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Mac drought fails to lift Street, spirits

Widescreen iMac, iPod... er, that's it

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Perhaps Steve Jobs has found the real solution for dealing with "rumor" sites: make keynotes so short of new product that no one wants to read the advance rumors. A kind of "don't announce anything" strategy.

There may be some truth behind this gag, as Apple appears to be favoring dedicated launch events for new products, and using the keynotes to offer technology teasers instead. It will surely host a special event to launch the new G4s within the month, to stimulate demand for the QuickSilver PowerMac line. (Apple didn't break down demand for the new Xserve rack, lumping these in with PowerMac figures in the financials).

Jobs did announce two new pieces of kit at MacWorld Expo New York, but these hardly required clairvoyance or a Cupertino Deep Throat : a new 17" iMac and a 20GB version of the iPod. 20GB Toshiba drives have been on the market for some time, and the only surprise with the 17" iMac was that it wasn't available in January, when the LCD range was overhauled. (This shouldn't detract from Think Secret scooping these details a fortnight ago).

Neither product offered much consolation to Mac loyalists reeling at two spiteful examples of corporate thievery: there will be no upgrade pricing to Jagwyre (Mac OS X 10.2), with only the full $129 price available at the Apple Store; and $100 a year pricing ($49.95 for the first year) for a rehashed iTools offering. The "dead silence" with which this news was received, reports MacBlog is nothing compared to user comments.

To add insult to injury, the new iTools has a Microsoft-style name, to go with the Microsoft-style pricing.

Apple sold 378,000 iMacs in the most recent quarter - two per cent more than in the period quarter, indicating that iMac2 clearly isn't ramping in the way the original iMac 1998 caught on with the wider public. "It doesn't appear to be a Cube in the making," concludes MacNightOwl - but even the mention of the four letter C-word won't be welcomed in Cupertino.

The answer is a 17-inch LCD with a splendid 1440x900 native resolution. Unfortunately it's only available in the high-end 800Mhz SuperDrive configuration, and not

Just why is explained by another figure in Apple's most recent financials: margins dropped by a couple of per cent in the most recent quarter. Apple had earlier promised to see its way through the slump by maintaining margins, and reiterated the promise by raising iMac prices rather than absorb higher component costs.

Striking the balance between market share and higher margins has been the defining battle at Apple for much of the last two decades. Apple's understandable wish to reach Windows users with its Twitchers ad campaign [warning: contains satirical remarks - do not read if suffering from irony deficiency] meets the necessity of funding a high R&D spend round about here. It wants new users, but can't afford to throw itself into the cut-throat PC business: it isn't going to give this stuff away. The 17 inch LCD is much more attractive than the 1024x768 model, but the only entrance is using the premium ticket.

Not a day on which Apple endeared itself to its customers. But one crumb of comfort for long-term loyalists will be the presence of Sony Ericsson top brass to demonstrate syncing Macs with smartphones. Perhaps we ought to pay more attention when we see the lightly trippy Aqua genie effects appearing on demo units in future. ®

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