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The Mac Hardware Report: No More Price Cuts for Now

In case you haven’t heard, Apple’s sales are on the rise, and the analysts are scrambling to figure out just what’s going on. Of course, the first theory is that it’s all resulting from the price reductions for most Mac portable computers at the WWDC, but that simply doesn’t wash.

You see, the sales bump actually began in May, ahead of the WWDC, when pretty much everyone didn’t expect any changes in the note-book lineup. Of course, if you factor in a free iPod touch, I suppose you can consider that a price cut too, but that’s the sort of promotion Apple has been running in previous years. It’s not something concocted at the last minute to stop hemorrhaging sales, although I’m sure the naysayers would prefer to think of it that way.

When it comes to the slightly-refreshed and cheaper MacBook Pro line, the changes mostly make sense. FireWire is restored on the 13 inch model, and the SD card slot seems a sensible alternative, unless you prefer ExpressCard/34. It just seems that Apple is never destined to get the ports precisely the way you want them. Forgetting the issue of price, frankly I think Apple should be working harder to pile them in as much as possible. A few more or less shouldn’t seriously impact production costs, and consider how this minimalist approach actually harms Mac users.

When it comes to the MacBook Air, the woeful lack of ports really doesn’t matter to me. I’m not in the market for one today, tomorrow or next year. I considered getting my son, Grayson, one for his May 2008 graduation, but he preferred the additional features on the black MacBook, which has traveled with him to nine countries so far without serious scuffing to the case.

But I will go against the grain and suggest the price cuts didn’t come suddenly out of the blue, and it may well be that the note-book update was pushed ahead a few months to further boost sales. That makes perfect sense, and it doesn’t necessarily smack of desperation. Apple has been far more aggressive in pricing than some would have you believe. Think about that the next time you see a $99 iPhone 3G at your neighborhood AT&T factory store.

Now I’m sure most of you will be watching Apple’s quarterly financials closely when the numbers are released later this month. The betting is that iPod sales are down. It would be truly amazing if they continued to increase, though you shouldn’t ignore the impact of the iPod touch. But if they dip, don’t be surprised to see some price reductions there. At the very least, the iPod touch will get larger flash drives, in proportion to the level of increase on the iPhone 3GS. In other words, twice as much.

The next Mac update will likely be the iMac, probably in October. The last product refresh, in March, resulted in essentially moving the line down a price notch. Where Apple might go from there is anyone’s guess. Whether the iMac will get a case redesign is questionable, though. No doubt there will speedier chips and all and larger hard drives, but I just wonder if Apple couldn’t fill another need, and that’s expandability. Just adding space for a second hard drive would perhaps address the concerns of some business users who can’t see spending extra for a Mac Pro.

My cloudy crystal ball can’t see where Apple might take the Mac mini. The recent changes didn’t involve a whole lot of R&D. It was all speed bump, and I wonder if that model is finally getting its due, or is still an unheralded hero in the personal computer space.

Apple sure likes the design, since they slimmed it down for the Apple TV, AirPort Express and Time Capsule. But I wonder what might happen if Apple decided to combine the Apple TV with the Mac mini and somehow make the latter more of a media center type of product. But there’s not a whole lot of evidence that such things really have much market potential, even though Microsoft still offers that capability in the most expensive versions of Windows.

But remember that few outside of Apple can truly comprehend what they’re really up to. Yes, most of the recent innovations have merely been clever slants on existing products. The iPod made the digital music player an icon, and the iPhone is on its way to doing the same thing with smartphones. Yes, you do read about iPhone killer products every few months, but when the new, highly touted Palm Pre sold a fraction of what the iPhone 3GS sold during its debut weekend, it’s quite clear that the word “killer” might be focused on the wrong product.

What’s more, while I once thought Apple was certain to make a grown-up iPhone or perhaps morph it into a sort of tablet computer, I’m less certain of that now. But I’m fully prepared for plenty of surprises from Apple in the months to come. Maybe Steve Jobs will even host the next press event for a change.