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The Diminishing Hopes for a New Mac Minitower

Just yesterday, I repeated my hopes and dreams for a new expandable desktop Mac to fill the vast gulf between the unsung hero of Apple’s low-end, the Mac mini and the costly Mac Pro. Yes, there’s an iMac, but for millions of people who don’t need another display, and crave expandability without a price to match, I would have thought this idea would be a no-brainer.

Or maybe I’m the one who isn’t thinking.

You see, two thirds of all Macs sold these days are note-books. The PC industry, in general, is catching on and note-books are dominating there too. In fact, some companies are trying different colors to move boxes, though I believe that an ugly note-book in shocking pink is still ugly.

So where does this leave the old fashioned desktop computer? Well, the iMac fits into a somewhat different category, as a descendant of the original all-in-one Mac, with everything in a single case. So in a sense it’s a hybrid that offers the benefits of a desktop with a large screen and solid footprint, and the single form factor that allows it to travel (with difficulty) should you want to take it to a different location. It also helps somewhat with wire clutter, particularly if you go for wireless input devices.

The iMac also looks good enough to place in the bedroom or den. It doesn’t have to be consigned to a cluttered office area, although that hardy matters near as much in a real office.

Certainly, from a cost standpoint, separates still matter if you don’t need to buy everything, but convenience has always been a strong attraction in the electronics industry. At one time, for example, if you wanted a home audio system, you’d buy a separate amplifier, preamplifier, tuner and so forth and so on. While such components are still available to folks looking for the ultimate in sound quality, having everything in one box has proven to be a viable tradeoff, particularly since power supplies and other components can be shared, hence actually reducing the price.

Now If Apple were to consider expanding its computer lineup, it would want to make doubly sure there is a market for the product. When it comes to Dell, HP and all the rest, they flood the market with dozens of overlapping products where actual differences may be near impossible to detect, in the hope that your precise needs will be fulfilled.

Apple tried that trick in the 1990s, and even their own executives couldn’t tell one from the other. Of course, that’s probably true with the product people from the PC box assemblers. If you put them into a room without Internet access or a cheat sheet, I bet they’d be hard pressed to define the real differences among lots and lots of similar models.

That behavior prevails throughout the electronics industry. From TVs to DVD players, are the product distinctions large enough to make sense? Quite often everything is the same except for some frills with fanciful labels that few people use anyway. But adding them can seriously boost profits over the entry level model, even though the differences in core functionality, such as a TV’s picture quality and the ability to add peripheral products, such as a DVD player, audio system and such, are not impacted in any noticeable fashion.

Apple surely doesn’t want to fall into that trap. Yes, there are four iPod models, but each is highly distinctive and it shouldn’t be hard to choose which one you want; except, perhaps, the iPod nano color you prefer. Then again, you can always buy two or three and use the one that suits your particular mood on a particular day.

In the note-book arena, maybe Apple should consider a tablet model, though the sales prospects don’t seem huge beyond certain vertical markets, such as medical practitioners. There are some who suggest some sort of bridge between the iPod touch and the MacBook, a tiny network device. But didn’t Apple try that before, with the eMate, a hybrid based on the Newton? Is there truly a need for such a gadget?

I don’t know. I’m just asking.

Spreading beyond that, I still think that Apple hasn’t quite decided what to do with he Mac mini, and even the possible future of the Apple TV. There is a lot of potential there, but nobody has figured out how to tap it yet. Or maybe there’s no need? Beyond your cable or satellite set top box with built-in DVR, what else do you need to connect to your TV set to receive the content you want? Is the victorious high definition DVD format, Blu-ray, poised to take off at last, or is some future iteration of the Apple TV going to be the ultimate bridge between the computer and the living room?

More to the point, is Apple truly the company that can really answer that question?