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Apple to ship next-gen iMac in September

Conspiracy not cock-up

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Analysis Apple has announced an major iMac update... sort of. It's said when they will arrive - September - but nothing more about them than that.

The company's US and UK online AppleStores both today state that they are no longer taking iMac orders pending the upcoming announcement of a new line of consumer desktops which will become available in September.

"We planned to have our next generation iMac ready by the time the inventory of current iMacs runs out in the next few weeks," the site confesses, "but our planning was obviously less than perfect."

Rumours that Apple is preparing a new iMac, possibly a G5 model, surfaced a few weeks ago, with the inevitable assumption being made that CEO Steve Jobs would unveil the machine at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which took place this week.

A number of Wall Street analysts even stuck their necks out and forecast that that's exactly what Jobs would do - even though Apple had not revealed any intention to broadcast his keynote, which they surely would have done had the company decided to make such an important announcement.

Indeed, that's what happened at last year's WWDC, when Jobs unveiled the Power Mac G5 and its 64-bit PowerPC 970 processor.

Just ahead of Monday, 28 June's keynote, website Think Secret noted that its sources said there would be no iMac introduction at WWDC. Why? "June is too early to roll out a consumer product that needs just the right amount of momentum entering the holiday buying season." And Apple is only just starting to build this product in Asia, apparently.

That's sound logic on Apple's part - but why now make a statement that casts doubt on the company's inventory management abilities, skills which it has often touted in the past?

With a new iMac on the way and summer upon us, sales of the original are bound to dip, and the last thing the company wants on its hands come September are heaps of old machines it can't get rid of because everyone wants the new one. As it stands, it's forsaking only two months of iMac revenues - not to mention the cost of producing two months' worth of old iMacs - and instead building up considerable interest in as-yet-unannounced product.

Yes, there's the inevitable 'back to school' sales period, but presumably Apple believes it has more than enough eMac desktops and iBook laptops to cover that, the former being of particular interest to buyers looking for a kids' machine and fearing the angle-poise iMac might be insufficiently robust.

Apple may have had its hand forced in all this. Last week's high-level rumour-mongering - Wall Street this time, rather than the usual online suspects - might have persuaded it to forego two months' sales with certainty rather than maintain inventory for demand that might be killed of by the media attention surround said rumour.

But if Apple can turn supply off quickly enough to react to the possible effects of a rumour that's less than a week old, it can manage inventory well enough to equip it and its channel with enough iMacs to meet demand over the next two months - demand that might have been maintained had it not given credence to the rumours as it has done today. As we know, Apple doesn't (usually) comment on rumours.

Conspiracy - not cock-up

In other words, it's all been planned, probably as a way of building interest in the new machine. We might even suggest that last week's analyst reports might have been, shall we say, encouraged. It's not difficult for a company like Apple to drop a few hints and wait for reporters and analysts to draw their own, incorrect conclusions: that the new iMac was imminent.

Apple is not beyond announcing hardware well in advance of the product's availability, so it's possible that it did intend to announce the new iMac this week, even though it won't see light of day until September. But it can't have been excessive inventory that forced a rethink of the content of Jobs' keynote: Apple quite simply doesn't have the inventory to risk remaining unsold, according to what it said today.

But what of the alternative scenario: that it's cock-up, not conspiracy. Apple ordered too few iMacs. That's still good news: it means sales during the latter half of Q2 were probably higher than expected, despite any anticipation of an announcement at WWDC. But Apple would have known weeks ago that its supplies might not stretch to September, in which case there was no reason not to announce the new model at WWDC, even if it knew the new model wouldn't be ready until September. The fact that it didn't make an announcement suggests this scenario isn't correct.

No, it all points to a carefully considered strategy designed to whet Mac fans' appetites for whatever's coming in September. Quite apart from the addition of a G5 CPU, speculation has stretched to a completely new enclosure and the revival of the old tablet rumour.

The latter now starts to make sense. The launch of AirPort Express is begging someone to come up with a remote iTunes control system that doesn't require you to carry a notebook around the house. After all, if you're going to have to bring your PowerBook into the living room to control what's being played on your hi-fi via AirPort Express, you may as well connect you notebook straight to your amplifier.

How much better would a small wireless tablet system be that communicates with the base unit via the same wireless network being used to feed your AirPort Express module? ®

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