MANHASSET, N.Y. Apple Computer Inc. is expected to sprinkle flat-panel displays and dual-processor configurations across its iMac desktop product line this year. Analysts see the moves creating a buzz but not a marketshare breakthrough for the company.
At a MacWorld keynote address in San Francisco Monday (Jan. 7), Apple chief executive Steve Jobs is scheduled to unveil a fresh line of flat-panel-based iMacs that will help the company maintain its persona of stylish design. The company is also expected to offer dual processor versions of the iMac for the first time, though those models might not be unveiled until an event in Tokyo later this year.
"This will help them keep their business, but it won't help them break out of their traditional 4 to 5 percent share of the desktop market," said Martin Reynolds, a senior analyst with Gartner Dataquest. "They haven't been able to gain market share for a long time, but they have been able to keep it stable."
Just how broadly Apple will spread LCDs and dual processing across the iMac line was a matter of speculation, with some saying the features will be on all new desktops and others saying they will appear only on a family of products in the group. Apple refused any comment before Jobs' keynote.
Analysts praised Apple's decision to be the first desktop maker to go mainstream with LCDs. The move could modestly accelerate LCD price declines without creating a shortage of parts. Apple makes about 4 million to 5 million desktops a year. The biggest consumers of LCDs are notebook computers, which the industry sells in quantities of about 20 million a year worldwide.
"Apple is still a relatively small part of the market and a drop in the bucket for notebooks. If Dell did this it would create a drought in LCDs," said Reynolds.
PC makers are not expected to follow Apple's move because corporate users are unlikely to adopt flat-panel desktops and the consumer PC business is too cost-sensitive to support LCDs. A 15-inch LCD would bring the cost of the lowest cost iMac to $1,000 or more, "but that still would be a compelling product and it fits the Apple image," said Reynolds.
Hosiden of Japan, a long time supplier of Apple notebook LCDs, and Hong Kong-based LG Philips are believed to be the suppliers of the desktop LCDs.
"A week from now I don't think you'll be able to find any more CRT-based iMacs," said Richard Doherty, principal of Envisioneering Group (Seaford, N.Y.). The move also could make Apple the biggest backer of the digital video interface (DVI), a de facto standard for linking desktops and LCD monitors.
In addition to the desktops, Apple is expected to roll out a new high-end desktop LCD monitor. The existing 22-inch Apple Cinema Display, which sports a 1,600 x 1,024 resolution, will be superceded by a model with a 2,048 x 1,280 display.
The new screen's exact size has not been made public, but analyst Doherty said "it's bigger than an HDTV." Though something of a glamour product, the display is expected to find use in Apple's traditional publishing markets as a monitor suitable for checking color matching on two simultaneously displayed 11 x 17 inch pages.
Separately, Apple is said to have other flat-panel technologies cooking in the labs, including stereoscopic displays.
On the processor front, Apple may be inclined to think two is better than one. Jobs is expected to unveil a speed bump from the current high-end 800-MHz Power PCs to a gigahertz processor. The company is also expected to significantly expand its use of dual processing this year beyond a high-end Power Mac G4.
"I think everything except the laptops will go multiprocessing," said Doherty.
Such a move could help Apple counter threats of being left in the dust from the Intel-based PC world which is already shipping processors at or near the 2-GHz level. But others questioned the wisdom of doubling up on CPUs.
"One fast processor is usually better than two slow ones," said Reynolds. "It sounds strange to put dual processors on all of the systems when only 20 percent of users might want them because it's a cost issue and it's such a good upgrade opportunity. It would speed video editing or Photoshop for instance, but I don't see a role across the whole desktop product line."