Have a happy, Apple Christmas

David Braue
21 October, 2009
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Record quarterly results? Check. New product lineup? Check. A recipe for surefire Christmas retail success? Check.

The Christmas lists of avid geeks are typically decked out in as much bling as their trees, and after the spray of products Apple released onto the market this week it’s safe to say the company has secured top billing on many peoples’ must-have lists. At the same time, however, this influx of new product has resolved many lingering issues with Apple’s products – potentially helping the company dominate the Christmas computer buying season in ways it never has before.

At first blush, the new systems are a Mac buyer’s dream. The iMacs’ bigger screens – 21.5 and 27 inches, respectively, bring the devices ever closer to parity with your low-end LCD TV. This is no coincidence, nor is the ability to plug your DVD player into the device and use it as a high-resolution, true 16:9 widescreen monitor (this would seem to be a great roundabout way for Apple to get into Blu-ray by releasing a mini DVI-to-HDMI adapter letting consumers plug in a consumer Blu-ray player).

Make no mistake about it: Apple wants prime position in your living room as well as your bedroom and home office, and it’s slowly inching up the consumer-goods food chain to get it. Paired with what I can only hope is the inevitable Apple TV refresh (maybe next week) Apple’s stature as a consumer technology vendor is solid and growing. And if its gangbuster quarterly results weren’t enough to convince you, the inevitable uptick from Christmas sales of its brand-new lineup may well do the trick. There is no doubt about it: Apple is firing on all cylinders.

Size isn’t everything for the new iMacs, however: under the hood you’ve got an array of options including Intel’s blistering new Core i5 and optional i7 chips, providing quad-core computing that will notch up performance like the proverbial Chiroptera out of Hades. There’s the new Magic Mouse that works like a MacBook touchpad; a new keyboard that, I dread, will be as horribly cramped (for me, at least) as the previous model; and still no remote in the box, although you can buy a revamped aluminium Apple Remote for $25.

Those of you with memories for this sort of thing will note the difference between $25 and $29, the previous price of the Apple Remote. This difference might seem slight, but in percentage terms it’s nearly a 14 percent price reduction. And it’s here where Apple’s new lineup really shines.

Value for money. One thing Apple has introduced with its new products, and this is something you won’t read in the US marketing material because it didn’t happen over there, is lower prices. A lot lower. A lot, lot lower.

The new Mac mini, for example, now starts at $849 but packs 2GB of RAM; the previous model cost $1049 and had just 1GB of RAM. The higher-end model is now $1099 but has 4GB of RAM; compare that to $1399 for just 2GB in the past.

The long and short of it? The Mac mini is now the low-priced, entry-level Mac that it was always intended to be, but never could because even when refreshed earlier this year Apple insisted on giving it a too-expensive four-digit price tag. Even a $999 price tag, as opposed to $1049, would have broken a major psychological barrier: consumers make initial buying decisions based on price, and Apple’s stubbornly high prices – including an overall increase during its last round of refreshes – couldn’t have helped its retail story. $849 is comfortably into the three-digits and should make the Mac mini a very real competitor to big-name Windows systems.

Currency fluctuations haven’t hurt, either: with the AUD now trading above $US0.92, the pricing differential is small and shrinking. This has translated into an absolute price ratio of 1.33:1 for the base iMac and 1.4:1 for the base Mac mini, compared with around 1.67:1 in the past.

These price reductions go all the way across and up Apple’s lineup: the entry price for its white MacBook has dropped 19% from $1599 to $1299, with a 1.3:1 ratio against US pricing. The most expensive iMac has the same ratio, which converts a $US1999 model to $A2599.

I don’t care who you are or what you’re comparing it with: that is a fantastic price for a quad-core architecture with 1TB hard drive, 4GB memory and a 27-inch screen with 2560×1440 resolution. If you can find similar specs on any of the new Windows 7 based systems due out before Christmas, well, I’ll be impressed. And while it’s possible the pricing on these new machines may still sit a bit higher than Windows 7-based rivals, anybody that takes even a moment to compare the systems will be hugely impressed with the value-for-money of these Macs.

Oh yes, Windows 7. The timing of Apple’s unexpected launch was obviously carefully orchestrated to coincide with tomorrow’s debut of Microsoft Windows 7, the operating system that pundits reckon could finally give Mac OS X a run for its money by actually righting the wrongs that Windows Vista imposed on the world. By refreshing its big shiny systems the day before, Apple has ensured much of the blogosphere’s attention will be diverted when Win 7 rolls into the shops.

Will it fundamentally shift buying patterns? Time will tell. There will always be consumers who believe that computers must run Windows to be computers, and Windows 7 will serve many of them well. But by cramming its new systems with important (rather than incremental) new features – and making them bigger, better, and even shinier – Apple has played a very, very strong hand for the Christmas season.

It needed to influence the buying patterns of potential Windows 7-and-hardware buyers, and it has met this need handsomely. We won’t see the full spectrum of Windows 7-based PCs due to hit the shelves yet but, whether based on sheer bling value or value-for-money, consumers have fewer reasons than ever to resist switching to Macs.

Santa may ultimately decide whether would-be computer buyers end up with an Apple under the tree, but I for one know exactly what’s at the top of my list. And, kudos to Apple, it’s no longer the fabled but still non-existent Mac tablet.

What’s on your Christmas list? Has the new Apple lineup convinced you to whip out your credit card and start shopping? Click through to the AMW Forums using the links below, and let us know which of Apple’s new products is on your Christmas list.

[23 Oct: Update: Corrected previous price of white MacBook]

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