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Apple’s 27-inch iMac Problem

I suppose I was naïve when I first ordered a 27-inch iMac equipped with the optional Intel Core i7 processor, and I took the modest backorder status in stride. My opinion of the current situation is encapsulated in a short email I wrote to my friend Dennis Sellers, proprietor of the Macsimum News site:

I ordered mine with the Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM on November 24th from MacMall.

It arrived apparently undamaged on December 2nd, the day after MacMall called me and told me to wait another week for it.

The screen was not cracked.

The image does not flicker.

There is no yellow cast.

It may well be there are some units that shipped with such problems, which may be typical of early production of any model that has a fair amount of new components.

As to blaming the ATI graphics card for the stuff that doesn’t involve broken screens, aren’t we forgetting that there’s a 21.5 inch version with the same ATI card (4670) as the cheapest 27 inch version?

Or am I just lucky?

Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. Now I have to wait with trepidation for the screen to crack, the flickering to start and I will no longer wonder where the yellow went.

Why did I even write this letter?

On the other hand, it’s also true that delivery times for all 27-inch versions have, as of this writing, slipped to two weeks at Apple’s online store. MacMall won’t quote an official shipping date, and simply puts a “Please Call” label on the product listings for the 27-inch iMac. However, Amazon, which works with third-party resellers for some of its consumer electronics gear, states that several models, including a few custom configurations are “In Stock.”

Now Apple has actually admitted that there’s a shipping delay, telling CNET contributor Jim Dalrymple: “”The new iMac has been a huge hit and we are working hard to fulfill orders as quickly as possible. We apologize for any inconvenience or delay this may cause our customers.”

Notice that Apple doesn’t state the precise cause for the delay. They do not admit to the existence of video defects or cracked screens. While I’m not going to dismiss the possibility of the existence of those issues, it is clear that lots of people are getting these products virtually defect free, although I must admit I have been feeling the strong urge to cross my fingers periodically, and inspecting my new iMac’s screen periodically in search of a potential defect.

In the end, aside from a few defective units, the entire problem may stem from building a product whose popularity is way beyond Apple’s initial estimates. Indeed, it makes sense they may have expected the sales rush to be concentrated on the 21.5-inch model, or the cheapest 27-inch version. After all, the state of the economy is still fragile, and Apple is competing in a market segment that has a high price of admission. That they’ve done so well clearly indicates that customers are willing to stretch their budgets in order to get superior quality.

In terms of the iMac itself, that there is some defective product out there shouldn’t deter anyone from placing an order, so long as you understand that there’s going to be a shipping delay. In fact, Apple tends to err on the conservative side when quoting delivery dates. You may find that you get your new iMac faster than you expected.

In the event it is dead on arrival, or exhibits damage, Apple and third-party dealers will usually exchange your unit. You may have to wait for the replacement, but you’ll get one. There is no way you’ll be saddled with a huge investment and not get full satisfaction.

As far as screen flickering and yellow casts are concerned, the former was supposedly dealt with as part of the 10.6.2 update released last month. The release notes state: “this update addresses video playback and performance issues for iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2009) and iMac (27-inch, Late 2009) computers that may occur in some situations while AirPort is turned on.”

Within a few weeks, I expect that backorder situation will be history. You’ll be able to pick up a 27-inch iMac at most any dealer, or get a custom-built configuration within just a few days. The impact to Apple’s bottom line for this quarter is not certain. If they don’t catch up by the end of the year, there will be an unknown number of potentially lost orders, or sales that won’t be booked until the next quarter. How serious that might be is anyone’s guess, though it may not be near as bad as you might suspect.

In the end, it does appear that Apple may actually move more product this quarter than many expect. Some estimates of iPhone sales are suddenly exceeding ten million, Mac sales will likely be in the three million range once again, and the iPod will do modestly well.

And one more thing: I think the 27-inch iMac, particularly when equipped with one of those powerful new Intel quad-core processors, is one tremendous product. Current or prospective Mac Pro customers take note.