Is Apple Confused - Or Merely Learning From Its Mistakes?

At first glance, some of Appleis recent product strategies look like a tumultuous roller coaster ride. But in reality, it seems to this Observer that Apple is merely doing what we, the consumers, want. A prime example of this is the switch from DVD drives to CD-RW in its Power Mac G4 line. Obviously, Apple miscalculated how popular DVDs would become. When it comes to movies, they are all the rage (DVD players have now dropped below $200, making them a viable purchase for many consumers), but in the computer world, there is still very little software available on DVD.

Before MACWORLD, Appleis entire product line - save for the base models of the iMac and iBook ranges - had DVD drives. Now, a CD-RW drive is standard equipment in all G4s. This makes a lot of sense. Blank CDs are dirt cheap, and burning them is a cinch. Furthermore, having a CD-RW drive negates the need for Apple to offer a Zip drive as standard equipment.

The addition, the SuperDrive is also very welcome; not only can it read and write CDs, it also reads and writes DVDs. Within the next year or so, I fully expect Apple to offer this innovative drive in all of its product lines.

But why, you might ask, do the new PowerBook G4s continue to offer only a DVD drive? A valid question. My theory is that DVD drives are a useful way to pass time while on the go. Watching a movie is a great way to pass the time while jetting across the country, so the continued use of DVD in portable products makes sense. I applaud Apple for switching to CD burners in its high-end offerings. While a DVD drive can be great to have, most people will find a CD-RW drive to be much more useful - for now. Once the price of the SuperDrive and blank DVDs go down, we will have the best of both worlds.

Another important switch for Apple is its switch back to single-processor systems. It wasnit long ago (to be exact) that Apple debuted its dual-processor G4 systems. If you wanted a 500 MHz G4, you had no choice but to get two of them. But this strategy didnit last for long. In fact, there is no standard dual-processor configuration anymore. That means that if you really want a multiprocessor system, you will have to custom configure one at the Apple store. And your only choice is the dual 533 MHz setup (which costs $300 more than a single-processor 533 system).

Why the change? Well obviously, dual-processor systems are more expensive than single-processor machines. Is the premium worth it? For some people, it very possibly is. But not for most - at least not until we all have Mac OS X with its symmetric multiprocessing. The biggest reason why Apple is moving away from multiprocessing systems is limited availability of fast G4s. Lets face it: if you are going to sell dual-processor systems, you are going to need twice as many processors. The supply of 733 MHz G4 chips will be constrained enough as it is.

So basically, the move away from dual-processor systems is unfortunate but understandable. Apple is doing what is best - for now. In the future, the company might very well switch back to offering high-end multiprocessor systems. In the meantime, the option for those who need it is still there.

A third change in strategy by Apple is the movement away from using only ATIis video cards; three of the four G4 configurations come with the 32 MB NVIDIA card. I donit have a lot to say on this issue; the Radeon card is still available as an option if you want it. Furthermore, ATI has had supply problems in the past, so offering more choices is a great idea.

Yes, Apple has made some big changes to its strategies this week. But the changes appear to be exactly what is needed. I applaud Apple for doing this. Their current product line is better than ever.