RealTime IT News

Fresh Crop of New Apple Macs Tomorrow?

The first quarter of the year is always a slow time for hardware sales, which typically drop off the holiday season. That, along with a national economy in recession, might make it sound downright loony for a company to introduce a new computer.

But if there's one thing we know about Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), it marches to the beat of its own drummer.

Rumors circulating on blogs, beginning with World of Apple, began speculating this week that "the Mac mini, iMac and Mac Pro would all be refreshed" on an event set for March 24.

This sent the Mac blogosphere into overdrive. Within a few hours, HardMac, the English-language version of a French site with a good track record for rumors, posted a report that Apple will be refreshing its lineup today.

The site says there will be four new iMac models -- an entry-level model, a mass-market model, a high-end model and an "ultimate model." The entry-level iMac should come with a 20-inch display while the three other models will feature a 24-inch screen.

The report also indicates the arrival of two new Mac Minis, an entry-level and high-end model.

Van Baker, research director with Gartner, said he would be surprised that Apple would go this route. "I can't believe they'd do that, because that just opens them up to getting rocks thrown at them for all the teasing they do to Microsoft for all the different versions of Vista, like standard and ultimate and whatnot," he told InternetNews.com.

There is the off-chance that Apple may refresh its very high-end Mac, the Mac Pro. The model is based on the Intel Xeon processor, which is migrating to Intel's new Core i7 design, also known as the Nehalem architecture.

Ars Technica noted that the most recent version of Mac OS X 10.5.7 contains updated Xeon drivers for the Mac Pro, signaling that Apple is preparing its operating system to run on Nehalem chips.

Apple spokespeople did not return calls seeking request for comment.

However, the Mac Mini seems a more likely candidate for an update. The Mac Pro is an expensive computer, $3,000 or more, depending on configuration, and usually sells to graphics, video and publishing professionals.

The $599 Mini is a mass market computer. And it's getting long in the tooth.

The MacRumors Buyer's Guide reports it's been 308 days since Apple last updated the iMac in April 2008, a much longer lag than the average of 211 days between updates.

For the Mac Mini, it's been an even longer lag -- 573 days have passed since Apple updated the Mac Mini in September 2007, more than triple the average 188 days between updates. Rumors on MacRumors.com and other sites have pegged the Mac Mini as sporting a newer Intel dual core Core 2 processor, the nVidia 9400 graphics chip used in the new MacBooks, and sporting five USB ports.

The littlest Mac certainly needs the overhaul, Baker said. "It's certainly in need of a refresh and they certainly should do it, just to get faster graphics and get a faster processor in there, and they can do that without having to tinker with the cost," he said.

Apple also may be feeling pressure to release a netbook product, a low-cost market that many PC makers have dived into despite its relatively low margins.

But Apple CEO Steve Jobs, still on medical leave, has said "We don't do cheap" and the company is in no mood for a low-end product. Baker doesn't think Apple needs a netbook, nor should it position the Mini in that space.

"It just doesn't fill the space of a netbook, nor do I see them coming out with a mobile platform under the MacBook," he said. "They just don't want to play there."