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Friday, August 07, 2009, 09:45 am PT (12:45 pm ET)

Apple's next iMacs rumored with compelling new features

A couple of new features rumored to be in the cards for Apple's forthcoming iMac refresh will up the value proposition for prospective buyers in the market for an all-in-one desktop system, AppleInsider has been told.

One of those features is said to have long been on the wish-lists of many Mac users while the other is expected to cater to the semi-professional audio/video crowd. This is according to cryptic tips from people often familiar with the Mac maker's future product initiatives, but who declined to elaborate because they were not authorized to discuss the matter in detail.

Still, both features have been characterized as significant announcements in their own right, leading some industry-watchers polled by AppleInsider to wonder whether the former of the two will finally see the Cupertino-based company embrace technology once described by chief executive Steve Jobs as "a bag of hurt."

Either way, the new iMac offerings are expected to follow a trend set this spring with the introduction of new MacBook Pros, by which Apple simultaneously shaved retail costs while offering more value through added features such as better battery technology, higher-quality displays, and improved I/O functionality.

So how is Apple, renowned for its traditionally high gross profit margins, managing to achieve this flexibility amid the sharpest economic downturn in its corporate history? Independent analyst Turley Muller, who out-scored all of his colleagues on Wall Street in predicting the company's third-quarter results, is chalking it all up to the iPhone.

He believes the latest touch-screen handsets generate profits so high — estimated at nearly 60% for the 32GB iPhone 3GS — that the proceeds from sales of the devices are helping Apple absorbed and offset margin hits in the highly-competitive personal computer market.

"Going forward Apple will recognize higher iPhone revenue carrying a higher gross margin," Muller said. "As iPhone revenue as a percentage or share of total revenue increases, the impact of the higher iPhone (gross margin) on overall (gross margin) will intensify. This will assuage margin pressures Apple faces in other areas."

For example, he added, "we just witnessed, Apple cut prices on its Mac line-up, and there hasn't appeared to be any noticeable impact on overall (gross margins),"

Those price cuts, which were first reported by AppleInsider months before they became official, helped Apple drive sales of more than 1.75 million notebooks for the three-month period ended June, representing 13% yearly unit growth. The MacBook momentum also helped the company set a third-quarter Mac sales record of just over 2.6 million Macs with desktop units factored into the mix.

And while it's true that the future of Mac computing is heavily weighted towards portables, recent data points out of the Far East suggest that Apple enjoys a commanding lead over its peers in the realm of all-in-one desktop systems — one which it's undeniably looking to fortify.

The Chinese-language Commercial Times reported last month that Apple is expected to ship 3 million of the integrated desktops during the course of 2009, representing nearly half of the 6.5 million all-in-one systems that will be sold this year.

Meanwhile, Apple is simultaneously said to be working on an industrial design overhaul for the iMac line which could arrive as early as this year, possibly as part of the aforementioned refresh. This much has not been corroborated by insiders with any degree of certainty, however. Indications would point to slimmer, sleeker designs akin to the company's relatively new 24-inch LED-lit Cinema Display.

Also in the queue

Apple's much-anticipated tablet device coming early next year
Apple may extend antiglare display option to more Macs
Briefly: more affordable iMacs from Apple expected by fall
Apple listing implies iPod touch to eventually gain digital camera
Apple procuring video camera modules for next-gen iPod touch