Don’t Tell Anyone: Apple Quietly Updates iMac!

April 28th, 2008

At one time, whenever Apple released a new or upgraded product, it would get major coverage at a Macworld Expo and WWDC. Today, two annual events are simply not sufficient to cover the range of Apple’s development process. Indeed, every few weeks, something new arrives with the Apple logo on it, from a new, cutting-edge product, to a simple refresh for an existing product line.

With few exceptions, most of those introductions seem to happen on Tuesdays, perhaps to give you and me time to recover from the weekend and get caught up with our daily routine. Sometimes, Apple breaks the mold, as they did Monday morning with the quiet news that the iMac line received its anticipated speed bump with the new Intel Penryn processors.

At first brush, it’s just the processor speed ratings that are higher. The lower power requirements of the new chips, though, might result in a minor decrease in your monthly electric bill, and everything helps. But there’s rather more than meets the eye here, and for once Apple is actually moving its iMac line ahead of its portable sibling, the MacBook Pro.

According to Apple’s almost ignored press release on the subject, the updates include “a 1066 MHz frontside bus; up to 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM memory.” Both signify a potentially measurable if not significant performance boost. Compare that to the latest MacBook Pros, which retains the 800MHz frontside bus and 667MHz RAM.

In addition, the new iMac’s “Extreme” model tops at at 3.06GHz, compared to 2.6GHz on the MacBook Pro, along with the promise of a more powerful graphics chip. Combined with the faster front-side bus and memory, the iMac will indeed provide a pretty decent improvement over what Apple’s most powerful note-book can offer when the performance benchmarks appear.

Since iMac pricing is unchanged, this makes the iMac a more compelling mid-priced desktop option. In fact, I wonder if some folks who might have otherwise considered a Mac Pro will now be willing to compromise on expansion options and select the cheaper option.

Notably missing from Apple’s announcements is the still-forgotten Mac mini, which remains saddled with last year’s chips. Oh well, maybe Apple still has a large stock of spare parts around and they’re not planning on refreshing the mini until they need to reorder, and perhaps select faster chips from Intel’s 2008 inventory.

That’s unfortunate, as the Mac mini remains an excellent product that will suit the needs of millions of Mac users who already have displays and input devices and for whom the added performance of the iMac is just overkill for the kind of work they do.

Meantime, it’s fair to say that the iMac has been the shining star of Apple’s desktop line, and its good looks and superior performance have resulted in great sales at a time where it was believed that only note-books were important in this day and age.

On the other hand, I still think there’s a huge audience out there, and some of you appear to agree with me, for the mid-range Mac minitower, the 21st century IIci. You see, I still don’t believe that everyone who wants a desktop computer of this sort is willing to pay extra for the integrated display, even if the glossy picture is just glorious — and I think it is! No, I’m not going to get into the matte versus glossy argument here, though I see the point of favoring the former in some cases.

So here goes the argument all over again!

What if Apple provided a compact, fancy-looking expandable desktop with the fundamental options of today’s iMac? To that you add the ability to easily add a second internal drive, swap the existing graphics card and add a second PCI card for additional displays or specialty use.

Indeed, like the souped-up iMac, such a model might cannibalize some Mac Pro sales. But I still think there are lots of people who’d embrace such a computer, particularly Windows switchers, and the end result would be far more units sold in the quarterly financials.

Now that Apple has reinvigorated the iMac with the latest Intel parts, I can’t imagine that it would take a whole lot of development money to deliver a headless version with modest internal expansion capabilities. It’s also clear, in light of the apparent successful launch of the MacBook Air and the many choices in the iPod line, that Apple isn’t averse to fleshing out its product lines.

So, Apple, when are you going to take the next logical step?

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7 Responses to “Don’t Tell Anyone: Apple Quietly Updates iMac!”

  1. MichaelT says:

    With Apple, you never know what the next Tuesday might bring.

  2. hmurchison says:

    Apple dropped the “computer” from their name but in all honesty if they
    aren’t a computer company what exactly are they? A phone and Portable Music
    Player do not make a consumer electronics juggernaut.

    I LOVE the success the company has gained over the years but I would like to see
    their products diversify a bit better. I love my Mac mini. I wouldn’t mind having an
    iMac as well but I like knowing that if I wanted to I could slap my mini into my
    entertainment center and watch it on my HDTV and play my iTunes through my
    stereo. An iMac isn’t going to give me this sort of flexibility. Apple certainly notices
    this because the mini seems to have 9 lives. Just when you thought it was dead it
    comes back to life.

    My recommendation for Apple is to revamp the mini. Once again breathe new life into
    it and embrace it for what it is. A nice little compact Mac. Stop trying to force us to iMac by
    neglecting the mini. If you’re concerned about profits fix that mess that is .mac and perhaps
    you could enjoy nice residual income and foster more of a Mac community. For all of Apple’s
    success it’s amazing to me how they simply “don’t get” certain things (i.e social networking).

    Perhaps the introductions of the iMac portends a future in which the announcement of new
    Mac hardware is just the means to an end rather than the end itself. We can only hope.

    • A neat idea, but I rather suspect Mac mini updates are an afterthought. It doesn’t cost them much to keep the product in the lineup, but they’re not investing either, unfortunately.


  3. David says:

    Call me paranoid, but I’ve bought a new hard drive every year since I got my first Mac in 1992 (more capacity, small performance boost, lower risk of failure). The old drive has always become my primary backup with even older drives used for secondary backup and archiving.

    I wouldn’t dream of dismantling an iMac to install a new HD so as appealing as the new 24″ iMac may be, it certainly isn’t for me. I’m also fond of selecting my own displays rather than being stuck with what Sir Jobs decrees. I think Apple is stuck in a “bigger is always better” mindset that keeps them from fully capitalizing on the opportunities the market presents.

    20″ is the best size for most iMac buyers. It should offer the most options including the fastest processors, largest drives, best graphics and best display. Just because someone can afford the high end iMac doesn’t automatically mean they want or have the physical space for 24″.

    Thus the 20″ iMac should come with a choice of fast responding 6-bit LCD or slower responding, but more color accurate 8-bit display. All available processor speeds and graphics chips should also be offered at that size.

    More options means more people being tempted to spend more than they otherwise would. Given how overpriced most Apple BTO options are, their gross margins could actually increase if they offered more customer choice.

  4. javaholic says:

    That glossy screen alone on the new iMac is still a deterrent for me on what appears to be a decent upgrade. I’d order a few for the studio right now if there were a matte option. It’s unfortunate offering a choice of display seems to be in Apple’s ‘too hard’ basket.

    Speaking of choice, I also believe adding a minitower would offer flexibility beyond the ‘one size fits all’ design philosophy which these days, doesn’t necessarily suit everyone. For example, the speed of my MacPro is great. Paying for the expansion I don’t need isn’t. So could the introduction of a minitower potentially eat into MacPro sales? Sure, but maybe no more than the new iMac would, and it may even help bring new users into the fold. Plus, there’ll always be customers that’ll want/need 8 cores. 😉

    Still, you just never know with Apple. They did decide to spring the Air on us, so I wonder has the addition of that product within the portable line begun to cannibalize sales of the MacBook and MacBook Pro in a big way or not? My guess at this stage is it hasn’t.

  5. Evidently the glossy screen is a big hit and the iMac is doing very well, but I appreciate that some of you don’t want one. All right, the 30-inch display connected to my Mac Pro is matte, and I never considered glossy and I wouldn’t know offhand who offers one.

    My MacBook Pro has a glossy screen, and that’s fine for what it does; ditto for my son’s MacBook, for which there is no other choice.


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