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  • More iMac Conventional Wisdom — Maybe

    July 30th, 2007

    It’s hard to believe that the first iMac appeared nearly nine years ago, that famous Bondi blue pear-shaped personal computer that proved to one and all that Apple was here to stay. In fact, I had a prototype model, although it soon had to be returned to Apple after a firmware update killed it.

    After going through several generations with different color schemes and speedier processors, the iMac was reinvented as a lamp base with a display that was fitted onto an elaborate articulated arm.

    Well, maybe that was too radical a form factor, because sales reportedly didn’t quite match those of the original. Regardless, the most recent iteration of the iMac is probably what it might have been in the fast place if the innards could have been miniaturized sufficiently. In other words, a slim display with the computer built-in. Indeed, the most recent incarnation is somewhat thinner than the original, and no doubt the size of the components will be reduced even further over time.

    But today’s iMac hasn’t been changed since last year, despite speculation that we can almost smell its presence and that it’ll show up any day now. In fact, it could come within hours after this column is posted, or maybe not. Not even the rumor sites have a clue.

    So how will the iMac change when the long-awaited upgrade finally sees the light of day? Will Apple find a way to make it thinner, to reduce the large expanse at the bottom to give a sleeker look? What about ditching the plastics and going for brushed aluminum, similar to the most recent style of Apple’s own displays? Or would that just be taking a step backward?

    What is probably certain, although I do not pretend to have any secret information, is that many of the components that are now part of the MacBook Pro, which features Intel’s Santa Rosa chipset, would find their way into the iMac. But that’s nothing different as far as packaging is concerned, because the iMac’s internals have always been based on those of an Apple note-book.

    So far, there are no surprises here. All this can be gleaned from past history and trends, and there’s little reason to think that Apple would have any incentive to change. After all, roughly two thirds of Mac sales these days are in the note-book category. Desktops are doing well, but there’s little incentive for any major design alterations.

    The other brand of speculation has it that the 17-inch iMac is destined for the closeout racks. Why should this be? Well, perhaps the lower prices in raw LCD panels have made it possible to deliver a 20-inch version for almost the same price as 17 inches. That would be nice, of course, but if millions of Mac users are happily buying note-book computers with 17-inch displays, why should a desktop version be considered unacceptable?

    I don’t pretend to understand the reasoning behind this theory. After all, if LCD panels are cheaper, then the price of an entry-level iMac with updated processors could also be reduced proportionately. Would you mind paying $799 or $899 for one? After all, original-style iMacs and its direct descendant, the eMac, were priced at that level.

    Would it cannibalize sales, perhaps, from the Mac mini? Maybe, but another piece of conventional wisdom has it that the mini isn’t doing that well anyway, and could, perhaps, join the 17-inch iMac as a discontinued product.

    As someone who has long championed low-cost Macs, this would be a sad day, should both models be discontinued. But if people aren’t buying them in sufficient quantities, Apple would have no business justification to keep building them. That is, after all, why they’re in existence in the first place. No, it’s not to make you feel cool because you own a product adorned with the Apple label.

    But if the very cheapest Macs are no longer going to be produced, I might as well throw out one more thing for your consideration, since that’s how I started all this discussion a few years back: The headless iMac.

    Indeed, that’s how I originally envisioned what eventually became the Mac mini, only I was thinking of something with the guts of an iMac, not an iBook and — later — the MacBook.

    So what about taking the internal workings of the iMac and delivering a minitower computer with, say, room for two hard drives and an extra expansion slot? Is there sufficient potential demand for such a product or does Apple prefer to believe you’d rather buy an iMac or upgrade to a Mac Pro?

    I don’t pretend to have the product research in hand, but I have long believed that there is a wide gulf between the Mac mini and the Mac Pro that the iMac simply doesn’t fill. But only Apple knows for sure.



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    8 Responses to “More iMac Conventional Wisdom — Maybe”

    1. Dana Sutton says:

      I agree about the conspicuous gap between the iMac and the Mac Pro. And the iMac has two things that make it unattractive to many potential purchasers: a.) start loading it with extra memory and the price point leaps up dramatically; b.) the iMac makes great sense if you happen to need both a computer and a monitor, but if you already own a good monitor it looks a lot less attractive: why pay for something you already have? If, for example, you happen to own a 20″ or 23″ Cinema Display, you find yourself looking at the choice between a Mini and a Mac Pro, a gap which is, to put it mildly, noticeable. (This would be less of an issue if Apple would make an iMac that could drive multiple monitors, but there’s no reason to think such a model is in the works).

      And Apple has plenty of reason to continue the Mini. A few years ago I visited a Mac-oriented computer lab in which most of the time the computers were being controlled from the front of the room via Remote Desktop and were little more than slave terminals. Even when the students were working independently their needs were pretty bare-bones and the first generation iMacs or eMacs in the lab were very adequate for the purpose. If you are a purchaser for a school system, the price point of the Mini must look very attractive, and it is quite competitive with Dells and so forth. If Apple were to phase out the Mini, that would mean walking away from a large part of the education market, and this would be all the more so if they simultaneously phased out the 17″ iMac. I can’t imagine Apple being dumb enough to do that.

      Of course Gene’s headless iMac would address both these concerns, wouldn’t it?

    2. Fred Hamranhansenhansen says:

      I think the gap between mini and Pro is deliberate. Even hooking a display onto a computer is much harder than you would think today, with VGA, DVI, dual DVI, HDMI, and the digital cables are expensive and short. If Apple is selling 64% notebooks then if only 11% are iMacs then that is 75% integrated systems.

      Also I think Multi-Touch is coming big time to Mac OS. An external display with touch would need yet another cable (right now you have graphics, USB, FireWire, and AC) that is even more reason to integrate. I can imagine a bigger iMac with 4 CPU’s rather than a mid-range tower.

    3. James Quinn says:

      What about this drop the 17″ iMac and add a 27″ at the top end? Think about it does the iMac not already look a great deal like a HD TV that you might spot at Target so with the Apple TV in mind why not make the iMac also an HD TV? They to have been coming down in price…….so maybe tying the iMac now capable or running Windows with the use of Parallels and soon Boot Camp also able to be your HD TV? Attach an Apple TV to finish off the set and Apple RULES the Livingroom.

      Pagan jim

    4. Dana Sutton says:

      Perhaps any Mac with a 16 x 9 monitor could be made to function as a HTDV right now if some third-party mfr. would make an external tuner (compare the similar radio tuners that have been made, such as Griffin’s Shark).

      What would be the greatest advantage of such a lashup? Well, maybe this. I don’t know about TiVO, I don’t have one, but the DVR box supplied by my cable co. (Time Warner) doesn’t allow me to dump recorded material onto another h. d. so I can get it in my computer, burn DVD’s, and build a private library of stuff I’ve recorded. No doubt this is deliberate, because of copyright considerations. And yet this is precisely what I want to be able to do. I want something that allows me to record from TV and then gives me the freedom to manipulate what I’ve recorded (including light editing, such as deleting ads) and archive it on the medium of my choice. And in an ideal world, the equipment to do this would be wireless, because I keep my Mac in my office and my HDTV in my den.

    5. Some people buy the 17-inch iMac for its space-saving form factor.

    6. Bill from Michigan says:

      I must say that I would definitely be in the market for something like this. My wife, who is inordinately fond of her Windoze machine (IMO), has said she could use a Mac with one caveat: she wants her existing monitor, mouse, and keyboard. However, I would prefer more performance than the Mac mini. So what is the result? We’re waiting for a Core Duo 2 mini… or what Gene is describing.

      We’ll see!

      (She needs the existing peripherals for accessibility reasons.)

    7. John B says:

      I’ll say it again: I want a miniPro™. Maybe next Tuesday?

    8. RobInNZ says:

      I agree about the conspicuous gap between the iMac and the Mac Pro. And the iMac has two things that make it unattractive to many potential purchasers: a.) start loading it with extra memory and the price point leaps up dramatically; b.) the iMac makes great sense if you happen to need both a computer and a monitor, but if you already own a good monitor it looks a lot less attractive: why pay for something you already have? If, for example, you happen to own a 20″ or 23″ Cinema Display, you find yourself looking at the choice between a Mini and a Mac Pro, a gap which is, to put it mildly, noticeable. (This would be less of an issue if Apple would make an iMac that could drive multiple monitors, but there’s no reason to think such a model is in the works).

      And Apple has plenty of reason to continue the Mini. A few years ago I visited a Mac-oriented computer lab in which most of the time the computers were being controlled from the front of the room via Remote Desktop and were little more than slave terminals. Even when the students were working independently their needs were pretty bare-bones and the first generation iMacs or eMacs in the lab were very adequate for the purpose. If you are a purchaser for a school system, the price point of the Mini must look very attractive, and it is quite competitive with Dells and so forth. If Apple were to phase out the Mini, that would mean walking away from a large part of the education market, and this would be all the more so if they simultaneously phased out the 17″ iMac. I can’t imagine Apple being dumb enough to do that.

      Of course Gene’s headless iMac would address both these concerns, wouldn’t it?

      The present revisions of iMac do drive a second external monitor as a full second desktop, not just screen spanning.

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