The Rumor Mill

Forget the Flat Panel iMac

- 2001.12.04

You've read the rumors. They've been around for a year or two. Apple will be replacing the iMac's big, heavy CRT with a flat panel display.

Sorry, it's not going to happen.

The iMac is Apple's lowest cost, entry level computer. Flat panel displays cost a heck of a lot more than CRTs. Sure, there's some saving from shipping a smaller lighter box, some from not having to dish out at much power to drive the display, and some from not having to worry about aligning the display and not damaging it in shipping, but between them they don't outweigh the simple fact that the iMac with a CRT may always cost less than an iMac with a flat panel display.

Besides, Apple already has a flat panel iMac - it's called the iBook. For not too much more money than you'd pay for an iMac, you get a 1024 x 768 flat panel display, a small footprint, a light package, portability, and hours upon hours of battery life.

What would Apple gain from selling a flat panel iMac instead of an iBook? Nothing. The iBook is the more flexible computer.

What would users gain from a flat panel iMac instead of an iBook? A small footprint desktop computer more portable than the original Macintosh and an easier-on-the-eyes display.

What would Apple lose from selling a flat panel iMac? iBook sales. Power Mac G4 + flat panel display sales. Maybe even some PowerBook sales.

What would users lose with a flat panel iMac compared with an iBook? Battery power, a more fully integrated design (keyboard and trackpad built in, not plugged in), and high portability.

It Won't Be an iMac

For the near future, Apple will keep the CRT-based iMac going, hopefully reducing its price a bit more every six months or so. But Apple recognizes that the fastest growing segment of the personal computer market it portables. I'm one of many users who migrated from a desktop Mac to a PowerBook or iBook over the last year or so. Over time, Twentieth Anniverary Macthat will become a more common pattern. When there's a small difference in price between a desktop and a display compared to a laptop, the laptop will generally be the logical choice.

Not to say that Apple won't try to fill the Cube's empty niche an release a worthy successor to the 20th Anniversary Mac. I half expect to see a new flat panel Macintosh at Macworld Expo in January, probably built around the same 15" flat panel display Apple now sells separately. It will be less costly than a Power Mac G4 and Apple's 15" display, but it will be more expensive than the top-end iMac.

As a fan of the old compact Macs and someone who adores the Color Classic's design (if not its performance), I'd love to see Apple do one of two things:

  1. Release 12", 15", and 17" flat panel Macs using the iBook's display on the low end, the 15" display or TiBook display in the middle, and a 1280 x 1024 display at the top end.
  2. Create a docking system that allows a computer module to couple with a 12", 15", 17", or even 22" display, essentially turning the duo into one computer.

Whether Apple will do different sizes, I don't know. Whether they will have a flat panel Mac to show in January, I don't know.

But you can count on one thing - they won't call it an iMac.

- Anne Onymus

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