OK. So Think Secret has its very interesting rumour of a headless iMac to cost $500, to be announced on January 11 at Macworld. (Update Tue 1055: my story for the Indie on this, which is pretty much pro-forma, is here.)The basic idea being that people are buying iPods like they’re going out of fashion (which in a way they are..), and find them easy to use, they’ll want to buy a cheap iMac without a monitor for about $500 (say, 400 pounds) because they’ll have a spare monitor hanging around from their old virus-ridden PC which they’ll want to be getting rid of.
The specs Think Secret offers are:
- 256MB of RAM
- USB 2.0
- FireWire 400
- 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet
- 56K V.92 modem
- AirPort Extreme support (note that’s support, not the wireless thing itself. Lots of Mac gear comes with “support”, meaning “you have to buy this part yourself.”)
There’s also the expectation it will have a G4 processor running at 1.25GHz.
Now let’s rehearse arguments in favour of this happening. They are:
- Lots of people might be tempted to buy a $500 machine, especially if it came with a big software bundle for things like music encoding (iTunes), movie editing (iMovie), consumer DVD production (iDVD), making your own music (the really-not-as-usefful-to-so-many-people-as-you-might-suppose Garageband). And lets you do email and surfing easily.
- People might like it if they thought there weren’t going to be any viruses and spyware issues.
- $500 is an easy price – hell, you bought an iPod for about that money.
- Other PC companies are selling cheap PCs.
- the latest iMac has a screen built in and it’s pretty thin.
- Apple could make this so the only thing you could add would be the Airport (Wi-Fi). You couldn’t change the hard drive, perhaps not even the RAM. After all, Apple doesn’t care if you expand the machine afterwards; it makes no money from that. Making it non-expandable could cut down costs. And there must be a motherboard template that could be re-used from the iBook.
- Think Secret has a pretty good hit rate on rumours.
Got those? Now let’s look at the arguments against.
- Apple has never aimed for the low-cost market. It doesn’t feel the need to wrestle that pig.
- It likes a 25% – or more – margin on its hardware. It is very careful not to cannibalise sales of its pricier machines – see how it doesn’t advertise the eMac (a cathode-ray tube G4 desktop) but pushes the iMac like mad. The eMac is pretty cheap, but not $500, and leaving its monitor out won’t make it a $500 machine. (Then again, the eMac is pretty much the template of this “headless iMac”.) How are you going to make $125 from something with the specs above?
- Apple has never marketed OSX (or previous OSs) on the “free from viruses” tag, despite years of journalists and amateur marketers asking them why on earth they don’t. Steve Jobs is on record saying last August that doing that would just be a red flag to virus writers.
- A $500 iMac would surely cannibalise sales of more expensive machines. Peope would buy them in preference to something else. Apple does not pursue market share over profit. Profit is rare in the PC business. Market share isn’t.
- Who says there’s really demand for $500 headless machines? I don’t see PC companies selling them. (This is, I’ll admit, a weak argument for anything Apple might or might not do.)
- Apple has done headless before. Remember the Cube? People who loved it, loved it. Most people didn’t. True, it didn’t cost $500 (might have sold better at that price). Apple put it on ice in July 2001. (Though with a “small chance” that it would reintroduce an upgraded version at some point in the future.)
Basically, my feeling is that this is not a headless iMac. If it is coming, it’s something else. Maybe costing around $500 – perhaps a media server? – but the money angle, as in its potential effects on Apple, is what says to me this isn’t coming, not quite in that form. I mean, look at what this company charges for a small hard drive and a 2″ LCD screen packaged in a friendly form-factor. It’s not about to start doing pizza-boxes. (Also, it would only offer a CD-burner, not a DVD-burner, at that price, so you couldn’t run iDVD, which works against the “enticing software package” argument in favour.)
What will we see? I think:
- Keynote 2
- “Tiger”, the next version of OSX, to be launched on March 24 2005, four years after the 10.0 release. (Someone else suggested this. I’ve nicked it shamelessly, but will link to it if someone will remind me who.)
- G5 Powerbook, a top-end machine, delivery some time around March.
- More Powerbooks using G4s.
That will do, I think.