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Is a headless Mac on its way?

I got slammed a few months back for suggesting (in print) that Apple needed to sell a cheap and cheerful Mac without a monitor, and for suggesting (in this blog) that Macs were too expensive compared to PCs. However, according to Think Secret, a super-cheap headless Mac is on its way.

With iPod-savvy Windows users clearly in its sights, Apple is expected to announce a bare bones, G4-based iMac without a display at Macworld Expo on January 11 that will retail for $499, highly reliable sources have confirmed to Think Secret.

Apple has been working on the low-end Mac for almost a year, sources report. Indications are Apple has been working mostly on finding the right mix of price, performance and features that would motivate Windows users to consider a Mac, and less on the actual engineering of the product. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to design a bare-bones PC,” said one source familiar with the project. “What it takes is a team of marketing and software experts to find the right mix to convince Windows users to buy a Mac at a price that is not much more than the cost of an iPod.”

Sources familiar with the product cautioned that the low-end Mac will be marketed towards a totally different audience than those who traditionally buy even a $799 eMac. “This product is not going to be about performance,” said a source close to Apple. “This is going to be the basics, but with just as much of a focus on software as any Mac could ever be.”

It might not be a flying machine, but a G4’s still fast enough for media recording and playback; depending on the outputs, it could double as a PVR or media centre. That’d be fun.

A Mac for less than a Dell? Yes please.

Update, 11.30am

The Register’s Tony Smith comes to the same conclusion as me:

One other thought occurs to us. While the reports of the new machine are pitching the box as a low-end personal computer, we recall recent Wall Street analyst suggestions that Apple is well placed to capitalise on the emerging ‘living room PC’ market. A Mac sold without a display would make a good candidate for connection to a TV, particularly if it comes in a slim, DVD player-style casing. Apple is expected to promote the new machine more for its software and functionality than performance. What if it’s got media streaming via Wi-Fi and TiVo-like PVR features? All for half the price of a Media Center PC – and with Apple’s stylish, more living room-friendly looks…

Incidentally, if the rumours are correct then the headless Mac will have a 1.25GHz G4 chip. That’s essentially the same chip that’s in my PowerBook, which is no slouch.