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The iPhone Feeding Frenzy Report: Safe to Talk About Macs Again?

After all the heightened anticipation, and this past weekend’s excitement, it’s clear that, despite a few blips along the way from AT&T in handling online provisioning, the vast majority of new iPhone owners absolutely love their new gadget. When was the last time you saw that level of excitement focused on a mobile phone — smart or otherwise?

It’s clear that this feeding frenzy isn’t going to end any time soon. With estimates of initial sales ranging from 200,000 to over 700,000, I suppose you might wonder if the initial demand for the iPhone is akin to that of a summer movie. The first week, box office is spectacular, but there’s a rapid fall-off in the weeks to come.

However, the iPhone resides in a totally different universe. Not only is it expensive to acquire one, but you must sign a two-year contract with AT&T’s wireless service, or add the iPhone to an existing plan. So it’s definitely not a casual purchase, and unless something changes in the public’s attitude, it’s on the road to remaining a smashing success.

But I’m here to talk, however briefly, about a different Apple product line, one that has been forgotten in recent months. Yes, Macs, of course.

After suggesting that Apple needed to add a mid-priced expandable Mac, I see that others have entered the game with similar ideas. Take a recent column from Macworld’s Dan Frakes, where he refers to this suggested product as the “Mythical Midrange Mac Minitower—MMMM for short.” Nice appellation, so I, too, will also call my pet product the MMMM.

Dan suggests a price between $1,499 and $1,599, but I think that brings it far too close to the cheapest Mac Pro. The product I envision contains the guts of an iMac without the display, so I would expect the selling price to come in around $999 for the entry-level version. Otherwise, I agree with Dan that there should be two expansion slots, one for the standard graphics card, the other for a second graphics card or another type of expansion, such as an additional network port. There would also be a second hard drive slot.

As with the Mac Pro, you should be able to add memory, select a different graphics card, and the size of the first and optional second hard drive. That should cover what most of you will need.

I suppose Apple might fear that the MMMM’s marketing positioning and features will somehow cannibalize sales of the Mac Pro, and they might be right, in part. It might also steal sales from the iMac, from folks who already have a display, or choose to buy a different screen from a third-party manufacturer.

However, I consider a sale is a sale, and there is a wide gulf between the Mac mini and Mac Pro that could serve a large number of customers, particularly those switching from the Windows platform. What’s more, Apple could serve the display market better by cutting prices on the existing line and adding a smaller version, perhaps a 17 inches widescreen, for those on a tight budget, or perhaps for people who don’t really need expansive screen real estate.

Now I understand why Apple prefers a simplified model line. No doubt they learned from the Performa debacle that having far too many similar models only confuses customers, who might just give up in disgust and buy nothing at all. Or choose a PC box. No, not that, because Dell and HP and the rest of the pack suffer from the very same severe bout of that insidious model proliferation disease.

I’m also sure Apple picks and chooses its product lines with special care. They don’t want to have unsold boxes sitting in warehouses, just to tout a wider product selection and a higher number of units shipped. If they can’t make a good case for designing and marketing a product, it doesn’t get produced, period.

However, I do see where the MMMM has great market potential. I know a few people who’d buy one from the get-go, rather than, say, a used G5 in order to save some money. Remember, Apple gains nothing from the sale of used Macs, other than the occasional refurbished model that occasionally shows up in their stores or online.

I can also see, based on the initial reaction from you readers, that most of you agree with me — and of course Dan Frakes — about this. Does that mean you’re ready to vote with your dollars if the MMMM actually appears?

That’s the biggest question of all, and Apple will have to believe that you will say yes if it does decide to offer such a model. Otherwise, the MMMM will remain first and foremost an unfulfilled fantasy.