Apple homeward bound with new iMacs, iLife

It's back to basics at Apple with updated hardware and software for those aiming to organize their digital lives. Photos: Apple unveils new iMacs, apps Video: Thinner iMacs take stage

CUPERTINO, Calif.--Apple's fourth major event of the year was a bit more understated than the previous ones, but provided another glimpse of the company's view of the personal computer.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled new iMacs with aluminum and glass exteriors, keeping the rumor mill honest this time. Apple's iMac is an all-in-one computer where the motherboard sits behind a flat-panel display, in a more streamlined approach to the traditional desktop PC.

The company also updated its software for home Mac users, known as the iLife suite. The five applications that make up iLife '08 aim to help Mac users organize "user-generated content"--that ubiquitous Web 2.0 phrase--for both internal consumption at home and showcases that can one-up the Jones' trip to Nepal.

It's been a busy year for Apple. From January to June, it seemed everything was about the iPhone, while in the interim the company has been scrambling to get Leopard, the next version of the Mac OS, ready to ship in October. However, Tuesday's event featured far less glitz and hype as Apple introduced new products for its audience of home-media enthusiasts.

Apple separates its Mac customers into two main categories: the developers and creative professionals who use its heavyweight Mac Pro desktop and MacBook Pro notebook, and the rest of us, who get iMacs and MacBooks. It's been a good year for Mac shipments, which increased by 33 percent during Apple's last quarter, but the iMac product had been stale for quite some time.

So Apple borrowed the aluminum finish that it has previously reserved for its professional products, remaking the iMac in black and silver and taking a few inches off its waist. A glass display completes the look, along with a new slimmer keyboard and Intel's latest processors.

But Jobs sped through the introduction of the new iMacs to spend most of the morning walking attendees through the improvements to iLife and iWork, Apple's suite of office productivity applications. Apple's pitch for so-called "switchers" centers largely on the iLife suite as a friendly way of organizing the pictures and videos that pile up in the Digital Age.

Shiny hardware might get customers in the door, but software is where people spend their time, and where they form an attachment with their computers. The iron curtain of the past between Windows and Apple software is more of a backyard fence these days after the success of iTunes on Windows, software like Boot Camp, and the increasing percentage of time most of us spend on the Internet, rather than using desktop applications.

So to draw curious neighbors over the fence, Jobs likes to show family-friendly applications when showing off new Macs or software, appealing to the desire of those in attendance to easily create a digital record of their children's hijinks both for posterity and for distant friends and family. For example, Jobs showed how the new iPhoto and iMovie applications can organize photos and home movies and upload them to new Web Galleries hosted by the company's .Mac service, which also now allows customers to store up to 10 gigabytes of data for $99 a year, up from just 1GB of data.

The new iPhoto application automatically sorts pictures by "events," really just compiling all the photos taken on a given day. You can "merge" or "split" events that took place over several days, or multiple events that took place on a single day.

The iMovie application was singled out as having received the greatest overhaul between iLife '06 and iLife '08. Jobs told a story about an Apple engineer who wanted to make a short home movie of his trip to the Cayman Islands, but got frustrated by how long it took to create that movie in either iMovie or Final Cut Pro, Apple's professional video-editing software. The result was iMovie '08.

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