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Apple holds fire on iMac 2 until economy's right

Consumers' wallets just not ready for it yet

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Apple appears to be holding back the release of its next-generation iMac because the market just isn't ready for it yet.

The completely redesigned consumer computer, equipped with a built-in LCD screen, was expected to be launched at Macworld Expo New York last month.

Of course, claims that Apple is developing an LCD iMac have been doing the rounds for almost as long as the company has been shipping the CRT version. But the current iMac design is over three years old now and many observers consider it is in need of rejuvenation. High time, then, for a new LCD machine to replace the old CRT model.

But not yet. As we suggested at the time, Apple's decision to hold back on the new iMac may well have been made simply because the consumer market isn't robust enough. Why release a flash new computer right at the point where its target audience isn't keen on spending money?

And Apple really doesn't need another Cube fiasco. Releasing a sleek, stylish new box that almost no one buys could easily provoke a backlash against Apple's focus on designer computers. It's not hard to imagine Wall Street analysts' reaction in such circumstances: they'd see it as a sign that no one wants designer computers any longer, and downgrade Apple accordingly.

With design being one of only two key product differentiators Apple can use - the other is the operating system - the company really can't afford to have its reputation tarnished this way.

And that's pretty much what Apple's thinking appears to be. An anonymous posting at Mac OS Rumors claims: "I just came out of a meeting with our regional Educational sales rep from Apple, where we discussed our very large purchase of new desktops for the students in our district, slated for December....

"The rep said quite specifically that Apple will have iMacs in a new enclosure and LCD-based displays by January - that the economy (and sales of current iMacs) will play a big role in the timing of the announcement, which could come just early enough for us to make them part of our purchase if we choose."

January is a likely launch date since, through Macworld Expo San Francisco, it's a traditional time for new Apple releases. But there's a sense here that the company is watching the market closely and if there's sufficient sign of an upturn, it could release the machine sooner, perhaps in time for the Christmas sales period.

This would put it head-to-head with the millions of dollars that Microsoft will spend on promoting Xbox, so Apple may well want to wait for the fuss to die down. It's an interesting comparison: how best to market a consumer computer that reaches down (a little) into the console space against a console that reaches up into the consumer computer space.

Whatever, Apple is going to need all of its marketing and market nous to time the iMac 2's launch right. ®

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