Apple Refreshes, But That's About It

Apple's new line of Macs unveiled today signal an incremental "refresh" of the aging line of computers, but was hardly the redesign some Macophiles were hoping for.

In fact, with Steve Jobs still away on medical leave, the company chose to "unveil" the new computers via press release only. No splashy event. Not even a cozy, subdued get-together at Apple headquarters. Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster tells me that even if Jobs were at the office, today's new products wouldn't warrant a personal appearance by him, or any Apple executive. Just not that big a deal, I'm told.

The most intriguing announcement comes with the 17 percent price cut on the 24-inch iMac. That could spur sales of the unit nicely at a time when PC sales all over the world are plunging, even though Apple is seeing increasing momentum in Asian sales. The price cut might worry some margin watchers, but falling component prices will let Apple easily absorb the price reduction.

Apple also cut the price on a new version of the MacBook Pro, from $2,800 to a still-frothy $2,500 instead. Sure there's far more power and capabilities then its predecessor at a lower price, the Apple refresh hallmark, but with the bottomline increasingly, well, the bottomline for consumers, that still might be a tough sell.

The bigger issue for Wall Street will be what Apple can do to meet or beat last February's month-to-month sales comps. Remember that Apple introduced the MacBook Air back then and sales soared. NPD said in January 2008 that Mac sales were up 12% (but down 6% in January 2009). In February 2008, they soared 60%, and Piper now expects them to decline 12% last month.

The NPD numbers for February are expected to be out on March 16th.

Today's Mac refresh will likely not be enough to juice sales the way Air did a year ago, and that might be a disappointment to some investors.

I sense some disappointment among Wall Streeters eyeing Apple and its innovation curve as they await Jobs' return to the company. Today's "news" doesn't seem to be doing much to reassure them that they have nothing more to look forward to than slight upgrades and price breaks on existing success stories.

However, the Mac fans who have written me call today's news "key," "a big deal," and my favorite, "game-changing" because it shows Apple's ability to release products at lower prices to stay competitive whether Jobs is there or not.

I'm just not sure today's news is enough to send customers to Apple stores who weren't already planning to go.

The good news: for those who just bought new Macs, except for the price cut today, it doesn't seem like you missed out on too much.

Questions? Comments?