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Mac Musings

MacDrought: 4 Months with No New Macs

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- 2008.08.27 - Tip Jar

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I can't remember the last time Apple went this long without introducing a new model. Here are introduction dates for the current line:

It used to be that you could count on Apple updating its least expensive consumer desktop once a year as a minimum. The eMac, introduced in April 2002, was updated like clockwork every 12 months until it was discontinued. But the Mac mini went 11 months between revisions, and it's now been over 12 months since the current version was introduced.

Apple's notebook lineup is overdue for an upgrade. The MacBook Air has had prices slashed for the 1.8 GHz and Solid State Drive upgrades, but to date there's no sign of faster CPUs or higher storage capacity. At the very least, expect 1.8 GHz as the base speed and a 120 GB or 160 GB hard drive as standard, along with a 128 GB SSD.

But when?

The consumer MacBook was introduced in May 2006, updated in Nov. 2006, and further improved in May 2007. It moved to the Santa Rosa chipset in Oct. 2007 and adopted the Penryn CPU in Feb. 2008. That's 6 months between early updates, 5 for the third one, and 4 to reach the current one - that came out 6 months ago.

We're due for updated models.

The MacBook Pro line was launched in Jan. 2006, speed bumped in May 2006, moved to the Core 2 Duo CPU in Oct. 2006, adopted the Santa Rosa chipset in June 2007, and moved to the Penryn CPU in Feb. 2008. That's 4 months, 5 months, 8 months, and 8 months between updates.

Eight months puts us on target for October, but Intel has released new mobile CPUs in the past few months that everyone but Apple is already using in their notebook computers. With others going quad-core on top-end notebooks, Apple's current "pro" laptops are looking dated.

Apple needs a refresh to appear competitive.

The Mac Pro is a build-to-order machine that doesn't have the same kind of update schedule as Apple's other computers, and the iMac - most recently updated 4 months ago - is the only other Mac that's not due for an update Real Soon Now.

The Drought

Apple has been busy, but not with the Macintosh. At first it was preparation for the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 2.0 operating system. Then there was the damage control as the iPhone OS was updated and Apple scrambled to make MobileMe work as promised.

Apple has gone four months without a new Macintosh introduction, and we can definitely tell here at Low End Mac.

Site traffic has generally grown on a year-to-year basis, and there are some pretty consistent patterns. We know which months should be up and which should be down. Historically, July and August are our lowest traffic months, and June and September aren't much better.

From March through November 2007, we set new traffic records for those months; since December 2007, we're no longer doing that. (March 2007 was our best month ever, averaging over 58,000 hits per day, and April 2007 was just shy of that mark.)

Anyhow, we're in the midst of a bit of a drought this summer. March, April, and May fell behind levels set in 2006 and 2007. June, July, and August were well behind 2007 levels. September - who knows?

Our Place in the Mac Web

We're not alone. Alexa.com tracks traffic levels for millions of websites and makes this information available to anyone who wants to examine it. That's something I like to do a couple times a year, just to get a sense for the scope of the independent Mac Web (not counting Apple or online dealers) and our place in it.

Based on Alexa's numbers (using a one-week average score), here's how things looked earlier this month (numbers indicate rank among all tracked websites):

  1. VersionTracker - 3,409
  2. MacRumors - 4,200
  3. Macworld - 16,055
  4. Unofficial Apple Weblog - 20,166
  5. AppleInsider - 25,439
  6. MacNN - 29,075
  7. MacUpdate - 31,743
  8. Mac OS X Hints - 36,920
  9. MacLife - 44,997
  10. DealMac - 49,421
  11. MacInTouch - 51,873
  12. Low End Mac - 54,588
  13. WebKit - 55,322
  14. MacFixIt - 58,564
  15. Mac Observer - 61,192
  16. Cult of Mac - 65,666
  17. EveryMac - 65,705
  18. Roughly Drafted - 68,264
  19. Daring Fireball - 70,482
  20. MacSurfer - 71,968

These numbers vary from day to day, but one interesting discovery is that almost across the board these rankings are lower than they were in April. VersionTracker dropped over 500 spots, MacRumors over 2,100, and Macworld over 9,000! MacUpdate slipped 2,600 spots, which is a small drop compared with other Mac related websites. And Low End Mac almost bucked the trend, just 138 spots lower than in April.

Put simply, the Mac drought is impacting the entire Mac Web.

Looking Ahead

The drought can't continue long. To remain competitive - especially in the notebook market - Apple needs to update its offerings, and when that happens, Mac users will flock back to their favorite websites in great numbers.

Just what can we expect from Apple from September through November?

  • Mac mini, Sept. 2008. Finally moves to Santa Rosa chipset, X3100 graphics, and 800 MHz system bus with 2.0 and 2.4 GHz CPUs. That's outdated by most standards, but a step up from the 667 MHz bus and GMA 950 graphics it's been using since 2006. No change in pricing unless Apple makes the optical drive an external option.
  • MacBook Pro, Sept. 2008. Possible addition of smaller (12" to 13.3") model. Possible elimination of built-in optical drive along with $200 price drop. New multitouch trackpad (like MacBook Air). Quad-core build-to-order option.
  • MacBook, Sept. 2008. Speed bump. Possible elimination of built-in optical drive with $100 or better price reduction. New multitouch trackpad.
  • MacBook Air, Sept./Oct. 2008. Speed bump to 1.8 GHz and 2.0 GHz. Higher capacity hard drive and Solid State Drive. No change in pricing.
  • iMac, Nov. 2008. Speed bump. Possible quad-core build-to-order option. Possible elimination of built-in optical drive, but less likely than with other models. If Apple does go that route, expect a SuperDrive that clips to the back of the iMac.

Anything else? That promised "product transition" could mean the elimination of built-in optical drives, which would be more radical than eliminating the floppy drive and legacy ports on the original iMac. Or it could mean a new model in the mix - maybe a Mac Tablet, maybe a modular desktop with more power and expansion options than the Mac mini but less than the Mac Pro, maybe a tiny (think Eee PC) subnotebook, maybe moving to wireless power and charging for notebooks.

I'm not going to try to second-guess Steve Jobs. I know what I'd like to see, but I don't expect Apple to do what we anticipate. Jobs loves to surprise us - and whatever that transition is, we'll be covering here on Low End Mac.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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