A Theory on Why the New iMacs are Late

| Editorial

For some time now, the Apple community has been expecting a refresh to the iMac line, but it appears to have been delayed. I think I know why.

The last update to the iMac line was April 28, 2008 when the line received a CPU and GPU upgrade. Then, late in 2008, rumors surfaced that Apple was getting ready to release an iMac with a quad core processor, likely the top of the line 24-inch product. It was on my list and many others for a Macworld 2009 announcement.

What caused the delay? It likely wasn't a feeling that new products shouldn't be released in this economic climate. After all, Apple always figures out how to offer more for the same price in that line, it's a popular line, (but not as popular as notebooks), and failing to create new products out of paralysis is not Apple's style.

So what happened?

MacBook

MacBook Unibody sans FireWire 400 & 800

The MacBook FireWire debacle happened. Back on October 14, Apple released new aluminum MacBooks without FireWire 400 to howls of protest. Mountains of protest. While Apple sometimes moves the state-of-the-art forward by dropping old technologies, the consensus in the community was that Apple misjudged this one and screwed up.

That customer outcry put a hold on the iMac refresh, and that's why it wasn't announced at Macworld. Now, I think, Apple has had to go back and change the motherboard design and the connector array in the case to accommodate FireWire 400 for this consumer Mac, and that takes months.

If this theory is correct, it also suggests that Apple has paid a price for hedging and creating dubious technical agendas in a time of financial uncertainty. It was bad luck, judgment and timing.

During the last recession, Steve Jobs made a Big Deal about Apple innovating its way out of it. I hope that Apple's management sees it that way this time, and, in the future, puts aside ill-considered technical agendas with their product lines that only end up hurting the customers. We always want the best, most thoughtful products Apple has to offer, and 2009's recession is a good time for Apple to offer that to us in an inspiring way.

We want more CPU power, but we also want compatibility with our essential peripherals.

Comments

BeachMac

If that’s the cause, then it’s a truly good one.  Macs still need FireWire.  Both the 800 and 400 variations are commonly used for all sorts of new equipment, and not just “professional” grade stuff.

Not including FireWire on an iMac at this time would be like shooting yourself in the foot, .....then having it get infected, and worse!

BlueDjinn

Excellent theory! It certainly makes more sense than the others I’ve read (that they’re still agonizing over whether to make the new models Quad Core, for instance; if that were the only issue, they would have still done a Core 2 Duo refresh at MacWorld, then done the Quad Cores closer to May/June).

I wonder whether they’re gonna eat crow and even go so far as to work a FireWire port into the unibody MacBooks? If so, they should also offer some sort of USB-to-FireWire adapter at a reasonable price for those who have bought the current models, or there’ll be an even louder howl!

Chris Ryland

I think that’s silly—a simple 800-to-400 cable will solve that problem. Not likely to cause Apple to delay a whole new product line.

John Martellaro

Chris,

That assumes that FW800 was planned. The new MacBook has neither, so the new iMac might have also followed that thinking.

Actual Reality

as much as i hate it too, i feel that the absence of firewire was simply a means of differentiating it from the macbook pro line.

i don’t think apple is planning on dropping support for firewire completely any time soon—look up digital audio interfaces on the market right now and you’ll see just how much investment was made into firewire by companies that apple relies on to sell product… i don’t think digidesign (makers of pro-tools, the de-facto standard in digital recording), m-audio, MOTU and numerous other companies are going to totally redesign a vast majority of their products just because apple doesn’t feel like supporting firewire anymore. these companies have clout with apple, weather we like to think so or not. (the video world is in the same boat, though i’m not as familiar with their products)

i don’t think apple is intending to drop firewire from the imacs, simply because lots of professionals use them. far more professionals choose the macbook pro over the macbook, whereas the numbers of people choosing the mac pro over the 24” imac isn’t that pronounced. the $600 price difference plus the cost of a 24” monitor ($450+ for a good one) is much harder to swallow than the $400 difference between the macbook and the macbook pro.

if anything, i am more worried about firewire getting dropped from the mac mini—since that would be the desktop equivalent to the macbook (so far, unless they come out with a netbook) but leaked photos on some of the other rumor sites seem to indicate otherwise.

it just seems like it’s too insignificant an issue to delay a computer THIS long (both for the imac and the mini)

i think a more logical reason would be to sell down as much of their current stock as possible or to waiting until intel gives them the chip they want to use in the needed quantities.

ctopher

Do we have data that says the firewire-less Macbook is a poor seller? I’ve not read anything to indicate that. So even though *this* community is up in arms, are the switchers?

I have a better theory. During the holiday 2008 quarter, 70 percent of Macintosh sales were laptops. How is that for incentive to leave the iMac line be. Instead they beefed up the polycarb Macbook with better graphics.

More buck for their bang.

B9robot

I hope this is true because I also think that firewire 400 or 800 is a good thing and well worth waiting a couple of more months for. I also think the iMac is a great desktop machine and with its price point will always sell well. Unless they make a medium size tower again of some sort for less.

rpaege

I can tell you this: IP over Firewire absolutely blazes, and there simply isn’t a cheaper solution for massive network file copies.  I simply won’t buy a Mac that can’t do this, but I’m also not interested in a pro tower for my home office.  If Apple forsakes this capability on the iMac like it has on the MacBook, I’m definitely not alone in thinking about options from other manufacturers.

Apple had better be listening it’s customers.

deasys

John, I agree with your theory about the cause of the delay.

But, speaking of delays, the Mac mini and the Mac Pro are the models that are *really* delayed.

Let’s get going, Apple…

xmattingly

It seems pretty silly that Apple would drop FireWire from the iMac, given that it has plenty of room area-wise for more ports. Even so, I kind of doubt they would hold up an entire product line just over the one port. My guess for the delay would be that if the next iMacs will be quad core machines, Apple is spending more time with it in the lab to test it with Snow Leopard’s Grand Central. I would also wager that 10.6 and new iMacs will debut at roughly the same time.

John Martellaro

Given the fervent pushback on the unibody Macbook, I think Apple would have to delay the product if they had deleted all FireWire (400 & 800). However, you are right in that a confluence of events is often favorable. For example, if Apple delayed to add back FireWire, other teams would breathe a sigh of relief, say, for more testing with Snow Leopard. And Intel’s quad core chip prices could drop. I’ve seen these kinds of unhappy/happy coincidences before.

tcsdoc

I can’t follow this line of thought.  There’s no way Apple is delaying any release of new products based on re-thinking of the firewire issue.  Steve said it’s not an issue and I believe him.  I’m more inclined to believe inclusion of a quad-core processor is the reason.  Intel only recently released the latest version chip and that would take more time for Apple to incorporate than a firewire port.

macbones

What they should have done was announce that Firewire would not be offered on the next revision back in October- giving consumers a years notice that Firewire 400 would be out in the near future- this allows folks to plan (don’t buy a load of fw400 peripherals)

Japester

I don’t buy it. I think the most likely reason is waiting for a new processor.

People who complain about the absence of FireWire on the MacBook are geeks or advanced users too cheap to buy the Pro that they really should have. The MacBook is aimed at the broad consumer who doesn’t know what FireWire is and wouldn’t buy a FireWire peripheral. Thus it will be very successful.

I doubt FireWire will be removed from the desktop machines. Space is not a consideration on a desktop, although I could see a reduction to a single FireWire 800 port.

xmattingly

@John:

True that there was a lot of backlash about the lack of FW port. I haven’t heard any other rumors that Apple was specifically planning on yanking it from the iMac line. I don’t know how much those hardware components cost Apple; I can’t imagine it’s more than $20. Between that and having plenty of surface space available, I don’t see any justification for Apple cutting it out.

Another angle you might look at it from is, Apple NEEDING to include FW on the iMac, to offer another reason for an upsell from the Macbook. “You may not have portability, but you get a much larger screen + FW, a bigger hard drive and a beefier processor for only a few hundred dollars more.”

Just my two bit theory. As far as quad cores go… I’m hoping they make their way into the 17” MBP. Then watch me salivate all the way to the Apple Store. smile

Bregalad

Apple, aka Steve Jobs, knows what we need years before we do. Just ask him. He has decreed that FW400 is no longer necessary for consumers. The only reason it’s still on the white MacBook is that it would’ve been more expensive to change the logic board and case to remove it.

Your argument supposes that Jobs changes his mind when presented with the protests of zealots and that the iMac is a “consumer” product. I don’t accept either one. The iMac has moved up the price ladder beyond most consumers.

I believe Apple wants to restore the iMac to a best of class type machine and that demands a quad core processor. The delay, as with the Mac Pro, was caused by Intel product timing and pricing.

I believe Apple secretly wants the mini to die, but doesn’t have an alternate strategy for appealing to the 80% of Americans (a higher number in some other markets) who simply won’t pay more than $999 for a computer.

anovelli

I’m not sure this is right…. I just read somewhere that hte new firewire standard is coming out and it will run through the ethernet port with a converter cable. Anybody know about whether this is true? This was the quote I saved:

“Also, once the new 1394c standard is adopted by Apple, you’ll be able to do firewire 800 over ethernet with an adaptor with little more than a firmware update. While the lack of firewire is a huge pain in the @ss (i was using FW800 previously now only USB) firewire over the little used ethernet port (N is pretty freakin’ fast) is just as good.”

opaekaa

I have an entirely different theory.

Intel is about to release the Nehalem quad processor, happening in a March timeframe.  Intel has a gag order out to all to not discuss this in any detail, and I presume that includes Apple.

Look for an announcement near the end of March or early April.  I bet the new iMac and Power Mac lines will have this chipset.  We’ll see….

greybeard

The three theories offered for the delay of the iMac are CPU chip availability, wanting to use up inventory on hand, or a redesign prompted by the intention to drop FW from the iMac. The iMac seems to drifting towards the high end, not the low end. Almost as if Apple wants to minimize the market for the MacPro. It would seem to me that if Apple wanted to drop FW entirely, they would not have bumped the MacBook Pro to FW800. My bet is a combination of the first two. One piece of evidence in favor of the dropping argument is that it is not on the new display. The 20 and 23 inch Cinema Displays are gone and I bet the 30 is not far behind. I would dearly love to upgrade by ancient G$ Mini for the most probable interpretation of the 5 USB port that mini that has appeared. That video could not have been produced by PS. My bet is on chip delays by Intel with perhaps a need to exhaust chip inventories.

acdc1174

Valid theory I suppose.  I for one don’t subscribe to it.  There was a hue and cry from the established Mac community about the new MacBooks, yet Apple can’t stamp the new machines fast enough.  I sold my last gen black Macbook and got an aluminum one and am more than satisfied.  The unit is an upgrade in almost every way- better screen, keyboard, multi-touch trackpad, fit and finish, and graphics performance.  The firewire tradeoff is a minor nuisance.

I believe it is more likely a move on Apple’s part to have a confluence of products with Nehalem-based iMacs and Mac Pros Shipping with Snow Leopard.  Various benchmarking puts Nehalem chips at 10-40% faster than Penryn processors depending on the task.  This boost, coupled with whatever performance increase Snow Leopard brings with Grand Central, Open CL, 64-bit top to bottom, and Quicktime X, is poised to make the next release of iMacs and Mac Pros GREATLY outperform their PC cousins.  It is THIS differentiation of Macs and PCs based on raw performance That will make for internet buzz and tech journalism ink that money can’t buy.

So why the delay?  It’s twofold:  1) Snow Leopard isn’t ready.  It’ll get here when it gets here.  2)  Intel’s prices on coming quad-core Nehalem processors is still quite high for lots of 1000.  Apple won’t want to raise the price of the iMac (though an iMac “extreme” for a premium wouldn’t shock me) so these prices have to come down a little.  I suspect if the delay is going to be beyond June, we’ll see a refresh, but it won’t be more than a few mhz on the processor.

adamC

Whatever the reason in these trying times Apple has to come out with something that will blow away the competition. It has to be good enough to take away sales from the netbooks and very capable of use in the enterprise. It can’t afford to make a boo boo or any boo boo because it can’t falter now especially when MS will be releasing windoz 7 soon. It has to be a winner that make people willing to part with their monies.

Nostradamus

My predictions:

The iMac refresh may give us a quad core processor and will definitely have an LED backlit screen- first will be the 20 incher, and then the 24” will follow a little later. They will be a hit in graphics labs all over the world after some clever after-market manufacturer offers a matte screen replacement option.

there will soon be an Apple 30” LED backlit screen.

The tower will shrink, or else become a sort of iMac on steroids. If it mimics the iMac it will of course have easily accessible drive bays and card slots and an integrated screen in a thicker form factor.

Man will walk on the moon. (oh, wait a minute….)

GG

Incorrect premise.  Yes, there was some disappointment in the lack of firewire on the new macbook, but it was limited to the very very small group of folks like us who read these forums.

The fact is that mac portables—especially unibody macbooks—have been selling like hotcakes.  Just check Apple’s last quarter numbers.

The average consumer couldn’t care less about firewire.  And even if they did, there are many work-arounds. How many people walking into an Apple Store even know what target disk mode is?  Not many.  But tons are walking out with MacBooks.

And don’t you think Apple does market research on this stuff?  Of course they do and they always get it right.

There are always going to be complaints when Apple revamps a product line. You can even find morons today saying the 12” G4 Powerbook still doesn’t have a suitable replacement.  First they said the MacBook was bigger and heavier than the 12”.  Now that it’s smaller and lighter they say they miss the 4:3 ratio screen of the 12.”  I kid you not.  These same folks probably miss the smoke smell of cooking over an open fire instead of a stove.

Last minute firewire inclusion is NOT why iMacs are delayed—IF they are delayed.  Apple will release the iMacs soon enough.  And if they don’t have firewire, don’t be surprised.

xmattingly

@GG: I think you’re right about lack of FW NOT affecting Macbook sales. However:

1. Apple does not do market research. That has been a well known fact for years.

http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/publications/magazine/6/4/you_cant_innovate_like_apple

2. There is no correlation between 12” PB enthusiasts and cooking preferences: complete nonsense. I don’t have any real love for the 12”, but for my money I’ll take a can of beans cooked above an open fire over those prepared on a stove, any day.

GG

xmattingly.

Apple doesn’t do the usual market research.  They think differently when it comes to market research.  The fact that Jobs knows what ports come on the latest HD camcorders proves they do their own market research and are aware of what the market current and future needs. 

Steve’s conclusion is that MacBooks and MB Airs don’t need firewire.  Sales prove him right.  He’ll probably conclude the same for at least the new low end iMacs.  Sales will prove him right again.  If Apple tries to make the 0.01% nostalgic fanatics happy they will never get new stuff out the door.

The open fire cooking example was an analogy not a correlation.  Surely you know this.  I’m sure you don’t have an open fire in your kitchen for everyday use.  Cooking outdoors and firing up a vintage obsolete Mac are fun once in a while but no one in their right mind in the US in 2009 needs to do these things daily to get stuff done.

P.S.  The 12” PowerBooks got really really hot.  You should find one and try to cook beans on it.  It would probably cook beans almost as well as it would do computing.  For cooking beans the 12” PB kicks the cool new unibody MacBook’s butt.

xmattingly

*/ The fact that Jobs knows what ports come on the latest HD camcorders proves they do their own market research and are aware of what the market current and future needs. /*

That would be market AWARENESS, not research. The only thing that fact proves is that Apple is aware of where the tech is where it’s headed, or where they want to take it, as they’ve always played by their own rules. If they did the market research/reaction to trends as an ordinary tech company would, the original iMacs would have had floppy drives & iPhones would never have included visual voicemail. One thing you certainly can’t prove is that Apple uses statistics and focus groups - or ANY other practice of market research for that matter - to decide where they want their tech to head… because frankly you’re wrong.


*/ The open fire cooking example was an analogy not a correlation. I?m sure you don?t have an open fire in your kitchen for everyday use. /*

Arguing a case for semantics, are we? I have about as much need for an open pit in my kitchen as you need a 12” PB in your backyard to burn leaves on. There is no connection between one or the other. If it was an analogy, it was a bad one, made even worse by your latest post.


*/ If Apple tries to make the 0.01% nostalgic fanatics happy they will never get new stuff out the door.
... no one in their right mind in the US in 2009 needs to do these things daily to get stuff done.
/*
I can agree that what makes Apple a leader is the industry is that they march forward with almost no hesitation. Customers, vendors, etc. may gripe in the short term but we ultimately wind up with better stuff. But you are more than a little presumptuous about where the 12” PB stands in usability or number of applicable users. Rob Griffiths, who is a well known member of the Mac community still uses his 12” regularly. How about people who can only afford second hand computers - are they “not in their right mind” for using old equipment?

Again, I agree that the newest stuff doesn’t have to be the exact same form factor to be a suitable replacement for the 12”, and they’re actually far better in most respects. But pigeon-holing that product as something that is useless and no one could possibly want these days is pretty asinine.

GG

xmattingly.  I’ve obviously hit a nerve. You’re so worked up you’re not making any sense.  Let me help you out.

*/That would be market AWARENESS, not research. The only thing that fact proves is that Apple is aware of where the tech is where it?s headed, or where they want to take it, as they?ve always played by their own rules. If they did the market research/reaction to trends as an ordinary tech company would, the original iMacs would have had floppy drives & iPhones would never have included visual voicemail. One thing you certainly can?t prove is that Apple uses statistics and focus groups - or ANY other practice of market research for that matter - to decide where they want their tech to head? because frankly you?re wrong./*

How do you think Apple becomes AWARE of something?  They do research.  We all know they don’t do the usual focus group stuff and I never said they did.  You wasted a whole paragraph here.

*/Arguing a case for semantics, are we? I have about as much need for an open pit in my kitchen as you need a 12? PB in your backyard to burn leaves on. There is no connection between one or the other. If it was an analogy, it was a bad one, made even worse by your latest post./*

It’s not semantics.  I was correcting you because you were wrong and/or misunderstood.  Please look up definitions for the following:  correlation, analogy, semantics.

*/I can agree that what makes Apple a leader is the industry is that they march forward with almost no hesitation. Customers, vendors, etc. may gripe in the short term but we ultimately wind up with better stuff. But you are more than a little presumptuous about where the 12? PB stands in usability or number of applicable users. Rob Griffiths, who is a well known member of the Mac community still uses his 12? regularly. How about people who can only afford second hand computers - are they ?not in their right mind? for using old equipment?

Again, I agree that the newest stuff doesn?t have to be the exact same form factor to be a suitable replacement for the 12?, and they?re actually far better in most respects. But pigeon-holing that product as something that is useless and no one could possibly want these days is pretty asinine./*

If you could follow what I wrote you would know that I wasn’t implying old equipment shouldn’t be used.  I was saying that those who say old equipment is way better than new equipment are not in their right minds and just obsessed with nostalgia.  Yea for Rob Griffiths. He uses a 12” Powerbook.  What’s your point?  It’s still old vintage equipment that has been eclipsed by newer equipment.  Why can’t you understand this?  Some people—very few—think drive really old restored cars around.  These old cars are less safe, less clean, and less efficient.  Their owners love them and will say how great they are but it doesn’t mean those old cars are better than a new BMW. (Careful xmattingly. This is another analogy. Don’t get tripped up and confused again.)

Have fun replying to this.  Please make sure you understand everything before you do. 

I have a life and it’s Saturday night.  I’m going out to meet my friends so I can’t reply until tomorrow.

xmattingly

*/ How do you think Apple becomes AWARE of something?  They do research. /*

Unfortunately, you’re probably not going to understand this post either, since your comprehension of the subject is pretty limited. I look to my left. I see a guitar leaning against the wall and a waste basket. Is that research, or is it awareness? You need to research what the practice of market research entails. It’s not as simple as “being aware of ports vendors are using these days”, or whatever convoluted POV you have worked out in your own head. raspberry

Like I said before: call it an analogy, or spin it any way you want. You made a lame comparison between two unrelated concepts and have chosen to be defensive about it. Whatever.

I don’t know anyone who says “old equipment is better”; just that they prefer the 12” form factor. As a matter of fact, you completely invented that argument out of your own conjecture. You’re chasing your own tail again…


*/ And don?t you think Apple does market research on this stuff?  Of course they do and they always get it right. /*

So - going back to your original point of obtuse theorizing: You bet Apple researched the hell out of the G4 Cube. They knew that people really wanted an overpriced machine in a neat-o form factor, and would sell outrageously well for years. Same for the iPod Hi-Fi. Of course they “research” everything, and they always get it right. Yay.

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