Apple unveils new iMacs, revamps MacBooks and minis

'Same old, same old', complains analyst about refresh sans price cuts

Apple today revamped its iMac, MacBook and Mac mini lines in a long-expected refresh that company executives hinted yesterday was imminent.

But as is Apple's custom, the company did not lower prices for the least-expensive new models.

"Same old, same old," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "Boring."

The new iMacs -- 21.5-inch and 27-inch models -- replace the former 20-inch and 24-inch iMacs, and are priced starting at $US1,199. The low-end MacBook also remains at the $US999 mark, putting an end to talk by analysts that Apple would drop the price of its entry-level notebook, perhaps as far as $US699.

While the three lowest-priced iMacs are powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 3.06GHz, the priciest model, the $US1,999 27-in. iMac, is equipped with a 2.66GHz Intel Core i5 quad-core processor. Customers can swap out that CPU for a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core for an additional $US200. This is the first time that Apple's dropped a quad-core processor into its iMac desktop line, but buyers will have to wait if that's the iMac they want: The quad-core models don't ship until next month.

Storage space has also been boosted in the new models. The $US1,199 iMac comes with a 500GB hard drive -- versus the 320GB drive in the older 20-in. iMac -- while the other three models come with a 1TB drive as standard. All boast 4GB of RAM.

The new iMacs' profile is significantly wider to accommodate the larger displays and features an all-aluminum back, replacing the black plastic used on earlier models.

Prices range from $US1,199 for the low-end 21.5-inch iMac to $US1,499 for the upper-end 21.5-inch, and $US1,699 and $US1,999 for the two configurations of the 27-inch system. The latter two are priced $US100 and $US200 less than the corresponding 24-in. iMacs that they replaced.

Apple's lowest-priced iMac uses the Nvidia GeForce 9400 integrated graphics, includes four USB ports, a single FireWire 800 port and a new SD card slot, the latter positioned below the optical-drive slot and designed to accept memory cards -- like the kind used in most digital cameras -- for quick copying of images and video. The higher-priced iMacs feature an ATI Radeon HD 4670 or 4850 graphics card with 256MB or 512MB of memory.

All the iMacs come with a wireless keyboard and Apple's new wireless Magic Mouse , which the company bills as the first multi-touch mouse. The top surface of the Magic Mouse accepts several gestures; a two-fingered swipe within Safari, for example, moves back or forward a page in the browser.

The last time Apple refreshed its iMac line-up was March 2009, when upgraded the desktops with faster processors, more memory and storage, and more capable graphics. At the time, Gottheil called the new models "underwhelming."

Apple also retooled the MacBook, which like its more costly MacBook Pro brethren, now comes in a sleeker case. Although the $US999 13.3-inch MacBook features a "unibody" enclosure, the material remains polycarbonate, not the more stylish and sturdy aluminum used in the MacBook Pro line.

The MacBook boasts a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chipset and a 250GB hard drive. Some of those components are upgrades from the new model's predecessor, which relied on a 2.13GHz CPU and included a 160GB hard drive. It also includes the same long-run built-in battery -- Apple claims it will power the laptop for seven hours -- used in the MacBook Pro, and an LED-backlit screen and multi-touch trackpad to match the parts in the upper-end line.

All the new iMacs and the MacBook come with Mac OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard , the operating system upgrade that Apple launched nearly two months ago.

"I'm sorely disappointed," said Gottheil, of today's new models. "They're clearly sticking with what they've got and being very conservative. It would have been very interesting if they had dropped the entry point of the MacBook, but they didn't." Gottheil, along with many other analysts, had put their money on Apple cutting the price of the MacBook as a recognition that laptop prices have been effectively "reset" to a lower mark in the last 12 months.

"It sure looks like Apple won't have to lower prices, not with the quarter they just had," Gottheil added, referring to the blow-out earnings for the quarter ending Sept. 30 that Apple announced yesterday. "There's no urgency for them to do so, and obviously they're not being compelled by the market to do it. They could barely meet demand earlier."

Last summer, Apple's executives said yesterday in a conference call with Wall Street analysts, MacBook Pro supply was tight after an early-June refresh, enough that some buyers were forced to wait until July -- in the third calendar quarter -- to get their hands on the laptop.

Even so, Apple will eventually have to wake up and smell the pricing coffee, Gottheil argued. "I don't think Apple wants to be the vendor that charges several times more than the average of the category that they're in," he said. "They don't want to be the Lamborghini of computer makers, they want to be the BMW."

Apple also updated the Mac mini -- its lowest-priced, but display-less Mac -- today, with two models at $US599 and $US799, and added a new entry dubbed "Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server" at $US999.

"This one is significant," said Gottheil. "It's a 'My First Server' device, a 'My First Pony,' for small offices that want to get serious about backup and hosting their own e-mail."

All the new Macs except for the quad-core iMacs are available immediately at Apple's retail stores, and through its online store . The dual-core iMacs currently show a one-to-three day delay in shipping, but the MacBook and Mac minis will ship within 24 hours.

Tags ApplemacbookMac MiniiMac

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)

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