The Revision C iMac

1998.10: It was a clever move on Apple’s part, quietly slipping the Revision B iMac onto the market last week.

Bondi iMacReleased concurrently with Mac OS 8.5, the revised part number could have simply meant an iMac with an improved version of the Mac OS. But Apple did more than that – the Revision B iMac also includes 6 MB of VRAM (up from 2 MB in the original, allowing for smoother animation in some programs) and a better graphics chip, the ATI Rage Pro. New to the iMac design is a much-needed reset button.

More Value

There are two ways to make a computer a better value: drop the price or add features.

In this case, Apple chose to make a few modifications to the original iMac design. Some were made to reduce production cost: rumors say the components that had been present to support ADB and a floppy drive on the Revision A logic board have been eliminated.

But instead of simply making a less expensive iMac (maybe a US$1,199 one), Apple invested in a better graphics chip and more VRAM. Thus, for the same price, the buyer is getting more computer.

Where from Here?

Apple is undoubtedly being pulled in several different directions for future iMac development. One group wants to break the $1,000 mark. Another sees $1,299 as a point at which both Apple and its dealers can make a living, so it is better to make incremental improvements. Still another group wants an iMac with a handful of cost-increasing features: DVD, SCSI, FireWire, a larger screen, video I/O, multiple drive bays, and even multiple expansion slots.

I see the iMac growing into an entire line of computers, including at least two versions of the current model.

On the one hand, Apple has a great little computer with plenty of power and a very good mix of features. With the extra VRAM and improved graphics, the only change Apple should consider is increasing memory from 32 MB to 64 MB – after the current memory price surge passes us by. The goal of this model, which will eventually be the Revision C iMac, is enough features to remain on the market at the least practical cost for a computer of its abilities.

On the other hand, Apple has a great little computer with a decent amount of power and a reasonable mix of features. Apple should seriously consider an iMac Plus. This would ship with 64 MB of memory, a DVD player (instead of CD-ROM), and decoder hardware for DVD playback.

This isn’t the Pro iMac with a 17″ screen, DVD, and all the other goodies that serious users want. Instead, the iMac Plus would be designed to share as many components as possible with the economy model. Both should run at the same speed, share the same case, etc.

The iMac family

I see the original iMac and the iMac Plus as almost identical twins. Much as the Mac Plus shared the same case, screen, mouse, and CPU as the original Macintosh, the iMac Plus would be a natural outgrowth of the first iMac.

I don’t think it would confuse the market to have two models (and eventually a lot more) under the iMac banner. The plain iMac would be the least expensive all-in-one computer Apple makes. The iMac Plus (or maybe iMac DVD) would be an enhanced version for those who want a bit more than the basic iMac offers.

For those who want or need more power, Apple should definitely consider pro versions of the iMac with larger screens. One could be for the graphic community, another for the multimedia specialist, and so forth.

And I still like the idea of a headless iMac. Again, one (The Tiny iMac) could be designed to replace an LC, Performa 630, Power Mac 6100, or whatever else a Mac user might own. Another (iMacTV) could become challenge WebTV with DVD player, games capability, and a modem.

The possibilities are there, but Apple must take is slowly. It wasn’t too long ago that nobody could keep track of all of Apple’s models (sometimes the same one had three names and multiple model numbers: one for computer stores, one for the education channel, and another for mass marketers). Each step should be taken carefully and with a clearly defined market.

I think splitting the iMac market in two with the current model (dropping in price) and a Plus model (aimed at the $1,299-1,499 price range) would be an ideal start.

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