Why We’ll Never See Another Modular Desktop Design from Apple

2002 – Personal computers fall into a few broad categories: all-in-one, modular, and portable.

Mirror Drive Door Power Mac G4Among modular designs, styles range from the traditional desktop computer that sits beneath the monitor to a range of bitty boxen, minitowers, towers, and even larger models intended for use as servers. Of all these possibilities, Apple has only one design, the swoopy, easily handled Power Mac G4.

Beige Power Mac G3 desktopMany of us in the Mac user community have been lamenting the loss of a true desktop Mac since the Beige G3 gave way to the Blue & White one in January 1999. We have suggested that Apple resurrect the concept for home users, business users, schools, and any other market we can think of.

Nice as the towering G4 is, Mac users should have another option.

Think Different

iMac on Time magazine coverThat said, I have not come to praise the idea of a true desktop Mac but to bury it. I sincerely hope this article will be every bit as successful as last December’s Forget the Flat Panel iMac – which I consider to be directly responsible for Apple’s decision to prove me wrong and release the Luxo Jr. – er, iMac G4 – in January.

Maybe, just maybe, I can pull off a repeat performance. Knowing how Apple loves to prove rumor sites wrong, and despite the fact that we don’t even pretend to be dabbling in rumors, I hereby declare irrevocable that Apple will never produce a real desktop computer again, unless it has a built-in screen.

Death to the Desktop

Let me clarify. The Power Mac G4 is not a desktop computer. Sure, you can put it on your desktop, but the whooshing fans and footprint make it much happier on the floor. As far as Apple is concerned, any Mac not used on the floor should be as close to silent as possible. Thus the fanless slot-loading iMacs and the fan-free Cube.

A desktop computer should be able to sit on the desktop without towering over your monitor. Whether that means it sits beneath the monitor or beside it is less important.

Finally, here are my arguments against Apple ever producing a true modular desktop computer ever again.

  1. It would reduce sales of the eMac, iMac, and Power Mac.
  2. It would increase the market for Apple’s flat panel displays, which are never intended to be commercially successful. Not producing a traditional desktop model reduces demand and prevents these LCD monitors from becoming economically viable.
  3. Apple would have to renege on the “too many wires” ads they ran about the iMac. Oh wait, this would have no more wires than the Power Mac G4….
  4. Apple isn’t really about choices. You have to pick the right product from four niches – iMacs, iBooks, Power Macs, PowerBooks. Don’t confuse consumers with two kinds of iMacs (CRT vs. LCD), eMacs, or iBooks with different screen sizes. (Xserve doesn’t even enter to picture.) Simplify, simplify, simplify. Adding yet another desktop model would only confuse the consumer.
  5. People might use the new model with a non-Apple display, as way too many graphics folk already do with the Power Mac G4, ruining the visual aesthetic of an Apple computer, mouse, keyboard, monitor, and speakers.
  6. grape iMac DVThis might be inexpensive enough that Apple could consider dropping the classic CRT iMac from their product line. The gumdrop iMac symbolizes all that is good about Apple and should never be phased out – just like the six-colored Apple logo.
  7. There is no way on God’s green earth that Jonathan Ive could come up with a new desktop design. The original iMac, LCD iMac, Blue and White G3, and Cube have drained his creativity. The eMac proves it.
  8. There are only a limited number of Platonic solids. The Cube bombed in the market, and the G4 iMac only uses half of a sphere. The Macintosh Pyramid or Dodecahedron – nah, they just don’t sound right.
  9. Desktop computers are boring, and profits be damned, but Apple doesn’t want to produce boring computers.
  10. It would reduce sales of iBooks and PowerBooks, since a desktop Mac might be portable enough to tote to a LAN party.
  11. It wouldn’t look good enough on the circular transilluminated pedestals Apple uses at Macworld Expo. (Also see point about Jonathan Ive above.)

Seriously, there are dozens of reasons that Apple shouldn’t produce a relatively compact, moderately expandable, decently priced modular desktop computer. But there’s no technological reason for it. There’s no economic reason for it. There’s no marketing reason for it. And there probably isn’t even an aesthetic reason for it – I really believe Jonathan Ive could do it.

Call it pigheaded stubbornness (with apologies to the porcine population), but I think that Apple wants to be perceived in a certain way – and Steve Jobs doesn’t see any type of traditional desktop design fitting that image. Profits and stockholders be damned. Apple is never going to pursue the huge market for desktop Macs. It might turn them into a 10% player, and then what happens to the world’s perception of Apple as beleaguered and “Didn’t they die a few years ago?”

– Anne Onymus

Mac mini, original designWell, Apple did introduced the Mac mini in January 2005, so they sort of make a new version of desktop computer that was visually very attractive – but without the expansion slots and drive bays most people expect of a desktop machine. Blame me for not specifying that it specifically not have expansion slots and extra drive bays.

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