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Nov 30

Apple needs to fill the gap.

i have to give Steve Jobs props for revitalizing Apple as a dying company when he helped introduce all things iBrand back in the late 90’s and early 00’s. The first iMac was noteworthy for its attempt to make computers fashionable and helped to establish the momentum that paved the way to the iPod, the iBook, the iLife software suite, and now the iPhone craze.

As a loyal supporter of Apple computers since about 1994, the direction that Jobs has taken Apple gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s nice to see a company that was such an underdog to Microsoft bring itself back into the spotlight, and i admire the company for finding ways to evolve outside of its original box and continue to push technology innovation and trends. The iPod pretty much blew away any existing portable MP3 player at the time through its marketing scheme; the iBook (and now the MacBook) has helped make laptops of any sort more mainstream, affordable, and trendy, and the iPhone caused all of the competing mobile phone manufacturers to scatter like chickens with their heads cut off to develop their own touchscreen smartphones.

But a side effect of the growth and development of that level of iCraze is that Apple’s flagship product of desktop computers (currently the Mac Pro) has further distanced itself from the mass market.

yesterday when i went to the lakeside mall i decided to skim my way through the new Apple store that had only recently opened there. the last time i was in an apple store was a couple of years ago in san francisco, and at that time i was going in with the attitude of ‘let’s just wander around’ as opposed to this time, which was ‘let’s assess the situation’.

and as i walked around this particular store, i saw iPods and iPod accessories, iPhone and iPhone accessories, iMac and iMac accessories, and MacBooks – none of which i was looking for. There was no sign of the Mac Pro, no corner where a user looking for a more power computer user that has expandability out the wazoo could find information. It made me think that the store should have changed its name from the Apple Store to the iTrend store.

And this reflects a particular attitude that Apple seems to have about their two lines of desktop computers. The Mac Pro is a powerful machine and has been generally received well by the critics, but Apple decided once it went Intel to make it such an Ultimate High-End Machine that it doesn’t pander well to the consumer market. The base model starts at about $2300 (without monitor) and customizing the machine to give it more oomph can easily put it into the $3500-$4000 range. For what you get that’s not unreasonable (from what i understand after basic digging) but the bottom line is still pretty steep and more computer than most people have a need for.

Which is fine because it’s nice that that option is available, but the problem is that the only alternative cheap option is the iMac. The base model of the iMac is $1200 (without a need for a monitor) and can be upgraded and oomphed up to a price that hits the low end of the Mac Pro specs for a much relatively cheaper cost. And i’d be completely happy with that except that the All-In-One design of the iMac restricts the kind of expandability that i’ve always had and still want with my desktops. i want multiple RAM slots and multiple PCI slots and multiple hard drive and optical bays. i want the ability to add a second monitor to my set up and then replace it if i get a new one or need to transfer my current monitor somewhere else. I want to be able to put in a RAID card or upgrade my graphics card. etcetera.

Ideally it would be nice if Apple brought back the PowerMac series as a reasonable compromise to fill that gap: consumer level processing options but with the expandability of the Mac Pro. I believe the audience is out there – the ones who want a compact and efficient workstation that gets the job done but can be modded as time goes by. A Powermac G6 could start somewhere mid iMac price range and ramp up to the beginning of the Mac Pro range, offering similar if not identical processor specs to the iMac.

But honestly i don’t see that happening any time in the near future. Apple’s desktop computers already seemed to be taking a backseat in development before the iPhone came out; now, between the newest MacBook Pros, the MacBook Airs, the iPhones, the iPods, &c., i think that the Mac desktops will continue to fade into a niche obscure market and fanbase comparable to that of Linux.

Which for me means two options: buy an old Mac Pro or G5 off of a distributor site that’s cheaper and more in line with what i want, or, for the first time in many years, consider buying/building a Windows machine as my main operating computer.

Buying a Windows machine as my main computer seems absurd because i’m much more comfortable with macintosh hardware and software, and i have all of these programs and files and archives of things that are Mac only. I hate Windows Vista, am not terribly fond of Windows XP, and don’t relish having to find a whole new suite of applications that will likely be unable to read my mac files.

And yet it still falls under consideration simply because of the question: “what do i really need in a computer and how much is that need worth?” against all other considerations it seems horribly imbalanced, but it’s a valid concern since there are many other things i should be using my money for other than a $4k computer and i bet i’d be able to build a PC that meets my needs for half that price (although i’m not sure if i feel like it will last as long).

But we’ll see. All this is moot until 2009 in any case, so when it becomes relevant i’ll look at the current offerings both present and recent past and then assess the situation then.

originally posted on darkblog resonate. comments are preferred there.

1 comment

5 pings

  1. Andrew S

    The audience you’re talking about has become tiny, even from the Windows world. Ask the college kids you work with–I’d be surprised if more than a handful used desktops.

    Desktops have become the realm of people who need high-end video and RAM (gamers and photo/video folks). External storage outsells internal storage expansion. And besides, the Mac Pro is still cheaper than what my Powermac cost in 1994 :)

    Anyway, your best bet would probably be to build your own intel box and install an appropriately patched version of OSX on it. I haven’t tried it yet, but it should be a lot easier than running windows!

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