Apple Sticks With CRTs, For Now

While making efforts toward LCDs, the company's recent moves suggest CRTs still play an important role.

NEW YORK—At the Macworld Conference & Expo this week, Apple Computer Inc. added a 17-inch unit to its flat-panel iMac product line, further crowding its consumer spectrum. While for years Apples product matrix has maintained four lineups—desktops and portables for both consumer and professional buyers—introductions like these are blurring the lines.

Last month, the company began offering its low-cost CRT eMac outside of the education channel. And since January, Apple has continued to offer an all-in-one G3 iMac at a sub-$1,000 price point. While making broad efforts to focus on LCDs across its hardware line, the companys recent moves suggest that in the current economy, CRT products still play an important role.

Greg Joswiak, senior director, hardware products, with Apple worldwide product marketing, spelled out the current lineup of consumer desktop Macs and discussed the relationship between the CRT and LCD models.

Joswiak indicated that this years industry-wide component shortages, especially of LCD displays, have influenced the consumer Mac lines. While the pricing on the top-of-the-line 15-inch iMac with SuperDrive is back down to $1,799 after Apple raised the price by $100 in response to higher component prices, Joswiak said its still a difficult situation.

"The RAM situation has eased," he said. "LCD pricing is out of the crisis stage, but theyre nowhere near where we need them to be."

While he insisted that Apple has not fundamentally retreated from its commitment to flat-panel displays across the board, Joswiak suggested that CRT models such as the all-in-one eMac fill an important niche for cost-conscious Mac customers—at least as LCD prices continue at current levels.

"No one had predicted the size of the uptick in LCD pricing," Joswiak said. "That said, make no mistake, LCD is still the future of our desktops."

In another acknowledgement that some users wont pay a premium for LCDs, SuperDrive DVD burning or PowerPC G4 performance, Apple this week quietly updated its entry level iMac—a $799, G3-based CRT model that closely resembles the old-school version of Apples consumer desktop. The new version runs at 600 MHz, up from 500 MHz, and it includes a 40GB hard drive, up from 20GB.

Most notably, it comes in a "Snow" chassis that matches the rest of Apples consumer line instead of the "Indigo" plastics of the previous model. "With the Indigo model, people thought we were just selling off inventory," Joswiak said.

Instead, he said, the entry-level model continues to sell well to price-sensitive consumers, including many of the Windows "switchers" targeted by recent Apple advertising. "Its not part of our marketing message, but [the CRT iMac] is an important part of the digital hub," he said.

Joswiak also said that the eMac and flat-panel iMac are selling to distinctive segments of the consumer market. "The eMac was designed for education; its an amazingly durable, powerful machine" for the $1,099 price tag. The flat-panel iMac, which now starts at $1,399 for a 15-inch model, appeals to users who want additional design niceties and optional features such as the SuperDrive, he said. "It comes down to customers who want the flat panel and futuristic aesthetic," he said.