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Tim Cook Concedes a Mac Mistake

By Evan Niu, CFA - Apr 24, 2013 at 8:00PM

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Following Apple's earnings release, CEO Tim Cook fesses up that the company made a mistake with its Mac business. Would consumers have been able to handle waiting for new iMacs?

CEO Tim Cook clearly isn't averse to apologies, having issued two formal ones in recent months. On last night's earnings conference call, the Apple (AAPL 4.08%) CEO also conceded another strategic mistake that was made: the iMac should have waited.

Source: Apple.

Unveiled in October, the redesigned iMac utilized ambitious new manufacturing processes to achieve the reductions in thickness and weight. Apple used friction-stir welding to get the edges down to 5-millimeters thin and full display lamination to eliminate the 2-millimeter gap between the LCD and cover glass. The display lamination was pegged as the primary culprit to the significant constraints that Apple faced in the December quarter, which led to a dramatic drop in Mac units that severely underperformed the market.

If Cook could get a mulligan, he would have waited to launch the flagship all-in-one desktop after the turn of the year. Customers had to wait too long for Cook's comfort, since iMacs were being quoted of shipping times of up to four weeks until recently. In the meantime, Apple simply had no iMacs for sale after discontinuing the outgoing models.

It was a tough trade-off, though, since the iMac was already pushing an extended product cycle. The 2011 models were introduced in May of that year, and Apple wouldn't want to go through all of 2012 without updating its most popular desktop. At the same time, Cook was quite cognizant of the manufacturing challenges the device faced as it ramped up, but perhaps he underestimated how tough the technical hurdles would be to clear.

In contrast, even though the iPad Mini was constrained during the quarter, Cook stood by the choice to launch the tablet when it did. It promised to be a hot seller over the holidays, and an entirely new product is more significant than a refresh.

Maybe if Apple had waited to launch the iMac, it could have maintained its streak of outperforming the broader PC market. Investors will never know.

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