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Why Apple should revisit an affordable, upgradeable tower

The internals of the original 20" iMac G5...

The internals of the original 20″ iMac G5. Many hardware components can be seen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an effort to market its desktop computers for the “it’s good enough” set, Apple has quietly demonstrated a willingness to reduce the price of its iMac.

This would be big news except for the fact that along with the somewhat lower price point comes an iMac whose performance is throttled accordingly. Also, even if the computer itself ends up being good enough for entry level consumers, the price drop hardly is.

The Cupertino giant has never been one to try to compete in the entry level computer space with respect to cost. They have offered “consumer” models like iMac, but these models were still kind of pricey compared to what could be had in the Windows world for the same cash outlay.

The rain and the classical music I am listening to has made me drift over to Apple’s online store. Instead of only viewing the 21.5″ Apple refurbished iMac a couple of years old for $1,199 ($300 savings), I also looked at the new 21.5″ iMac for $1,099 (regular price).

Apple is playing an interesting game here. Of course it still has stock of last year’s model (and beyond) it wishes to unload. It lowers the price on refurbished models. I have always urged clients and friends alike to look for Apple refurbished Macs for some of the best deals.

In my opinion, the specs on this particular refurbished iMac makes it clearly the choice if one is seeking purely the best performance (between this one and the less expensive, brand new iMac). Apple’s marketing department understands that entry level consumers considering a new iMac will opt for the cheaper (I can only say “less expensive” so many times), less powerful and less roomy hard drive in the $1,099 iMac.

Whether they state it outright or not, Apple is selling to this market segment–those seeking a new, cheaper iMac that performs just/only well enough. This is the demographic Apple caters to with its underwhelmingly spec’d all-in-one.

A Macintosh Performa 6400, one of the few Perf...

A Macintosh Performa 6400, one of the few Performas in a tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This scenario harkens back to the time I paid $1,999 for a logic-board crippled, new Mac Performa 5215 CD because it was all the new Mac I could afford in 1995. Good enough in that case, turned out to be just the opposite. I quickly grew out of the computer, but not before learning a great deal about how to optimize one whose design was clearly flawed.

Since moving to the Intel family of processor chips, Apple has been careful not to repeat the mistake of selling severely underperforming computers (relative to the rest of its line). The new $1,099 iMac is surely capable for most users. But with each revision of Mac operating system that Apple releases, the $1,099 iMac will seem slower and slower. And there really won’t be anything for consumers to do once they crave more speed and power except to drop more cash on another cheap (for Apple) iMac in three years’ time or less.

I not too long ago suggested Apple drop the price of its Mac Mini to $399 to generate some interest in the entry level space it only halfheartedly serves. This hasn’t happened. Sadly, starting at $599, the Mac Mini is not a good value when you factor in its “bring your own peripherals” (monitor, keyboard, mouse) party approach.

What would be a good deal?

In this world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult for not only Apple, but all hardware companies to stay original and new when it comes to innovating, I suggest doing as Hollywood does: make a sequel or at least a remake of a movie that was big box office when first released.

Their are only so many chords you can use when it comes to songwriting. The pressure to stay at the cutting edge is always on Apple more so than any other company.

iMacs took the world by storm in their original CRT versions. They are even more popular today with their Intel processors and streamlined, thin, sexy designs that pack ten pounds of components into five pound sacks. Heat is the enemy of computers. iMacs, like their MacBook Pro brethren generate a lot of  it. Since they are all in one designs, iMacs have to be brought to the shop when something inside quits. This is the downside to all that sexiness one pays for.

If Apple were serious about going after some of the enterprise they’d offer an upgradeable tower at $899 and with specs just below the entry level iMac.

Towers were and are still being used by Mac and PC users alike. One of the best things about my Sawtooth is how easy it is to open up, upgrade and work on. We know opening up the case on a new Mac voids its warranty. But a potential whole new, younger market segment might be willing to try an Apple tower just to drive it for a year, then see about opening it up, upgrading it and falling in love with it all over again. Once the Mac Mini or iMac breaks down, only a costly trip to the shop can save it as repair is too daunting for the average user.

An affordable-to-the-masses, upgradeable Mac tower sequel, may attract an entirely new legion of fans to the Mac much like the one that is currently graying.

People hold on to older technology because it serves them. Computers like towers are highly upgradeable. Computers that can’t be (easily) upgraded are disposable and don’t foster the kind of brand loyalty that Apple has worked so hard over the years to maintain. The foolish goal of forcing consumers to buy practically impossible-to-upgrade iMacs every two and one-half to three years just makes Apple seem like all the rest.

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10 replies »

  1. Tower computers are the past, in the same way that portable CD players are remnants of the past.

    In both cases, technological advances and most users priorities have made them less relevant.

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    • I agree somewhat, Harvey. Nice avatar, btw. I think there’s hope of the past becoming new again; see the Apple watch. The watch as a form factor is centuries old, but Apple chose to revisit it for the 21st century. The CD player is gone, I agree, but towers are the most upgradeable computers going and still produced in mass quantity by manufacturers other than Apple. Think different, but only better! Thanks for reading and for your comments.

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  2. Your price point may be low for what I want. I’d like to see a consumer version of the Mac Pro. Ditch those over priced Xenon chips and FirePower Pro graphics cards. Offer a wide variety of CPU/GPU options at reasonable prices. The entry level of this should probably come in around $999-1299 price point and should offer similar performance to a $1299 iMac but with options that would allow for much better gaming graphics and much higher end CPUs that could grow over time.

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    • Very cool, puggsly. My price point is probably a bit low for Apple and its base. I like what you describe in terms of a consumer Mac Pro version(s). Appreciate your comments and thanks for reading hittingthesweetspot!

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  3. I would love to see a new upgradable Mac desktop (I have owned more than 10 of them over the years), but it’s never going to happen.
    Not only is the desktop being increasingly replaced by the notebook or mobile device, but Apple’s success has come as the upgradability and average lifespan of their devices has decreased. Few individuals could afford to buy a Mac in the 680×0 and PowerPC eras. They were mostly purchased by media companies, used for 3-6 years and then sold to individuals who used them for a few more years. As you mentioned Apple did try selling less expensive Macs, but they were flawed or deliberately crippled and ensured that many people’s first Mac was also their last.
    Today more than half of Apple’s revenue comes from the iPhone, a device frequently replaced with a brand new one every 2 years.
    While it’s true that a disposable hardware product may not foster much loyalty, that increasingly doesn’t matter. Today it’s the software ecosystem that retains customers across multiple generations of hardware.

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    • Thanks for some great comments, David. Now that Apple’s released a watch and more iPhones, I’m sad at the state of affairs with Apple hardware. As I said to Moofer above, use it and lose it seems to be what their strategy is now. In my opinion, Apple’s mobile lead will lose steam and they will eventually have to think different again. I hope they do.

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  4. Good article, I’ve bought my first Mac in 1991 – and now, once again find macs seriously lacking what I want. An affordable tower with expansion capabilities, not the ridiculously expensive and absurdly overdesigned Macpro. My only choice is the Mac mini, Apple unfortunately, is now a fashion choice, I’ve only ever wanted their OS which is superb, their hardware however is there way way of telling me that that I’m not of interest to them. They only want worshippers, not users.

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    • Hi Richard. Sorry for the late reply, but I’m doing some housekeeping finally and wanted to belatedly thank you for your comments and compliment. It was interesting to see the new Mac Minis come out but at $499 to start and with soldered on, non-upgradeable memory, they are hugely disappointing. I couldn’t agree with you more with how Apple has disregarded the preferences of many of its longtime consumer and professional base. I stopped being Mac only years ago when I saw the shift to mobile and tablet (phablets) and iOS as their primary emphasis. I use what works best for me and sounds like you do, too. Thanks again, Richard.

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