Apple's new iMac is its most expensive ever

Analysts disagree whether the Retina 5K iMac, a pixel-packed powerhouse, is only for creative professionals or for wallet-heavy consumers, too

iMac with retina display

Apple yesterday launched its most expensive-ever iMac, the $2,499 iMac with Retina 5K display, a desktop that will appeal to not only professional creative customers but also well-heeled consumers who want the very best money can buy, analysts said.

The new iMac brings Apple's higher-resolution display -- which the company has long labeled "Retina" as a marketing term -- to a second computer line, following in the footsteps of the MacBook Pro.

"Clearly, it's a good machine for creative professionals," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research, in an interview yesterday. "But it's also for those where money is no object, who want a very good PC."

Other analysts agreed.

"It's both a niche product and a premium mass-market product," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "It's for professionals who don't need the absolute best, like a Mac Pro, but also for prosumers who just want the best."

Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies also weighed in. "At $2,499, this price is SMB- and consumer-friendly for some families looking at an all-in-one desktop PC to become multipurpose home computers the whole family shares," Bajarin wrote on Tech.pinions today. Bajarin thought that, unlike the Mac Pro, the all-in-one iMac would be a more affordable pick for small- and medium-sized business (SMB) graphics professionals.

Not surprisingly, Apple spent much of the iMac's time in the spotlight yesterday touting the display, which offers 5120-by-2880-pixel resolution. "This is the world's highest-resolution display," boasted Philip Schiller, Apple's top marketing executive, who presented the 5K Retina iMac at Thursday's event.

Apple has never sold an iMac at a higher price point -- at least not one with a higher entry-level price or one not customized by the customer -- although it's launched several at $1,999. (Bets are off when the original Mac from the '80s is in the mix: The so-called "Fat Mac" of 1984, which included 512K of RAM, cost $3,195, or in 2014 dollars, about $7,314.)

Rather than replace any of the already-available iMacs in the portfolio, Apple inserted the Retina 5K iMac into a new top spot, just as it did when it introduced a Retina-equipped MacBook Pro notebook in June 2012.

The new price bands of the iMac resemble those of the MacBook Pro in mid-2012. Then, Apple priced the 15-in. MacBook Pro with a Retina display at $2,199, or $400 more than the same 15-in. with a lower-resolution screen and $1,000 more than the smaller 13-in. MacBook Pro sans Retina.

iMac's price now tops out at $2,499, $700 more than the same-sized 27-in. desktop with a non-Retina display and $1,400 above the smaller 21.5-in. model.

However, unlike in the 2012 move on the MacBook Pro, Apple did not refresh the already-in-place iMacs: The non-Retina models in both sizes remained unchanged in specifications and price. With the exception of the introduction of a bottom-end iMac in June -- a slower machine that uses the same 1.4GHz Core i5 processor and Intel HD Graphics 5000 chipset as the MacBook Air -- the non-Retina iMac line was last updated more than a year ago.

Not every analyst who attended Apple's press conference Thursday thought that the iMac was aimed at a market wider than creative professionals who worked in video, photography or dimensional rendering. "It's more of a versatile professional machine, not a high-end mass market [PC]," contended Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

But Milanesi and Bajarin both speculated that the display used by the new iMac -- and Apple's leapfrog of the 4K screens other OEMs are starting to introduce, and those that television makers are now selling as "Ultra HD" -- hinted at future moves by the Cupertino, Calif. firm.

"This looks like a first step into the living room," Milanesi said of the iMac, which can double as a display for content pushed by Netflix, Amazon, HBO and others.

Bajarin noted the iMac's new Apple-designed processor, a time controller, or as Schiller called it, a "T-CON," that manages and manipulates each pixel. "I have no clue if this could be put into a dedicated Apple TV but, at the technical level, this processor could give them a decided edge in TV designs should they want to go in that direction," said Bajarin.

The Retina 5K iMac seems to be in short supply, as the delay between ordering and shipping lengthened today to "3-5 business days" on Apple's U.S. online store from Thursday's "1-3 business days."

5k Retina iMac shipping times

Shipping delays for the new 5K Retina iMac stretched to three to five business days on Friday, the day after its launch.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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