Have a look at Dell's cheapest no frills computer and look at the features it is missing. OK it is a faster machine in terms of MHZ but it is missing things which come as standard with even the basic emac (firewire $50 more, Dell Optical Mouse $30 extra, shared ram for the graphics card & no complete out of the box software package). To compare a G4 with a P4 in terms of clock speed is not realistic, although I admit that consumers are tempted by the higher numbers rather than real world performance.
This is changing with the G5 processor as they do easily match and in most cases out perform their Intel and AMD equivalents.
I only mention Dell as they are the largest PC maker I don't have any real gripes with what they do. (I am even the happy owner of self made P4 and don't have an issue with mac's or pc's being superior)
I just think Apple as a company puts that little cherry on top of what it sells.
So lets say Apple does makes a headless imac sub $500 -$700 range with a reasonable sized hard drive, G5 1.4 or higher, 512MB, Firewire, Ethernet, Airport Slot, AGP graphics card & CD burner or DVD Rom. No fancy case like the cube just something that is easy and cheap to produce for them.
What would happen?
They would sell by the bucket load.
All of the big apple customers would have no reason to purchase a G5 tower. Why pay upto 4 or 5 x more for a tower when you could buy this nice little machine which would happily run most of the power hungry apps. There might be a few exceptions with people needing expansion slots. So where as before they might have sold 50 G5 towers to a company, they would now be selling say 1-5 towers and the rest would be these nice little headless imacs which they barely break even on. Apple can't afford to make an xbox sized loss like Microsoft.
If it has an AGP slot you could swap the graphics card with what you want and still be saving a fortune.
If it has a tiny harddisk you could go grab a nice new 250gb one for $150+ from your local store and swap it.
Maybe Apple could bring back the Apple clones and really kick their sales and brand status where it hurts.
The imac and emac worked for Apple because you could not make a serious graphics or video editing station out of it. It was an all in one machine with a few upgradeable parts and was perfect for the average home / office user. The cube was a nice enough machine because of it's form factor and unique style. Apple thought they could still sell it for a reasonable amount and look how that went. So sure they might be able to sell lots of mini macs but they would be hurting the sales of the towers beyond belief.
I see Apple as an innovative company. Someone that brings new technology to the table and lets it loyal subjects rejoyce for a few months or years before licensing some of that technology to the PC world. Then they go back to their drawing boards and think up something else innovative. I don't see Dell or Compaq stunning the world with anything.
They were the first company to offer DVD burners with their machines for a then highly reasonable price.
First with Gigabit Ethernet on their workstation machines as standard.
First with Firewire.
First with an Optical mouse as standard.
It's these little features which make Apple what they are. If you force them to rely on other companies to come up with exciting things for them to use we will be living in a pretty dull early / mid 90's mac world. Where nothing made them stand out and where they lost a large chunk of their user base.
The life span of a computer at a company in Germany where I now work is 4 years. So lots of companies are still using OS9 because they have not bought new machines yet or upgraded software licenses. Newspapers and magazines here are still running Quark 3.3 because there is no need to change at the moment and Quark 6 might mean new hardware and software for them to produce a few layouts which they have been happily doing for the past few years on beige G3's with OS9.
So for Apple to bring out something which they don't make real money on, which comes with a free OS and which companies like these and the one I work for would snap up in an instant because they know they will happily work for a good few years would be a disaster for Apple. Apple has it's user base which is growing bit by bit and they know they have loyal customers who will purchase a new mac every few years. For all of us as home consumers I agree it would be fantastic.
Dell & Compaq don't need to spend as much on R&D as they can easily snap up a large shipment of OEM boards from a company like ASUS, slap them in a generic case put a few easily available bells & whistles on it and they have their next money spinner. It is only that simple because of the OEM licensing that exists in the PC world. For Apple it is a different story. If in 1984 they had licensed their technology out the world would be a diferent place. They didn't do it and now all they can do is gradually chip away at the wintel user base by being innovative. To do this they need to make the mac more common in offices. People will then consider buying one for home but it is a gradual process and not something they can solve overnight by bringing out a headless imac this year powered by a G5.
In a year or so we might see them bringing out a cheap mini G5 but I can't see this happening until the processors and the features in the towers and powerbooks far exceed the specs of the mini G5 if it even comes to pass. Something like a Fiat Panda with a BMW engine might sell lots becase it's fast and cheaper than a BMW but it would still rust as fast as a Fiat Panda with a Fiat Engine which I think is something Apple also wants to avoid.
Sorry about the long post.
Still nursing the hangover