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Dimmer fades on desk-lamp iMac

It may have been "flat-out cool," but "flat" had also begun to describe sales of the just-discontinued second-generation iMac.

It may have been "flat-out cool"--as Time proclaimed on its 2002 arrival--but "flat" had also begun to describe sales of the just-discontinued second-generation iMac.

Apple has stopped taking orders for the second-generation, flat-panel iMac

The white, desk lamp-like iMac with its adjustable flat-panel screen debuted to both strong demand and critical acclaim, but sales quickly lost steam, leaving analysts unsurprised by Apple Computer's plans for an all-new design. Apple stopped taking orders for the flat-panel iMac on Thursday.

"The old iMac wasn't selling so well, and it was getting long in the tooth," said retail analyst Stephen Baker, who tracks the computer market for the NPD Group.

Apple has declined to comment on the replacement iMac, but the company issued a statement Thursday saying it had halted sales of the current model and would have a new one ready by September. Apple said it hoped to have the new model sooner but wouldn't say what led to the holdup.

Timeline of the iMac

January 7, 2002
Apple introduces first flat-panel iMac

January 28, 2002
Apple announces it has 150,000 pre-orders for new iMac

March 21, 2002
Blaming flat-panel and memory prices, Apple hikes price of all iMac models by $100

April 29, 2002
Apple introduces eMac, cheaper CRT-based alternative to the flat-panel iMac

July 17, 2002
Apple introduces 17-inch flat-panel iMac

February 4, 2003
Apple refreshes iMac line with new 15-inch and 17-inch models

March 18, 2003
Apple discontinues original gumdrop-style iMac, ending its five-year run

September 8, 2003
Apple speeds up 15-inch, 17-inch iMacs

Nov. 18, 2003
Apple introduces 20-inch iMac

July 1, 2004
Apple announces new iMac on the way, but delayed; stops taking orders for current models

The current iMac design debuted in January 2002, succeeding the translucent machine famous for its variety of gumdrop colors. The flat-panel landed on the cover of Time magazine just as CEO Steve Jobs showed the machine off before thousands of Mac fans at Macworld Expo San Francisco. In less than a month, Apple boasted 150,000 pre-orders.

For a time, the unit was scarce on store shelves, and Apple chose to briefly hike the price by $100 to make up for rising component costs. By June of that year, there were already signs that demand was flattening out.

Combined iMac sales of $448 million peaked in that first quarter and have steadily declined since.

"If you look at the history of this iMac, the one thing that has to strike you is the huge jump out of the starting line," Baker said. "Once it got going, I'm not sure it ever really caught on."

In the quarter that ended in March 2004, Apple sold 217,000 iMacs--the lowest total ever and below the 233,000 units of the original iMac sold in the last quarter before the flat-panel model was introduced.

The flat-panel remained a pricey machine throughout its life. Unlike the original, which eventually entered the sub-$1,000 and sub-$800 ranks, all varieties of the flat-panel iMac sold for a suggested price of at least $1,200.

Only a few months after introducing the flat-panel iMac, Apple added the eMac, a lower-cost all-in-one built around a 17-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor. The model was initially introduced for only the education market, but Apple quickly started selling it to consumers as well.

The arrival of the flat-panel iMac also coincided with a shift among Apple buyers, and computer owners generally, toward laptops. Portable machines now account for nearly half of Apple's unit sales.

The flat-panel iMac's 30-month life was comparatively long for computer designs but only about half as long as the 5-year run of the original iMac, which debuted in 1998 and was finally discontinued in March 2003, more than a year after the arrival of the flat-panel machine.

Nonetheless, design experts say that both generations of iMacs made their mark on the computer industry.

"The iMac clearly had a significant impact on the design of IT products and a very positive impact both in its original form and in the flat panel," said Mike Nuttall, a co-founder of industrial design firm Ideo.

Nuttall said the fact that few Windows computer makers followed suit with flat-panel all-in-ones may be a sign of the different ways Mac users and PC owners view their devices.

"A PC user is so used to the precedent of being able to buy displays separately from the (computer) and enjoys that freedom," Nuttall said. "I think the typical Mac user is very committed to Apple...Having the computer all in one is maybe more acceptable to a Mac user."