Where is Apple’s 30″ LED Cinema Display?

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Today, Apple sells just one monitor and in September, it’ll be selling two. But is it too little, too late when competitors already have an edge on a yet-to-be released, smaller upgrade?

The history of Apple’s flat panel monitor offerings is pretty dry, but as we’ll see, shows a pattern. Apple’s first LCD was a 15″ monitor that came in July 2000 and had a max resolution of 1024×768. It was a beautiful, very expensive display that weighed 12 pounds and had a viewing angle of 120 degrees. Soon, similar models in 17- and 22-inch configurations arrived. Finally, in 2002, we long-time Apple fans were caught drooling over the 23″ Apple Cinema HD display that pushed a 1920×1200 pixel resolution and was available directly from Apple for $3499.

Design-wise, updates have also been rare. Even after Apple went all aluminum with its PowerMac G5, and more recently, its Mac Pro, the plastic and translucent Cinema Displays remained unchanged. It wasn’t until June 2004 that Apple updated the design and went aluminum with displays bearing the same Cinema Display name in 20-, 23- and 30-inch configurations costing $1,299, $1,999 and $3,299 respectively. You were paying about the same as you did back in 2002, but for slightly larger monitors in sleeker packages with a viewing angle of 170 degrees and a much higher brightness (400 cd /m2 versus 200 cd /m2 in the old models). These monitors were pretty good, but still insanely expensive compared to comparable monitors from Viewsonic and Dell.

In October 2008 (nearly two years ago), Apple released the 24″ LED Cinema Display with a 178-degree viewing angle, IPS display and a 100:1 contrast ratio besting the previous model that only offered 700:1. The 20″ and 30″ Cinema Displays with old specs are still readily available, but only from eBay and a few resellers, so Apple is technically selling one monitor to replace a previous offering that included three: a 20″, 23″ and 30″ model. What gives?

Yesterday, that changed when Apple announced that a 27″ LED Cinema Display will go on sale in September for $999.

Where is the 30″ Model?

We don’t cover non-Apple news very much, but yesterday, HP released a new 30″ display that leverages IPS technology and has a 7-millisecond respond time, which is two times faster than Apple’s current 24″ display for $1399. The HP offering is only $400 more than Apple’s 27″ display that isn’t even shipping yet. What’s the holdup, Apple?

I covered the past Apple offerings because it’s obvious that Apple takes its sweet time with display releases, but there’s absolutely no need. I understand its withholding of cool features like FaceTime and bluetooth multitouch trackpads to fuel demand and excite Mac users every few weeks with a new toy, but display technologies universally offer exactly the same function.

Apple’s CRT, LCD and now LED monitors are exactly the same as monitors from every other manufacturer aside from the pretty aluminum-and-glass casing and nice additions like MagSafe ports or a built-in webcam, but Apple somehow charges a premium on identical technology (something we’re all used to as Mac users). Apple gains nothing by holding back on larger monitor releases. The fact that Apple released a 24″ model in October 2008 and in September 2010 is finally getting around to releasing a 27″ display gives me the impression that we’ll see a 30″ LED Cinema Display with a $1999 price tag sometime in July 2012. Of course, I’m doubtful of that, but the Adam of 2008 would have laughed when you told him he’d be waiting two years for a 27″ LED Cinema Display.

My point is that Apple’s withholding of larger monitors only makes power users like me buy a monitor from another manufacturer. My 30″ Dell 3008WFP that I bought two years ago has a higher contrast ratio, response time and brightness than Apple’s unreleased 27″ LED Cinema Display with a similar viewing angle. It also uses IPS technology which Apple acts as if it invented or as if using it is, somehow, cutting edge. The truth is, the 30″ Dell monitor released three years ago that costs only $1599 has the exact same specs as HP’s $1399 30″ that came out yesterday and will probably have the same specs as Apple’s $1999 30″ LED Cinema Display that may come out sometime in the next 24 months.

What Apple is doing is making pros buy monitors elsewhere. I wish the 30″ display sitting next to my iMac was an Apple-branded one and not a Dell, but I need the screen real estate and Apple has left me hanging.

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