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January 4, 2005

Apple ‘Q88’ computer to revolutionize PC market?

Rumor has it that Apple Computer Inc is to launch a new low-cost computer at its Macworld exhibition in San Francisco on January 11. The Apple enthusiasts' rumor mill would have us believe that CEO Steve Jobs will announce a computer, currently code-named "Q88", that will sell for about $500, far less than the current Apple eMac, which costs about $800. Jason Stamper reports...

By CBR Staff Writer

Apple is staying tight-lipped, but The Independent Online reported that if Apple launches the low-cost computer at $500 it will, mark a technology and price breakthrough to rank with the launch of the first iPod itself in 2001… and other milestones in the computer age – such as the release of the Sinclair Spectrum in 1982… or the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 95 in August 1995, when home computer and internet use took off.

That seems more than unlikely. Let us assume that there is more to this rumored product launch than just hot air. Firstly, you can already buy a Dell Dimension desktop, direct from Dell, for around $500. It sports a 2.6GHz Intel chip, 512MB of memory, Windows XP Home Edition and even a good, chunky, old-fashioned monitor. So a $500 computer from Apple may or may not work out to be good value.

We won’t get too deep into the Mac vs PC debate here, because we don’t know what features the Q88 is likely to have. It seems unlikely though that the spec will be anywhere near as good as it is on the current eMacs. Also, $500 may seem cheap for a desktop but it depends what comes as standard and what you need to buy as optional extras. The devil may be in the details.

A new, far cheaper computer from Apple may indeed win more converts than the current eMac, but unless Apple can perform magic it won’t be much higher in specification than a similarly-priced PC, so it won’t suddenly win millions of would-be PC buyers’ hearts and minds.

In fact, it is unlikely that Apple will ever be able to compete with the plethora of PC manufacturers on price, because it simply doesn’t have the volume to get the economies of scale that they can.

Perhaps what is more likely is another of the current rumors: that the Q88 is not so much a low-cost PC as a media server for the home. Think of it as an iPod companion.

It would mean that iPod users have somewhere to back-up their tunes if they do not have a PC at home: they may currently download their music to their iPod at work, but do not want to rely on their work PC as their backup device – some companies already prohibit the storage of media files on work computers.

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They may also want to be able to copy songs from CD to their iPod via a Q88 (if this is one of its capabilities) or download songs from the Net via iTunes to the iPod (again, if this is a capability of the Q88). They may be potential iPod buyers who don’t yet have a PC, or existing iPod owners who have an aging PC that they use mostly for surfing and downloading.

But the biggest advantage of a Q88 over a PC may not be its ability to do this nor its price, but the speed with which it boots up and switches off, and its integration with the iPod. Apple could make the Q88 more like an appliance that turns on and off in a second rather than half a minute or more, and this would be attractive to some users who want to begin to use their iPod more like a home hi-fi.

Plug your iPod and a decent set of speakers into your Q88 (or perhaps the Q88 comes with integrated speakers) and you might just have a nifty hi-fi alternative. One that can store thousands of songs, and download more from the Internet. If this is Apple’s goal then you can guarantee it will look less like a PC, and more like a slim white device that matches the iPod perfectly and doesn’t look out of place in a designer living room.

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