Cheaper iMacs, Retina MacBook Air make best contenders for WWDC reveals

More price cuts would prove Apple's serious about gaining share

Apple will unveil new or refreshed Mac personal computers next week, and all three major lines are potential candidates.

On June 2, the opening day of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the company will trumpet the new versions of iOS and OS X, but if it follows precedent, it will also tout new Mac hardware. In three of the last five years Apple announced new Macs at WWDC: The Mac announcements in 2012 and 2013 were probably prompted by Apple's decision to push new iPhone introductions into the fall.

WWDC is heavily covered by the media, and Apple would not have wanted to waste the opportunity to trot out something new on the hardware side. A 2014 repeat is expected.

Mac sales chart
Mac sales in the last reported quarter amounted to about 6% of all personal computer shipments during the three-month period. (Data: Apple.)

Last year, the refresh was of the MacBook Air, and included price cuts; the year before, Apple introduced the first MacBook Pro with a high-resolution "Retina" display, a move that boosted both sales and the Mac's ASP, or average selling price.

This year, the iMac and MacBook Air have the best chances of seeing some WWDC stage time.

iMac shipping times on Apple's e-store lengthened to three to five business days over the weekend, a move that often precedes a hardware change as the company draws down inventories. The longer delay between ordering and shipping was shown on Apple's U.S. online store, as well as those for customers in Canada, China, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and others.

AppleInsider first noted the iMac status changes.

Some analysts expect Apple to couple the new iMacs with a price cut, which is not out of the question as the Cupertino, Calif., last month dropped MacBook Air prices by $100 across the board.

Apple tends to move prices by $100 increments, so if cuts are imminent, they would probably reduce the 21.5-in. model to $1,199 and the 27-in. all-in-one to $1,699, reductions of 8% and 6%, respectively. Those prices would return the iMac to numbers last seen in mid-2012, before Apple botched the rollout of its last iMac redesign.

Also long rumored for a 2014 introduction is a Retina-equipped MacBook Air.

Although that line was just revamped in late April, Apple could reprise the tactic it used in 2012 when it launched the first Retina MacBook Pro. Then, Apple simply inserted a new model -- a 15-in. MacBook Pro with Retina -- into the line at a price $400 higher than the lowest-priced 15-in. stock model. The existing laptops' prices did not change. Only later did Apple add Retina to other MacBook Pros.

A similar approach would yield a Retina MacBook Air -- perhaps one, as some have suggested, with a smaller 12-in. screen -- priced at $1,399, $400 above the lowest-priced 13-in. non-Retina and $200 more than the upper-end 13-in. Air, leaving those models' prices undisturbed.

April's price cuts on the Air would then be viewed in hindsight as more than Apple's largess, or more than an attempt to increase sales, but also as a way to make room under the price umbrella for the even-more-expensive Retina Air.

And according to MacRumor's buyers guide, which tracks the intervals between Apple hardware refreshes, it's coming on time for a MacBook Pro relaunch: The last was in October 2013.

A price cut for the MacBook Pro line -- again $100 would be in tune with Apple's practice -- wouldn't be out of character for Apple of late. The result would be a low-end 13-in. at $1,199, also the price of the top-end MacBook Air of the same screen size, with the 15-in. line starting at $1,899.

Price cuts, although historically unusual for Apple, have become more common. In February 2013, for instance, Apple dropped prices of the MacBook Pro by as much as 15%.

"They've got slow growth in PC sales like everyone, and lower prices help. I think Apple made this move [because] it had seen disappointing results because of the high [Mac] prices," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, about the 2013 price reductions.

Like all personal computer makers, Apple has struggled to maintain sales growth in the face of competition from tablets and smartphones. In the March 2014 quarter, Apple grew Mac sales by 5% year-over-year, while the industry contracted by 4%, according to research firm IDC. But Apple's first-quarter growth paled in comparison to the double-digit gains the Mac posted from mid-2009 through the end of 2011.

Continued price cuts would not only drive higher sales volume, but also provide proof that Apple intended to take advantage of stumbles by its chief OS rival, Microsoft, which has had trouble getting customers excited about Windows 8.

Apple will webcast its WWDC keynote address on Monday, starting at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET).

This article, Cheaper iMacs, Retina MacBook Air make best contenders for WWDC hardware reveals, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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