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So Where Are The Missing Apple Desktops?

All right, so we know that Apple doesn’t really like trade shows, and I’m sure some of you feel that maybe this year’s announcements were toned down and Steve Jobs pulled from their final keynote to send a message to you and, of course, to the folks who run the Macworld Expo.

While I don’t necessarily subscribe to this sort of conspiracy theory, one nagging issue is that Apple clearly felt constrained to deliver knockout products in January of each year, whether or not it had something actually ready or not. That contributed to the perception — and again it may simply not be true — that there was a little too much rushing to market as a result. So perhaps the first iteration of Intel-based Apple note-books should have been postponed a couple of months to allow Apple’s design team to fix a few defects, such as running a little too hot, and, of course, that case malformation problem that afflicted early MacBooks.

While Apple is now liberated from having to adhere to someone else’s release schedule, the question arises: Where is the stillborn iMac upgrade? What about the Mac mini? Will it get its long deserved refresh, or just be consigned to the remainder rack for the ones still in stock after it’s discontinued?

I’d rather take the optimistic approach to the Mac mini and speculate that it will get a major upgrade, not just with speedier parts, but perhaps a case redesign. Not that there’s much wrong with what you have now. Indeed that form factor paved the way for the AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule, so it’s clear Apple isn’t quite ready to give it up. But that won’t stop them from making changes, perhaps significant ones.

But even if the new mini resembles the old rather closely, I will make my pitch all over again for a revision to the RAM and hard drive upgrade schemes. Putty knives and other implements are clunky, and clumsy, and you risk minor damage to the case even in the best of circumstances. I still don’t understand why a few simple recessed screws at the bottom of the case would be so objectionable, but maybe I don’t have the sensibilities of a Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ive, so I’m just not capable of knowing elegance when I see it.

If you can call that elegance.

Another possibility is that perhaps Apple might consider merging the Mac mini with the poor-selling Apple TV and create something that will serve the purpose of both products. So you’d have a device that can work just fine as a personal computer, but can also double as a media center and perhaps even a server for the rest of your network. Three products in one, and certainly, if Apple can keep the prices at the present levels, at $599 for the base model and $799 for the top-of-the-line, it might create some fascinating new sales possibilities.

When it comes to the iMac, I suppose that there’s really not much need for major revisions externally. The current form factor is not that old and, in fact, heavily influenced the latest generation of Mac note-books. The internal workings might perhaps mirror the MacBook Pro lineup, with perhaps a few extra frills.

If Apple isn’t interested in delivering a headless midrange tower — an iMac without the display — maybe they can perform a few tweaks on the chassis of the iMac to allow for installation of a second hard drive and perhaps a doubling of the number of RAM slots. Both modifications might not cost a whole lot to engineer, or increase the price of raw materials, so it could be that Apple would be able to keep the retail price unchanged.

Some of the rumors and speculators are also suggesting that Apple might also use one of those snazzy mobile-based quad-core processors from Intel. That might be a way to really make the iMac into a powerhouse. Sure, it has the potential to cannibalize sales somewhat from the Mac Pro, but that product appeals mostly to a class of Mac content creators who require maximum power and maximum expandability. So the impact might not be so severe.

On the other hand, an iMac on steroids might also attract more Windows switchers, for whom midrange desktops are the computers of choice. Moreover, since a large number of customers are actually going for note-books anyway, this proposed enhanced iMac might be the ideal compromise solution and might continue to sell in great volumes.

So far as a netbook alternative from Apple, I still envision that as a Pro version of the iPhone and/or iPod touch, and that would provide a far more viable alternative than just a crippled MacBook. The PC makers are going with the latter approach, with netbooks that are basically smaller note-book computers with fewer features, and that, to me, demonstrates zero innovation.

And, of course, we’re all waiting for a new 30-inch Apple display, based on the new LED-based design, but it would be nice to bundle the DVI adapter, so you don’t have to spend another $99 for extra cables just to hook it up.

When is this all going to happen? Well, it doesn’t seem as if Apple cares much about anniversaries, so perhaps they’ll show up whenever they’re ready, and that’s probably late January or early February.