My iMac

If you’re interested in getting a new iMac, as I am, the past couple of days have been a series of swings between cautious optimism and disappointment, with certainty waxing and waning from hour to hour. I’ve come away believing two things: Apple isn’t as secretive as it used to be or as Tim Cook promised at D10; and there will be new iMacs this year.

Let me start by explaining why I care about new iMacs. My current office computer is a 2006 iMac: white, Intel Core 2 Duo, 24″ screen. It was a sturdy, reliable machine for almost six years, but the past several months have not been pleasant. First, the hardware is starting to falter.

It started with the screen displaying gibberish—blank areas, torn windows, small rectangles filled with random dots of color—on warm days. I grabbed a copy of smcFanControl, bumped up the fan speeds, and moved on. I didn’t like the extra whirring noise, but my office isn’t a monastery; there’s usually street noise, the buzz of overhead fluorescents, conversations in the hallway, and iTunes playing in the background to cover up the louder fans. I could live with the louder fans.

Then the hard disk got wonky. I had a few SuperDuper backup failures over the course of a couple of months (I run a scheduled backup every weeknight). When I sent the logs to Dave Nanian at Shirt Pocket, he told how to fix my immediate problem and also told me that some of the error messages were a sign of a hard disk going south. I wasn’t surprised. The inevitability of hard disk failure is why I run SuperDuper in the first place. I considered replacing the internal disk but decided—because I figured this iMac was going to be retired soon, anyway—to avoid the hassle and just boot from an external FireWire disk. I’ve been running that way for 3-4 months now.

But the main reason I want a new iMac is that this one can’t run Lion effectively. It’s usable RAM is limited to 3 GB (no, really), and Lion can’t seem to manage within those confines. Free memory is always running low and the SPOD makes regular appearances as the disk thrashes the swap space. Moving back to Snow Leopard isn’t an option, as I’ve gotten used to certain Lion-only features in the software I use. (I’ve also gotten used to the purge command.)

So I’ve been ready to get a new iMac for months. At first, I figured a new one would come out in the spring. The 2010 model came out in May, and Apple’s never gone more than a year between refreshes. The announcement that Mountain Lion would come out in summer was a deep disappointment to me, because I figured that would delay any new iMacs until they could be shipped with Mountain Lion installed.

Then came WWDC on Monday. I tweeted in the morning that I doubted we’d see new hardware until ML shipped but was reminded by Jonathan Poritsky that the 2010 iMac shipped a few months before Lion. This gave me some hope.

And when the keynote started off—after the usual throat-clearing about how many, how much, how quickly, and how wonderful—with the announcements of new MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros, my hopes rose. But no. Nothing about new iMacs. Still, maybe there was just no room in the keynote for desktop announcements. Mac sales are, I believe, about 2:1 laptop-to-desktop, so it would make sense for desktops to be given short shrift.

So I looked on when it came back up after the keynote to see if the iMac had been given a stealth upgrade. Nope. Then in the evening came David Pogue’s depressing story (since updated) that an Apple exec told him that new designs for the iMac and Mac Pro were in the pipeline for release next year. Next year being six months away, this wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

Tuesday morning I woke up thinking that Pogue’s report might be a blessing in disguise. I’ve been putting off getting a new iMac because I’ve been thinking a new one is just around the corner. But if I know for sure that a new design is at least six months away, I could buy the current model right now and be comfortable with the decision. If only there were some confirmation of what Pogue was told.

Confirmation came Tuesday afternoon with this Forbes article (which, like the Pogue article, has since been updated) by Connie Guglielmo. She got in touch with some people at Apple who confirmed what Pogue reported: new iMacs and Mac Pros planned for 2013. I started pricing out a system, but decided—for what reason, I don’t know—to hold off placing an order.

Procrastination triumphs! By Tuesday evening, Guglielmo’s article had been updated. Apparently, Apple flacks had read her original report and quickly got back in touch to clarify that “new design in 2013” applied to the Mac Pro only, not the iMac. Translation: there will be a new iMac this year.

Which, frankly, makes more sense. If Apple had waited until 2013 to rev the iMac, that would be more than a year and a half between updates for its main desktop machine—that’s far too long. Yes, I know Mac Pro users have already waited longer for an update than that, but to hell with them. It’s hard to work up sympathy for people who spend over $3,000 for a computer.1

So this two-day odyssey has left me back where I was on Monday morning. I’m expecting a new iMac to be announced Real Soon Now and refuse to feel like a putz for buying the current model just before it’s discontinued. I bought an LC II shortly before the LC III came out and was deeply scarred by the experience.

  1. My annoying conscience impels me to point out that I spent more than $3,000 on my first Macintosh. In my defense, I will point out that that was a really tricked-out system: 8 MHz processor, 512k of RAM, two (count’em, two) single-sided floppy drives, a dot-matrix printer, and a sweet carrying case.