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Apple debuts lamp-like iMac as consumer digital hub

Posted: 10 Jan 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:apple computer? apple? macintosh? imac? macworld?

Sticking to its roots by innovating around easy-to-use multimedia software and advanced design, Apple Computer Inc. rolled out a major update of its iMac computer Monday (Jan. 7) at Macworld that it called a full-fledged digital hub for consumers.

New application software for handling digital photographs rounds out a suite of multimedia software that Apple has assembled around its new OS X system. As expected, the key new hardware in the iMac is a flat-panel LCD, packaged into a unusually shaped system that looks similar to Luxo Jr., the animated lamp created by movie maker Pixar Animation Studios.

Although it packs little new hardware, the system's consumer-friendly, appliance-like exterior and new features represent Apple's best chance in three years to expand its 5 percent share of the U.S. desktop computer market. "The shape will draw people in, and the new software will give people something of value they can do with it," said Peter Glaskowsky, a senior analyst with Microprocessor Report, who said he thought Apple could increase its marketshare with the new iMacs.

Pain relief

Apple also introduced a new application, dubbed iPhoto, that will ship free with OS X. iPhoto eases what analysts have called the "chain of pain" in importing, organizing and sharing digital photos, a job that can take multiple applications and complex steps on a Windows PC. For instance, iPhoto can import to an iMac all the pictures on a digital camera in a single step, and zoom in and out on thumbnail views of all photos on a system to make it easier to find a specific picture. The application also lets users easily create new Web pages for their pictures, order prints or make a custom photo albumfeatures which will drive new services revenues for Apple.

To demonstrate iPhoto's easy-to-use, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs showed a moving slide show created with the software of the daughter of the program's chief developer, while Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" played in the background. "This is why we do what we do," Jobs said to a hushed crowd of Apple devotees. "I think the slide show is going to become the most popular way for people to view their photos."

iPhoto is one of several apps now provided with OS X that store and save digital music and create digital movies. The software is key to Apple's strategy to make the computer central to a growing array of consumer items like digital cameras, camcorders, DVD players and MP3 units.

"We are surrounded by many digital devices. The next great era of the PC is to be the hub of these devices," said Jobs.

In Apple's case that hub comes in the form of the new iMac, with a 15-inch color active-matrix LCD riding on a flexible arm above a half-spherical base some 10.5266.7mm in diameter. The whole unit weighs about 9.98kg.

What's new, what's not

Inside the base are largely stepwise improvements in electronics: 700MHz or 800MHz versions of the Motorola G4 processor with Altivec instruction extensions; up to 1GB of RAM; a 40GB to 60GB hard disk; and a choice of rewritable CD or DVD drives. Prices range from $1,299 to $1,799 depending on configuration.

A round motherboard sits at the bottom of the system and is accessible through the base under a plate anchored by four screws. The bottom of the board provides access for RAM upgrades and includes a proprietary slot for a card that adds 802.11b wireless networking. "The key challenge was putting that much stuff into such a small enclosure," said Jon Rubinstein, vice president of hardware engineering at Apple.

On hand for the launch was John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar, which is also headed by Jobs. Lasseter said Pixar's Luxo Jr. character could have been an inspiration for the iMac design, but called iPhoto the system's best feature. "We have been banging on them for years to address this [problem of using pictures on a personal computer] as even more important that the Mac's movie-making capabilities," Lasseter said.

The iMac is indeed a hub. It sports five 12Mbps USB ports, two Firewire ports and an 100Mb Ethernet port. Apple opted not to use the faster USB 2.0 interface, which can hit speeds up to 480Mbps. "We think Firewire is a better solution than USB 2.0, and it's getting much broader support," said Rubinstein.

Apple did not opt to use dual processors in the iMac as previously reported. "That's fine for servers but it's not good for mainstream consumer products today," Rubinstein said.

The company also held off adopting G5 PowerPCs made in a 0.135m process. Those chips will sport a longer pipeline and hit speeds up to 1.4GHz, but are not expected to be available in volume from Motorola until midyear.

In terms of its electronics, the new iMac is "not really innovative, it's just a repackaging of the system with a new display," said Glaskowsky. Nevertheless, he said he expects the system could draw users out of the Windows camp.

Jobs reported some 800,000 people visited Apple's 27 new retail outlets in December and that 40 percent of buyers at the stores are first-time Mac users.

Among other tidbits, Jobs announced that the company sold 125,000 of its iPod MP3 players in the first 60 days since their launch. The first-generation iMacs, launched three-and-a-half years ago, have sold six million units to date, he added. And the state of Maine has agreed to buy 36,000 iBook Apple notebook computers for its seventh and eight grade students, the largest single order ever in the education market, Job claimed.

Rick Merritt

EE Times

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