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Just a Thought - Econo-Mac Revisited

by - January 7th, 2004

It's a brand new year; 2005, that means it's time for a fresh round of speculation about what our good friend and Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, will show off at the San Francisco Macworld Expo.

Last May I wrote a piece that examined the likelihood of Apple popping out what I called an Econo-Mac; this Mac on the cheap would be aimed squarely at PC users longing to enter the Clan of the Mac, but are short on funds. My contention was that an Econo-Mac was just what Apple needed to gain market share.

I mention my article, not because I have an enlarged noggin with matching ego, but because back then, when I wrote that article, a cheap Mac was a good idea; and now, with the iPod bringing more attention to Apple, it's an even better idea.

Now, as the 2005 Macworld Expo looms, stories of a sub-five hundred dollar machine from Apple seems not only possible, but likely. Yet with this latest round of speculation, I've come to realize that more than just a headless CPU is needed to really capture those looking for a inexpensive Apple computer.

It wouldn't be much of an exercise for Apple's famed hardware team to put together a computer that could meet the $500 price target, in fact, many high schoolers could do a reasonable job given access to Apple's exclusive parts and pulling the rest from a local CompUSA. The resulting computer would look a lot like something Michael Dell might offer; useable, easy to reproduce, cheap, and totally lacking any soul whatsoever.

So, if Apple were to create a $500 computer, the resulting machine would have to:

  1. run reasonably fast
  2. have FireWire ( for iPod connectivity)
  3. be easy to own
  4. be upgradeable (use off the shelf graphic cards, hard drives, so on)
  5. look extremely cool

That last point is especially true; if Apple wishes to keep it's hard-won distinction as an innovator and provider of cool products, even its least expensive Mac must have the design touch of Mr. Jonathan Ive.

And Apple shouldn't offer just one machine in this new Mac genre, I would think three models would do it: An entry level model that would, indeed, cost $500, and is pretty much stripped down to its digital skivvies; a 'Better' model that would include a bigger hard drive, more memory, better graphics card, and have a price tag of $600; a 'Best' model with even more RAM, hard drive space, and better graphics, and it might even offer a dual CPU, which would clock in at perhaps $800.

Apple would also have to create a line of relatively inexpensive monitors, LCD of course, to go with the Econo-Macs; only two would be needed, a 15" widescreen, and a 17" widescreen model. These would not be as good as the Cinema Display models, but more than adequate for the average user. The price tag on these might come in at $399 and $499 respectively.

So, anyone buying a complete Apple system could do it for $900, or if you have a monitor, or opt for a cheaper third party screen, you could be into a Mac for $500.

So, where does that leave the iMac, or the eMac for that matter? For the time being, the iMac would still hang around, it's just too cool to ditch so soon. Besides, many like the all-in-oneness of the iMac.

The eMac, on the other hand, should be tossed, it had a good run, but it just doesn't fit in today's world, where smaller is the key.

I sincerely hope the rumors are true, and that Apple will actually do some of the things I've suggested. Apple could do a lot worse, and it would give me a bad case of Encephlo-gigantus Egoitus.

Oops, there goes my derby collection.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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

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