Apple sees no future for CRTs

Following an industry trend toward smaller, more efficient PCs, Apple phased the bulky CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor out of its product line on Wednesday, moving entirely to LCDs (liquid crystal displays).

LCDs have long been sleeker, lighter-weight and more efficient than CRTs, but their greater price has always held them back in the retail market. Whether buying a television or a computer monitor, shoppers have been able to buy a larger screen for their money with CRTs.

Now Apple has bucked that trend by replacing the last CRT-based computer in its line — the eMac — with a low-priced iMac desktop PC.

Apple will sell its 17-inch iMac with an 80GB hard drive and 1.83GHz Core Duo processor from Intel for US$899, a price available only to certified students and teachers. The retail version sells for $1,299, featuring the same processor with more storage capacity, the ability to burn DVDs and other differences.

Both models take advantage of the thin format of LCDs to pack the entire computer behind the monitor, in a sandwich just two inches thick.

Apple’s move is typical of an industry-wide move from CRTs to LCDs.

Five years ago, flat panel displays were the smallest segment of the market for desktop monitors; today they have overtaken CRTs, said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies.

“Absolutely, you can get more screen for your money with CRTs. They are relatively dirt cheap, but they are fundamentally becoming dinosaurs,” Bajarin said.

While their visual performance is comparable to LCDs, CRTs suffer from much larger physical size and power draw, he said.

That is particularly important to buyers at schools and colleges, where IT managers frequently move the computers from room to room.

Competitors like Dell even offer lower prices on desktop PC packages with flat panel monitors, Bajarin said. Still, Apple’s iMac will be popular with education buyers, who typically spurn bargain deals in favor of increased storage and mid-range processors so they can run a wide variety of applications.

LCDs still cost more than CRTs, but many new factories have opened in China since 2000, helping to drive the price down, said Bajarin. That enables even mid-sized PC vendors like Apple to negotiate volume discounts. Apple is the fifth-largest PC vendor in the U.S., with 3.7 percent market share, according to IDC.

In fact, Apple has been moving away from CRTs for years.

At Macworld Expo in San Francisco in January, 2002, Apple CEO Steve Jobs launched the first iMac G4 with the words: “The new iMac ushers in the age of flat-screen computing for everyone. The CRT display is now officially dead.”

Later that year, Apple introduced the eMac as a low-cost alternative to iMacs for school system. Within little more than a month Apple responded to consumer pressure by making the eMac available for retail sale.

Four years later, Jobs’ prediction has come true, at least at Apple. Apple has ceased production of the eMac, but will continue to sell the CRT-based desktop while its inventory lasts.

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