March 4, 2009

Apple Rolls Out New Models

Apple unveiled new models of its iMac, Mac mini and Mac Pro desktops on Tuesday, saying the new products are more affordable and include stronger capabilities than previous models.

The new line includes a flagship 24-inch iMac with double the memory and storage of the previous generation 20-inch iMac, but with the same $1,499 price tag.  A 20-inch PC and two new 24-inch iMacs were also announced, with prices from $1,199 to $2,199.

The company also introduced a new Mac Pro desktop PC targeted at business users, with prices starting at $2,499 --$300 less than the previous Mac Pro.  The professional-grade workhorse comes with either a quad-core Intel processor for $2,499 or an eight-core version at $3,299 and up.

Apple has long sold its high-end computers to those willing to pay extra for its aesthetic design.  Thus far, the company has made few concessions to the global recession that has stifled consumer spending.  And strong overseas holiday sales helped the company offset a slower U.S. shopping season.  The company's Mac line, which includes laptops, saw better sales than the overall PC market during the last quarter of 2008.

Apple's modest price drops do not seem to reflect a deepening economic downturn that could plunge computer sales to their lowest level on record this year, according to estimates released Monday from research firm Gartner Inc. Meanwhile, the company has so far distanced itself from low-cost, low-powered netbooks, the only fast-growing PC category amid the economic slowdown.

"Investors may have been hoping for greater price cuts at the low end," wrote UBS analyst Maynard Um in a research note released Tuesday.

Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner told Reuters that Apple's new desktop line did not break new ground on aesthetics or form, although the new iMacs provide much more value for the dollar.

"Nothing earth-shattering here but in a time when price and value are of increasing significance the refresh definitely puts Apple at the head of that comparison," he said.

Calyon Securities analyst Shebly Seyrafi expects the new line will contribute to Apple's March quarter, but questions whether prices are still too high.

"They increased the performance but didn't lower the price. I question whether that is the right business move in today's environment where I think customers want lower prices," he told Reuters.

The release of new products has traditionally sent shares of Apple's stock higher, but UBS' Um said he believes concerns about the economy may diminish investors' enthusiasm this time around.

Apple shares rose 43 cents, or 0.49 percent, on Tuesday, closing at $88.37.


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