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.
: Users Perspective”>
The Users Perspective
eWEEK took to the show floor and spoke with Macworld visitors at Apples booth, to see how the new consumer lineup is affecting purchasing decisions.
“Its a bit difficult to say,” said Tiran Behrouz, a programmer from North Vancouver, acknowledging that some product lines have blurred. While he owns a Power Mac G4 Cube—one of Apples first endeavors outside of the four-product matrix—he is eyeing the new 17-inch iMac. “Its really more powerful,” he said, and he feels that additions like the GeForce 4 graphics processor make it worth the heftier price tag. Behrouz also pointed out that the iMac has the advantage of the DVD-burning SuperDrive.
Lucian Reynolds, an Apple campus representative at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., says that while the iMac is a consumer machine, it includes professional features such as the G4 chip, larger screen, and SuperDrive. “We have computers that are migrating into the pro category,” he said, which he sees as being good for people who are “just getting their feet in the market but dont want to shell out the extra money.”
Reynolds also feels that the eMac is fulfilling its role as the computer fo institutional sales in education. “Its a good lab computer,” he said, and added that it runs Mac OS X well. For individual sales on campus, however, Apple sold few eMacs. “The bulk of our sales is iMac,” Reynolds said, and he feels that Apple can make further inroads with its current lineup. “They want higher education back,” he said. “These are bread-and-butter Apple markets.”
The iMacs pro-level features arent its only attraction. “I like the style,” said Carl Houghton III, an engineering consultant from Rome, N.Y. Houghton believes that the iMacs display, as well as its footprint, are key selling points. Still, he finds the eMac the best model for education. “I think targeting schools is a good idea,” Houghton said. “I dont think [the iMac] is rugged enough.”
Nick dePlume is the Editor in Chief of Think Secret.
- Macworld Special Report