Apple wants iMac to be a hub for all the latest toys

by Alan Zisman (c) 2002
First published in Business in Vancouver,  Issue #639 January 22-28, 2002, The High Tech Office column

What does it take to get your new product on the cover of Time magazine?

In the case of Apple Computer's newly revised iMac, all it required was exclusive access to the then-secret computer, and advancing Apple CEO Steve Jobs' MacWorld conference keynote address by a day to coincide with Time's release schedule.

While the article caused grumbles from press members left behind by Time's coverage, it got Apple, a company with mind-share far beyond its market-share, Time's headline calling the reborn iMac "Flat-out Cool!" You can't buy that kind of publicity.

With more than six million sold, the original iMac and its colourful one-piece design reinvigorated Apple since its 1998 release. But iMac sales peaked in 1999, and while the company kept offering it in new colours with ever-faster processors, it was clearly time for a change.

The new release certainly provides that change; it is a total redesign. Like the original model, it remains a one-piece unit, but that's about all that's the same. 

Where the original came in a variety of colours, welcome relief from everyone else's beige boxes, the new version comes in any colour you want, as long as it's white, in line with the company's iBook and iPod consumer products.

And while the original's curvaceous design seemed most like the new Volkswagen Beetle, the new model's stark sphere and rectangle scream modern art. The hinged industrial design wouldn't seem out of place in an Ikea desk lamp.

At the same time, Apple has boosted the power, replacing the original iMac's G3 series of processors with its next-generation G4.

The result is a mid-priced model that has nearly the power of Apple's high-end (and high-priced) towers. And combining the 10-inch hemispherical base with a thin, 15-inch flat panel display makes for a unit that frees up desk space while minimizing screen flicker and power consumption.

The new iMac comes in three models, starting with a $2,049 model with a 700-Mhz G4 processor, 40-MB hard drive, 128-MB RAM and a CD-RW drive. The middle of the line increases the memory to 256 MB and adds a combo CD-RW/DVD drive and better speakers ($2,399), while $2,899 gets an 800-MHz processor, 60-GB hard drive, and a DVD-RW/CD-RW SuperDrive. All models include the 15-inch LCD flat panel display, with about the same viewing area as a 17-inch traditional CRT monitor.

Apple is continuing to offer a pair of the older models with the G3 processor and the bulky CRT display, enabling them to market computers at the critical price point of less than US$1,000

As with previous iMac models, Apple is primarily pushing the new iMacs towards the home and education markets. Simultaneously, the company announced the release of free iPhoto software, aiming to simplify the use of increasingly popular digital cameras. (The company also hopes to encourage users to make use of Apple services for printing photos and producing attractive, but expensive hard-cover photo albums.)

All this is in line with Apple's vision of its systems as "digital hubs" connecting computers to digital cameras, camcorders, MP3 players, CD burners, and other consumer devices. Apple's software is aiming to make Macs the simplest and most elegant way to use these devices.

Still, with its new power and space-saving design, these new iMacs would also make more-than-adequate business workstations, for users who are prepared to "think different" by not going with the Windows majority.

 (And yes, as we'll see in a couple of weeks, these new Macs can, if desired, run Microsoft Office.) 

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan