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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

What's brewing in Cupertino?
September 20th, 1999

Apple spent lots of money to sheen off to France for the Apple Expo held in Paris last week. It was a big effort that included huge billboard$ across the Louvre, a much bigger presence at the Expo itself, Steve Jobs as the Keynote speaker along with other Apple luminaries, and most important, a 42% increase in Expo related expenses according to one source. Surely this was going to lead to something big, right?

Mais non!

Apple obviously wanted to impress upon the French as well as the rest of the European community that they are an important aspect of Apple's business. What better way to do this than by rolling out a new product, especially a new iMac — something that is very popular in France in the first place?

Instead of a new iMac, we got a rehash of the Seybold and MACWORLD keynotes with a few French extras thrown in for fun. To be honest, I just don't get it.

At MACWORLD, many people had expected Apple to introduce a new iMac model. I knew this would not be the case because of the iBook. Mr. Jobs is perhaps one of the most gifted showman in the computer industry. Ok, he is the most gifted showman in the computer industry. He completely understands the impact that a successful rollout can have and has masterfully orchestrated Apple's product introductions accordingly. In short, there was no way that Mr. Jobs would dilute the media coverage of the iBook by introducing a new iMac, especially if said iMac is as feature packed as it is rumored to be.

The same thing went for Seybold. Seybold was the most appropriate venue for introducing a new PowerMac because it is a professional machine aimed at the Seybold constituency. This is especially the case with the new G4. Media coverage was imperative to Mr. Jobs's plans for making it a hit. As was the case with the iBook, there was no way that Mr. Jobs would dilute that media coverage by rolling out a new iMac at the same time.

So everything pointed to a big announcement at the Apple Expo and voilá, a new iMac was certainly waiting to be born.

It sucks to be wrong.

So where does all this take us next? We have to have a new iMac. In fact, we are overdue for a new model. Apple has, until now, been on a track that saw new versions of the iMac introduced approximately every two or three months. By the way, this was a remarkable performance made possible in part by Apple's incredible inventory control. In the past, Apple has released new versions of existing models every 6 months at best and the iMac schedule has always boded well for Apple in the consumer market. This is another reason why it is so strange that we did not see a new iMac in France, it just runs contrary to Apple's established patterns.

iMac version roll out announcements
MacSpeedZone has a great piece that explains the differences between Rev A, B, and C iMacs

Now it's been 5 months since the last update and Apple just blew the best opportunity they had to announce a new one.

So what's brewing in Cupertino?

Some educated guesses would suggest that iMac development met some form of obstacle or other delaying factor. There could also be more of a glut of Rev D iMacs in the Channel than Apple had originally forecast. Holding off on the next update in that case would be doing Apple's retail partners a huge favor. Cynics might be quick to say that doing their retail partners a favor would be somewhat out of character, but it's still a nice thought.

If one were an optimist, one could hope that any delaying factor could include some new feature like a G4 that was added at the last minute. If this is the case, Apple simply needs more time before they are ready to make the announcement. Limited quantities of the G4 could also be a contributing factor in this scenario.

I don't think Apple will be moving the iMac to a G4 though. Apple can bump the iMac up to 400 MHz with the less expensive G3 and keep costs way down. They can also get plenty of these processors from IBM as IBM has concentrated on building G3s. In fact, Apple could stick with the G3 for another 6 to 12 months with continued periodic updates and milk the consumer market without any adverse affects. I'll put the G3 up against a lame Celeron any day of the week for the "low-end" market. In addition to having a wider inventory available to them by buying the older G3 and newer G4, they would help establish the premium product aspect of the PowerMac G4.

The one caveat here is that Apple really should keep closer tabs on the MHz race. Though it is not truly an indicator of chip performance when comparing Intel to AIM, the public still doesn't know that. Once again I will play Devil's Advocate with myself and point out that Apple is selling as many iMacs as it can make with the "slower" 333 Mhz G3s.

So what's brewing in Cupertino? The one thing that is beyond question is that a new iMac must come soon. Apple blew its best opportunity, in my opinion, but whether this was intentional or not is unclear. I honestly do think that Mr. Jobs had, in fact, intended to announce the new iMac at The France Apple Expo and that it was pulled for whatever reason. I have no inside information on this and am quite prepared to be wrong should the truth ever come to light. One way or another, we need the new iMac introduced! The current model is just a bit long in the tooth.

Your comments and hate mail can be sent to backpage@macobserver.com.


began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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