyond their limits.



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    7 Responses to “Memo to Apple: Please Don’t Discontinue Cheap Macs!”

    1. Andrew de Ridder says:

      This is silly. Seriously, if you know anything about Apple, you should know how their pricing works. Usually, the prices of things stay the same. Every Mac i have brought has cost about the same amount of money. The only thing that changes is what you get for your money. Apple does know the importance of having a cheap Mac, and they care a lot about this market. If the 17” iMac does go, the price of the 20” WILL drop to cover the gap. It is about getting more bang, for the same amount of buck.

    2. This is silly. Seriously, if you know anything about Apple, you should know how their pricing works. Usually, the prices of things stay the same. Every Mac i have brought has cost about the same amount of money. The only thing that changes is what you get for your money. Apple does know the importance of having a cheap Mac, and they care a lot about this market. If the 17” iMac does go, the price of the 20” WILL drop to cover the gap. It is about getting more bang, for the same amount of buck.

      That's a pretty big price drop, my friend. And the Mac mini is still a question mark.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. John Fallon says:

      Some people may not want the relatively large 20 inch iMac, also. A 17 inch monitor suited many of us for a long time, without taking up the space of a 20 incher.

    4. Dana Sutton says:

      As 17" monitors become obsolescent and suppliers stop making them available to Apple cheaply, the cost of continuing this model would skyrocket. These days, to offer a Mac with less than a 250 mb. hard disk Apple would have to start raiding museums, and the same principle applies to small monitors.

    5. David says:

      I think Apple would be foolish to remove their "gateway" machines from the lineup because it will be that much harder for users who are used to seeing $400 desktops and $750 notebooks to be attracted to Mac.
      I agree with Dana that supply and demand for LCDs is forcing the 17" out of existence so Apple will be forced to remove their smallest iMac from the market.

    6. Dana Sutton says:

      Flatscreen monitors are getting cheaper to manufacture all the time, Apple can reduce the price on the 20"  model while maintaining the same profit margin, and market it as an attractive "gateway" model, 

    7. silvarios says:

      The supposition about the limited supply of 17″ LCDs would make sense except that Apple quite clearly sells a 17″ MacBook Pro. What would be the technical limitation of simply using the same display in both the iMac and the MacBook Pro.

      Nathan

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