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The Apple Hardware Report: No More New Macs for 2008!

You know, it’s a rare thing for Apple to tell you they aren’t going to release a new product. Usually it’s the standard “we don’t comment about unreleased products” phrase that doesn’t discourage journalists from asking anyway, in the forlorn hope that they’ll get a different response. But this time, Apple has a larger purpose in mind when they tell you that you shouldn’t expect any changes in the desktop Mac lineup for the remainder of 2008, or in any of their products for that matter.

Whenever there are widespread expectations of a product refresh, sales of existing hardware are apt to begin to dry up, particularly among the Mac faithful who follow such matters carefully. In this particular case, there have been ongoing rumors of an updated iMac and perhaps the long-awaited revision to the Mac mini.

Originally, the updates were expected in late October, and those predictions were since updated to reflect the reality, because they simply didn’t happen. In any case, we’re getting rather late in the quarter to expect an Apple upgrade. In recent years, they simply haven’t happened after October.

More to the point, Apple has it rougher than usual this year, and that’s true for all computer makers, because of the shaky state of the world’s economy. Already you can see bad tidings in the U.S., what with the decision of Circuit City to shutter 155 stores, including those in the fairly-prosperous Phoenix metropolitan area. For that to happen so close to the holidays clearly indicates the company is desperate for cash, and needs to cut its losses pronto so it’ll be able to fund sufficient inventory to take it through the holidays. In the end, though, many are expected that we’ve seen the last of this chain, which simply couldn’t sustain the competition against the likes of Best Buy.

As far as Best Buy is concerned, I had an unofficial discussion the other day with someone in management at a local branch. They report blowout sales of new Macs, particularly the MacBook, so at least some people have the money to acquire them. That doesn’t, of course, mean that all Best Buys outfitted with an Apple section are faring as well, but it’s nonetheless promising.

Then again, do you really need a revised iMac right now? It’s not that the current version, which was released last spring, is long in the tooth. All right, maybe the graphics chips aren’t quite as proficient as the ones from NVIDIA that Apple introduced in the MacBook and MacBook Pro, but they are certainly capable of handling most chores other than serious gaming. As far as CPU horsepower is concerned, the new Apple note-books are only slightly faster than the ones they replace, aside from the enhanced graphics capabilities. By and large, only dedicated gamers will really have much to worry about, and games on the Mac platform aren’t doing all that well anyway.

It might also be that a larger refresh is in the offing for Macworld 2009, one that will result in more than the usual number of changes to the iMac. Or it may simply reflect the fact that nearly two-thirds of Mac sales these days are in the note-book category, and there’s little indication that the iMac would suffer all that much absent a change right now.

As far as the Mac mini is concerned, well there was that story a while back about orders no longer being accepted when placed by a European dealer. If true, that news might indicate a model revision or simply the end of the line for the under-appreciated mini. The story was never confirmed, however, the existing model remains in stock, and you can order either standard configuration from Apple’s online store and have it ship within 24 hours. That would seem to indicate there are ample supplies present.

I would also quickly dismiss any suggestion that Apple plans to phase out desktop computers any time soon. Despite the greater emphasis on note-books, today’s Mac desktop sales are actually higher, by themselves, than the entire Macintosh lineup — both desktops and note-books — just a couple of years ago. So there’s just no incentive for them to gut desktops, even though they might spend more development dollars on portables.

On the other hand, where’s the incentive for Apple to change anything else this year? If they are doing well, or at least coping, despite the economic downturn, maybe it would be a better idea for them to coast along and market the hell out of their existing products, and worry about other changes later on. And, by the way, those claims by one analyst about a 40% cutback in iPhone 3G production runs are not only unconfirmed, but are widely disbelieved.

In any case, there’s always hope things will begin to improve come 2009. And Apple isn’t the only company in search or a more prosperous new year.