So How Does Apple Fill Product Gaps?

January 11th, 2010

When you don’t know what’s going on with Apple, it’s perfectly reasonable to look over their product lineup and see what gaps might be filled. That, alas, can be a double-edge sword.

Take the desktop lineup. Three models, but no affordable expandable model. The Mac Pro is simply too rich for most Mac users, and, despite its incredible number-crunching capability and the loads of expansion opportunities, most owners never go beyond adding RAM or maybe a second internal hard drive. Indeed, my last two Mac Pros were outfitted in just that fashion, although I did upgrade from the stock graphics card during the initial purchase, since those cards tend to be rather underpowered for such a costly product.

So looking for opportunities, some Mac authors (including your humble author) posited a midrange minitower or perhaps a headless iMac that would offer essentially the same performance as Apple’s mainstream desktop but afford additional opportunities to add stuff internally. This harkens back to the legendary Mac IIcx and its successors, which were quite compact for what they offered.

As with any decision about whether to market a new product, Apple has to consider its sales potential. They are surely stung by the total failure of the Cube, although it was clear from the outset that, despite its legendary looks, it was underpowered and offered limited opportunity for expansion. Indeed, today’s Mac mini is a far better fit compared to where the Cube was situated during its limited lifetime.

So the question remains: How many of you are buying iMacs in the interests of compromise, rather than a mid-priced minitower? Indeed, Apple is still selling loads of them, and they are only now beginning to catch up on the dual-core versions of the 27-inch model, which now have only seven-day delivery delays. The quad-core versions were still at two weeks when this article was written.

In light of that stellar success, some of which I gather might have been unexpected, perhaps Apple has no real incentive to expand the product lineup even further. I mean what percentage of Mac users and potential PC switchers would actually buy such a headless iMac if it existed, and how many of them would simply settle for the iMac and the Mac mini? Unless the numbers justify the investment of a new design, then Apple isn’t going to even consider the possibility. Remember, too, that Apple is likely still chafing over the proliferation of Mac models during the 1990s, which reached the point that even the top executives couldn’t figure out which was which.

When it comes to other product categories, you can bet that Apple won’t be building digital cameras, printers and loads of other commodity gadgets that are well supplied by the industry (even though they did have some of these products in the past). Even though I’d like to see alternatives to the various aluminum keyboards, the Apple Mouse and the Magic Mouse, I don’t expect to see them from Apple. You can certainly find what you what from loads of third parties now, so where’s the incentive for Apple, unless they decide they can make a real difference? For now, the Magic Mouse is the difference!

For mobile devices, it’s doubtful that Apple will expand the iPhone lineup beyond perhaps having a CDMA version for Verizon Wireless. If the iSlate appears as widely expected, and I am certain some of that speculation is being fueled by Apple’s corporate communications people, the offering will be simple. Maybe there will be a couple of versions with different memory configurations, or perhaps two screen sizes, but that will be it. Apple is obsessive about simplicity.

More to the point, Apple isn’t going to build a product because a journalist or financial analyst decrees that it must be so. Although some of you are wishing and hoping for an Apple flat panel TV, I would be surprised to see anything in that category. Indeed, you might regard the 27-inch iMac as a flat panel television set that happens to include a personal computer as part of the package.

Again, where are the product gaps among TVs that Apple must fulfill? More and more new models have Internet connections so you can get streaming content from Netflix and other vendors. If you already have an expensive TV and you’re not into replacing it right now, you can buy a Blu-ray deck from LG, Samsung and other companies that include the ability to get online.

Sure, I suppose the Apple TV could be expanded into a real large screen TV that contains the same features as the current model, and adds a true DVR that would let you connect to your cable or satellite provider, along with some straightforward computing capabilities. But at what cost, and how many of you would be willing to buy one? Would 3D capability make the difference?

When Apple created the iPod and iPhone, they felt that existing products were subpar and that they could build something better. History demonstrates they were right in both cases. That may also be true for a tablet computer, but where do they go from here? That’s where the informed speculation can only begin.

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5 Responses to “So How Does Apple Fill Product Gaps?”

  1. dfs says:

    Here’s one glaring gap begging for the Apple treatment. Over the past decade autos have sprouted dashboard-mounted entertainment/information/navigation centers. To one degree or another these tend to be hard use, and in fact can be dangerous distractions when you’re driving. Here is an area into which no major computer company has yet ventured (although millions of these units must be manufactured and sold annually). I bet that if Apple were to build such a device, either by teaming up with a major auto manufacturer or by selling an aftermarket unit to replace the original one, its design team could tame this particular beast and revolutionize this industry as much as it has revolutionized mobile telephony.

  2. Andrew says:

    Actually of you read the automotive magazines, this is one area where Microsoft has done well. Ford/Microsoft’s Sync system has been roundly praised by the automotive press, and actually works rather well, far better in fact than the integrated system in my 09 Mercedes.

  3. Dave Barnes says:

    You can forget the mini-tower.
    You will notice that there is only one way in the whole to get a high-quality 27-inch monitor.

  4. Lawrence Rhodes says:

    I agree with you on the desirability of the midrange minitower, though I’m also pessimistic about Apple’s concurrence. The ready availability of Intel’s desktop chips and other components is both a boon to production and a threat to undercut the prices of other Macs.

    But I think the best argument for it is filling in the obvious gap in the name matrix: between the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro, there should be something named just “Mac.”

  5. Chris says:

    Over the years, I have owned Desktop towers: Quadra 800 (upgraded to Daystar 601), G3, G4, G5. The lastest purchase to replace my G5 tower was the new 17″ unibody MacBook Pro. I felt that the towers had taken up too much of my desk over the years and a portable would be a benefit as dual purpose (desktop and laptop). It has been a great experience. I have a 24″ Apple LED display and the laptop running in clamshell mode. So I get my desktop and space back.

    I think the MacPro towers still have a purpose as we have several at work but I agree, beyond memory upgrades we don’t do much else. I suppose if video was an issue or more monitors. We did add another hard drive to mine for font library management and scratch space.

    It would be nice to see a IIcx size mini tower or a fat Mac mini that allows video and hard drive upgrades as well as easy access to memory upgrades.

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