Report: Apple to unveil new iMacs by mid-October

Analysts agree the iMac needs a facelift, unsure whether now's the right time

Apple will refresh its iMac desktop computer within a matter of weeks and will unveil the first revamp of the all-in-one's exterior since mid-2007, a prominent Apple enthusiast site reported Thursday.

According to AppleInsider, Apple will introduce new iMacs sporting a new enclosure "anytime between next week and mid-October."

Taiwanese manufacturers have been producing the redesigned iMacs for the past two weeks, sources told the Web site. Other clues, including $100 to $200 discounts on existing models to volume customers, point to an imminent release.

But details are few and far between. Although the site's sources claimed the redesigned iMacs will sport a thinner design, perhaps one that mimics the look of Apple's LED-backlit Cinema Display line introduced last December, information about other enhancements, tweaks and additions was scant. An internal Blu-ray optical drive is one possibility.

The last time Apple updated the iMac was in early March 2009, when the company doubled the amount of RAM, increased storage space and dropped in faster Intel Core 2 Duo processors while keeping prices stable for all but one model, the least-expensive 24-in. iMac.

At the time, one analyst called the refresh "underwhelming" and "exactly what you'd expect from Apple, more stuff for the same price."

The recent gossip got the attention of a pair of industry analysts, who agreed that an iMac overhaul is long overdue. But they're split on whether the timing is on the mark.

"Apple's desktops, as a percentage of their total [system] sales, continue to decline," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with retail research firm NPD Group. Baker said the talk of an iMac refresh made sense because of the long stretch since the line last saw a redesign, and because Apple would like to give its desktops a chance to compete with laptops, long its strength.

He also suggested Apple would be smart to cut prices of its iMacs, rather than take its traditional approach of keeping prices flat while beefing up the components' specifications. "The pricing for iMacs is almost the same as for Apple's notebooks," he observed.

Apple currently sells the one 20-in. iMac model at $1,199, and the three 24-in. configurations at $1,499, $1,799 and $2,199. In comparison, the company's MacBook Pro line of laptops are priced between $1,199 and $2,499.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, was skeptical of a September or October refresh.

"I think it looks likely that Apple will do this, but not until early 2010," Gottheil said, noting that virtually every major component in the desktop systems had been upgraded in March. He also cited Apple's strong sales during the recession as another reason why the company wouldn't feel pressured to retool the line.

In the second calendar quarter, Apple sold 2.6 million Macs, 4% more than the same quarter the year before. Only 849,000, or 34% of that total were desktops, which the iMac dominates. That was down 10% from the 943,000 desktops sold in the same period of 2008.

Gottheil also hedged his bet. "The iMac is the longest in the same box," he said, referring to its case design while and acknowledging anything's possible from the Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker. "Apple is completely unpredictable."

Another hint that Apple may do the unpredictable comes from history's timeline: Last year, Apple unveiled the new "unibody" design for the MacBook Pro in mid-October.

Also worth noting is the MacRumors Buyer's Guide, which tracks the product cycles of Apple's hardware, and makes recommendations based on the average time between refreshes. According to the guide, the iMac has been updated every 220 days, on average, since it's 2003 introduction. As of Thursday, 203 days had passed since the March 2009 revamp.

"Buy only if you need it -- approaching the end of a cycle," the buyer's guide warns.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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