Apple: No new iMacs for you

'Weird', an analyst of Apple's move to eschew pre-orders, even as it pulls older iMacs from its e-store

Apple's newest iMac won't be available to customers until November. Although Apple on Tuesday unveiled redesigned iMac desktop computers, it has none to sell, nor is it taking pre-orders for the slimmer, higher-priced all-in-one.

At the same time, Apple pulled the previous generation of iMacs from its website.

As of Wednesday morning, Apple's online store shows the iMac -- both 21.5-in. and 27-in. models -- as shipping in November and December, respectively. There is no way to pre-order the new machines.

Nor was Apple's toll-free sales department able to take a pre-order. An Apple sales representative told Computerworld that the new iMacs were not yet posted in Apple's internal sales system, that he could not take a pre-order, and that he did not know when pre-orders would start.

The representative, however, did say he would take contact information and call when pre-orders opened.

Apple revealed the new iMacs at an event Tuesday in San Jose, Calif., where it also launched the iPad Mini and a Retina display-equipped 13-in. MacBook Pro.

It's not unusual for Apple to announce new hardware and pause several days before starting to take pre-orders, then take a week or more to stock the goods in its retail stores and begin delivering orders to customers. The iPad Mini, for example, goes on sale Nov. 2, with pre-orders kicking off on Friday, Oct. 26.

But it is atypical of the detail-oriented company to reveal a product, defer shipping for weeks or more than a month, not accept pre-orders from customers, and at the same time withdraw the just-superseded models from sales.

Essentially, Apple has stopped selling the iMac through its online store.

"I do not recall them doing something like this before," said Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst, in an email reply to questions late Tuesday.

Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group who tracks retail sales, agreed. "Typically, they don't have products that are shipping that far out," Baker observed of the November and December estimated release dates.

The only older iMacs for sale by Apple via its website are refurbished systems, which are often units returned by customers that the company sells at a discount.

Other online and brick-and-mortar retailers have the 2011-era iMacs -- that was the last time Apple refreshed the line -- for sale, including Amazon and Best Buy. Several Apple retail stores contacted by Computerworld also had older iMacs available.

Another analyst thought the omission was so unusual that he believed it to be an error or glitch of some sort.

"It has to be a mistake. At the very least, they will allow you to pre-order," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research. "If they don't fix it fast, it will be a problem, but I'm sure something will change soon."

Apple did not reply to questions about why customers could not pre-order a new iMac when the older models had disappeared.

Earlier this year, there were rumors that Apple would refresh the iMac in the fourth quarter, and that shipments would be delayed. Much of that speculation, however, focused on the iMac receiving a Retina-style display, which did not happen Tuesday. Other reports last summer predicted a slower-than-normal ramp-up of iMacs because of supplier issues.

Those may have to do with the iMac's new screen, which Philip Schiller, head of Apple's marketing, said yesterday had been reengineered by reducing its thickness and laminating the glass to the screen. "We've never laminated a display this large to glass," said Schiller. "But the benefits are huge."

The inability of customers to pre-order the new machines took NPD's Baker by surprise. "It's weird that they would not offer pre-order, it costs them nothing and doesn't impact what's out there [in the channel] today," said Baker.

He offered two explanations for the lack of pre-orders.

"Maybe what they're doing is trying to get customers to buy what they have left over [of the earlier models]," Baker said. "Or maybe there is some company philosophy where they're just not comfortable taking pre-orders for products that far out. But it's surprising, since there doesn't seem to be any additional cost to do that."

Other experts didn't see the no-sales-now issue as a problem for Apple, even though the holiday sales season, traditional strong for Mac sales, is quickly approaching. Apple, for example, sold more Macs in the fourth quarter each of the last three years than in any other quarter.

"As long as Apple has a lot of inventory by the middle of November they will be okay," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an email Tuesday. "Sounds like there's a possibility of delays [beyond Apple's stated ship times."

"I doubt they will miss out on the holiday sales," echoed Milanesi of Gartner.

In the last four quarters that Apple has reported earnings, it has sold approximately, 5 million desktops, the vast majority of them iMacs. In the same span, it sold 13.2 million notebooks.

The 5 million iMacs translates into just over 96,000 desktops sold each week.

Baker rejected the idea that Apple was not selling iMacs of some sort. "People get way too hung up on the website," Baker cautioned. "The Web is not even half their volume, they do more in their own retail stores and others. There are older iMacs out there."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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