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Apple pares price of iMacs

In a move that may portend the introduction of new consumer desktops, Apple has launched a $200 instant rebate for two iMac models.

In a move that may foreshadow the introduction of new consumer desktops, Apple Computer has launched a $200 instant rebate for two iMac models.

Apple is slicing $200 off the 450MHz iMac DV+ models as well as the top-of-the-line iMac Special Edition. The rebate brings the price down to $1,099 and $1,299, respectively. Both systems include a DVD drive, and analysts have speculated that Apple may quickly look to augment or replace the DVD drive with a rewritable CD drive to take advantage of the company's new iTunes software.

The free program, which serves as a jukebox to play MP3 files and record them onto CDs, has been downloaded more than 275,000 times since its launch last week. However, analysts say that for Apple to see financial benefits in the near term, it needs to make CD-RW drives part of the consumer iMac line.

David Bailey, an analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison, said adding CD-RW drives to iMacs makes sense given the way Apple has positioned iTunes for consumers. But Bailey said the rebates, like other recent promotions from Apple, may be more than just a way to prepare for new products.

"It also may be a sign that demand has not improved to the point that Apple had expected," Bailey said Wednesday.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, which is expected to report a $250 million loss after the close of regular trading Wednesday, has been suffering from sluggish sales and trying to work through a glut of inventory.

In recent weeks, Apple has used a string of rebates and price cuts to clear out stocks of its PowerBook and Power Mac lines, which were updated at last week's Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the instant rebates.

Apple typically introduces new models at one of its trade shows. The next major event is Macworld Expo in Tokyo, which runs Feb. 22 to 24.

The new promotion, launched over the weekend, runs through Valentine's Day. The offer is available on purchases made through the online Apple Store and Apple Store for Education.

Several online and catalog retailers are touting similar instant rebates.