While industry analysts agreed today that Apple’s choice to outfit the company’s desktop line with dual processors was a good move, they remain split on the addition of a SuperDrive equipped eMac to the product grid. Adding yet another product to an already expanding grid could cause confusion for consumers one analyst warned.
“This is a very smart move,” Tim Bajarin, industry analyst and president of Creative Strategies, told MacCentral. “When you deal with the kind of work that Apple’s pro users do — in the area of graphics, imaging and video — you really want to have the most powerful processors as possible. This gives the Mac community something that’s more than capable of dealing with Intel machines.”
The architecture of the Power Mac is based on Apple’s Xserve rackmount server with support for up to 2GB of Double Data Rate (DDR) memory at up to 333MHz. In addition each system includes 1MB of DDR SRAM backside level 3 cache per processor.
The Power Mac system bus, which currently sits at up to 167MHz supporting over 1.3GBps data throughput, doesn’t look as impressive as some PC machines currently available. Apple says there’s more to it than the numbers; architecture plays a big role in overall performance.
“What’s different in our architecture from the PC architecture — which has a higher marketing spec number for the bus — is that they have every single thing on the system competing for that bus,” said Greg Joswiak, senior director of hardware product marketing at Apple. “It has to move quickly because it has a lot of traffic and congestion on the bus. We have each part of the system with its own dedicated bus to the system controller. That means these things don’t have a latency or congestion as they wait for other data to migrate through the bus.”
Apple became the largest Unix operating system vendor with the initial release of Mac OS X. Since then the company has been wooing the Unix developer community to develop products for the platform and become involved with Macintosh users. This year’s Worldwide Developer Conference in Cupertino saw the largest contingent of Unix developers to date. Apple thinks hardware offerings of this caliber will go further to attracting new Unix users.
“Our Power Mac customers are coming out of two places: one is our extremely strong creative pro market and the other place we’ve seen amazing interest is out of the Unix community,” said Joswiak. “A dual processor Unix workstation for $1699 is just unheard of.”
With the imminent release of Mac OS X 10.2 “Jaguar,” moving to dual processors across the product line is a good move for Apple, according to Joswiak, since the operating system takes advantage of the dual processor architecture.
“The all dual line-up takes advantage of what we’re doing with Mac OS X,” said Joswiak. “The operating system was built on an architecture that could take advantage of symmetric multiprocessing and not just being a multitasking operating system, but a multithreaded operating system. At the multitasking level, everything can take advantage of the dual processors — in the Mac OS 9 days, that was really only something you would get a benefit from if the application was aware of the dual processors. If an application is multithreaded, it can actually split the tasks up within the application to the multiprocessors and get another boost on performance.”
“Apple has a very sensible, developmental roadmap with their pro products — it’s important for them to add greater functionality and greater processor speeds on a regular basis because pro users expect that,” said Tim Deal, an analyst with Technology Business Research.
eMac gets a SuperDrive
Apple also gave customers today a much-anticipated addition to its consumer eMac. Customers can now get an eMac equipped with a SuperDrive — Apple’s DVD burner. Apple said customer demand made the decision easy to add the SuperDrive as an option in the machine.
“All of us were surprised that the sell-up to the SuperDrive has been as strong as it has been,” said Joswiak. “Nobody, including ourselves, would have predicted that 50 percent of our customers of the flat-panel iMacs would buy up to the SuperDrive model. That’s a success you can’t ignore; that’s customer input that you can’t ignore and we want to give customers what they want. The SuperDrive is no longer just a high-end feature.”
Bajarin agrees with the move to put the SuperDrive in the eMac — he also thinks the move to get more attention from educators will satisfy demand for the high-end optical drive.
“In the education market that is perfect, said Bajarin. “I suspect that besides using it as a draw to get more attention in the education market with that machine, they were probably getting beat up from the education community. The SuperDrive is ultimately what people want on everything — obviously, you pay for it, but in the end what you want is as much flexibility as possible.”
Changing product grid
After he returned to Apple, Steve Jobs simplified the Macintosh product line to a grid of four products: a pro desktop and portable, and a consumer desktop and portable. That product grid has been expanding lately.
The addition of the eMac, Xserve, the availability of CRT iMacs, Power Mac G4s, iBook and PowerBook and the iPod may add to consumer confusion over which product best fits their needs. But Apple says it’s just covering all the bases for the customer.
“It’s something we have to think about, but it’s obvious that to be successful in the consumer market you need to have broad coverage across the main price points,” said Joswiak. “If you don’t cover the price points, you may leave out an option for what they’re willing to spend.”
While Tim Deal understands Apple’s thought process on offering various models of consumer and pro machines, he does see the potential for confusing the consumer.
“My initial thought was that it would create confusion,” said Deal. “It was my understanding that when Apple introduced the flat panel iMac they wanted to phase out the CRT models. I think they quickly realized that if they wanted to stay competitive with their Wintel competition they needed to have sub-$1,000 products. I see what they’re doing, trying to fill in the gaps by having products that appeal to a wider range of consumers, but I do think it makes things a little confusing.”
iMac price cut
The iMac returned to its original selling price of $1299 today after receiving a price hike five months ago at Macworld Tokyo. Noting industry-wide issues with component costs for flat panel displays and memory, Apple increased the price of the flat panel iMac to $1399.
Lately, prices for flat panel displays have dropped from their previous highs, according to market research firm iSuppli/Stanford Resources, paving the way the latest round of price reductions.
“We were in a bit of a crisis mode as far as flat panel and memory pricing earlier in the year,” said Joswiak. “It was never our intention to keep prices high, it was all a matter of getting through a little economic turmoil.”