Apple's new iMac sounds death knell for DVD drives
While the iPad mini has garnered most of the attention, the new iMac that Apple unveiled alongside features arguably more radical changes, including the probable death knell for the computer DVD drive.
While Apple’s recent strong growth has been largely based on its success in the smartphone, tablet, and laptop markets, sales of desktop Macs are still a significant part of its bottom line.
Though its last financial results revealed record third quarter revenues of $35bn, the desktop business, which comprises the consumer iMac and high-performance Mac Pro, proved a drag. It slumped 19 per cent year on year to sales of $1.28bn.
Analysts attribute most of the decline to a deliberate inventory clear out and to the industry-wide shift to mobile computing; PC firms that are more reliant on desktop sales, such as HP, are suffering worse. But Apple has also been criticised by Mac owners for not significantly updating its designs for years; until yesterday the iMac had looked the same since 2009 and not had a technical upgrade since May last year.
The new iMac is a complete overhaul. Just 5 millimetres thick at its edge, marketing chief Phil Schiller admitted it instantly made the previous design look out of date, and waxed lyrical about welding and LCD lamination innovations.
Apple has packed all the usual hardware upgrades into a case that is 40 per cent smaller by volume than its predecessor. Aside from clever design and manufacturing, part of that saving comes from ditching the DVD drive, which Mr Schiller insisted was only needed by “customers still stuck in the past”, referring to the ubiquity of broadband and online services, including Apple’s own Mac App Store.
Despite protests from such superannuated quarters, the death of the DVD drive is widely expected to spread to PCs.
Apple still admits the need for local data storage, however, and announced the new iMac would feature a “Fusion Drive”, which combines fast, silicon-based Flash storage with the capacious properties of spinning magnetic platters. Such hybrid technology is not an Apple innovation, but Mr Schiller claimed the OSX Mountain Lion’s automatic allocation of files to either Flash or hard drive, depending on how heavily they are used, would give iMac owners a speed boost.
Given all the build-up around the iPad mini, the new iMac design was the biggest surprise at Tuesday’s event and drew audible gasps from some of the partisan audience. Nevertheless, less excitable observers were also enthused.
“I know the iPad mini will get all of the attention, but the new iMac was the coolest product they had today,” said Ashlee Vance, a technology writer at BusinessWeek.
“It’s the one that you look at and start wondering, ‘How did they do that? Why can’t anyone else get close?’”
PC makers now face another attempt to catch up with Apple’s designers. Their efforts to match the previous iMac, which broke ground on the desktop with is sleek, all-in-one case, have only recently come to fruition and sometimes drawn derision. HP’s new line of desktops, called Spectre One and revealed last month, bore such a close resemblance that one technology witheringly headlined its article “HP introduces new Apple iMac”.
While HP’s PC business continues to slide, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted the new iMac would prompt a turnaround for Apple desktops. Helped by the Christmas shopping season, he predicted the new it would drive a 434 per cent quarter-on-quarter sales boost.
Christopher Williams, Telegraph.co.uk