This started out as a response to a comment, and was so long, I thought I would just make it into a post. Here’s the comment and my response.

Didn’t they try this? It was called the G4 Cube, and despite everybody saying how much they loved it, it sold horribly.

You say “I think I know what most people would want”. What you really mean is “I think I know what most people are blogging about, what they think would be really cool”. If you and the others don’t put cash in Apple’s pocket, Apple isn’t going to make them.

I posted a note on Nic’s site about this, and should have appended it here as well.

Apple is not a company motivated primarily by money. They never have been. While it is definitely important that they be profitable, they are not really focused on being a market leader. This is in the same way that Rolls Royce doesn’t want to sell more product than ford. They want to beat them on quality, not quantity.

When I say I think I know what most people want, I mean, what people in the markets I describe want. There is a lot of demand for a product of this type. It’s not imagined. While yes I admit there are some things for which “perceived demand” is very different from “actual demand”, I don’t think this is one of them.

Apple made a big mistake with the cube. Primarily in pricing. But on top of that, this is a very different world from the one the cube was introduced to, and it targeted a different market. The cube was like the 20th anniversary mac: a beautiful, expensive, but limited product meant to sit on an executive’s desk. This is a very small market, and Apple made a huge mistake. A headless iMac would be priced low, and aimed at business, education, and cheap consumers who would otherwise get a PC or nothing.

What makes this possible today? Apple, with the iMac, has a huge amount of expertise in building small desktop computers. That R&D has been spread out over many years now and many product lines. The Cube was at the start of that R&D and its price bore most of its costs. Also, component prices are much lower today then they were 4 years ago.

People really seem to think that this equation boils down to whether or not Apple can make a profit off of a product of this nature. It’s not. Apple can make money off of this as long as they price it appropriately and still offer a good machine. This is a completely achievable goal. Apple has other reasons for not making a product of this type. What those reasons are is up for question.

I think chiefly, they are concerned about cannibalizing iMac sales. Why not just completely replace the iMac you ask? This is where their vision comes into it. Apple has always loved the idea of the All-In-One. Mac started out that way, and rarely has the Mac been without one in the product line. Apple would be loath to go without an All-In-One product. Especially after the success of the original iMac. Apple believes (rightly or wrongly) that it would be hard to distinguish these products from one another in the customers mind and on the sales floor.

But we have a precedent: The eMac. Apple believed that there would be virtually no demand for the eMac, and initially only offered it through education channels. Huge demand opened it up to normal sales, and it has done very well despite issues with their CRTs. Hell, designers have bought them because they didn’t need the g5 processor for their work, and wanted to use a CRT for color accuracy. Did the eMac kill the iMac’s sales? It certainly took some away as it was the new bottom of the line machine, but ultimately I’m sure, having the combination of machines helped Apple’s bottom line.

So, easy solution. Axe the eMac. Start a new product code named Ichabod. What’s the problem? Apple doesn’t have cheap monitors. Who’s going to buy a $600 box and then spend $700 on an LCD to go with it? I know one of the chief reasons you would make a machine of this type is so that people can use their own monitors, but for brand new users who want this machine, or for people who’s monitors have died, you need to offer them a solution. Apple wants to bundle solutions and sell you everything. They don’t want you buying a machine from them and then traveling to fry’s for a monitor. Not unless you really want to do that in the first place.

This is another one of Apple’s failings (from a financial standpoint). They are unerringly consumer oriented. Now take note, I didn’t say they were customer oriented. If they were focused less on being consumer oriented they probably wouldn’t care if someone went out and bought a $100 17″ monitor to use on their new mac. They would expect that users would take for granted that if they buy a cheap monitor, it’s going to compromise their computing experience. IT departments know this. If they are buying cheap monitors, they obviously don’t really care about the quality of the computing experience. Consumers however, are not going to know the difference, and are going to come back to Apple complaining. Apple doesn’t want this. Apple needs to accept that a certain group of people are never going to get it, and budget accordingly. We all want aunt tilly to be able to set up her machine and not have problems. And God bless Apple for wanting to take that to a whole new level. But it hurts them because they are passing on that cost to their customers, and a lot of customers simply don’t want to pay for it. There is no reason that Apple has to compromise the quality of their professional machines or the user experience for people paying premiums for their equipment. But they have to let customers shoot themselves in the foot as well. Sell them a cheap box, let them use it with a crappy monitor. People who spend less money have lower expectations. And that’s what some people want. Can Apple make money this way? You bet! Do they want to? No. Apple wants to hold your hand, even if you don’t want to hold theirs. They believe that this saves them money (it doesn’t) and that it leads to a better user experience (it does).