Apple puts the squeeze on new iMac

All of the new iMac G5 fits inside what the company calls an "enchanting" flat-screen display.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
6 min read
Apple Computer's fall fashion statement, direct from the runways of Paris, is a svelte design for the new iMac.

The new all-in-one iMac G5 desktop tucks all of its components, including its hard drive, processor and DVD drive, behind a wide-screen liquid crystal display. The machine, which is about 2 inches thick and is mounted on a curved metal stand, has proportions similar to those of the company's Cinema Display flat panels.

The computer maker unveiled the design--its third all-in-one iMac--on Tuesday at the Apple Expo in Paris and, in doing so, ended considerable speculation. Apple had kept the specs of the iMac G5 a secret, but that didn't stop a number of Web sites from having a say about the possibilities.

Many Mac users had predicted Apple would go with a design that placed the computer's innards directly behind the display.

The unveiling also marks somewhat of a change in emphasis for the company, whose designs for desktop computers in recent months have been overshadowed by the look and feel of its iPod digital music player. On its Web site, Apple asserts that the iMac G5 is "as fun and useful" as the iPod. In fact, the iPod design team came up with the new iMac, which Apple describes as "enchanting."


What's new:
Apple unveiled a new iMac that has all of its components tucked into a 2-inch-thick flat-screen display.

Bottom line:
The original flat-panel iMac scored high for its quotient of "cool," but sales cooled off quickly. Can the new design do better?

More stories on this topic

"What would the creators of the iPod do for their next computer?" Phil Schiller, Apple's senior VP of worldwide product marketing, said at the Paris unveiling to describe the rationale behind the latest addition to the Mac family.

The iMac line could probably use some of the iPod's cachet. While sales of the music player have been scorching, sales of the previous version of the desktop lost steam over time.

The company would have liked to unveil the new machine earlier. Apple first confirmed that a new iMac was on the way in July. At that time, it said that it had stopped taking orders for iMac G4 models and that it had hoped to have an all-new model available before G4 stocks ran out. Instead, Apple was hampered by a shortage of G5 processors.

Although Apple began taking orders for the iMac G5 on its Web site Tuesday and plans to ship the systems in mid-September, the gap in timing has left the company without a consumer-oriented desktop to sell for a good portion of the 2004 back-to-school season.

Still, the new desktop's iPod-like profile and finish could serve to bring in some new blood from among the millions of iPod owners, one analyst said.

Apple's missed opportunity
With the new iMac G5, Apple has once
again come up with a unique package
of design, power and ease of use.
But will it be enough?

"I think what Apple is recognizing is that at least right now, the iPod is going to drive its brand, and they want to take advantage of that," said Steve Baker, an analyst at The NPD Group. "Why does this look like the iPod? Because it's clearly positioned as the consumer PC for people who own iPods but don't own an Apple desktop."

The iMac G5 still faces some obstacles, including its starting price, which, at $1,299, is higher than the typical $500 to $700 consumer-oriented desktop PCs and $400 17-inch LCD displays. But Apple and others, such as Gateway, have shown that there is a market for all-in-ones despite their price and the fact that a display can outlive a desktop PC by years.

"To Apple, price isn't the most important thing," Baker said. "A car is a car, but a BMW is a BMW. The value in an iMac is not in the hard drive, it's in the design and the ease of use--at least that's what they'll tell you--so why would you sacrifice design to cram another 256MB of RAM in there?"

Timeline of the iMac

July 8, 1998
Steve Jobs touts the new iMac as a catalyst for Apple's comeback

July 16, 2001
Is the iMac over the hill at age 3?

January 7, 2002
Apple introduces first flat-panel iMac

January 28, 2002
Apple announces it has 150,000 preorders for new iMac

March 21, 2002
Blaming flat-panel and memory prices, Apple hikes price of all iMac models by $100

April 29, 2002
Apple introduces eMac, cheaper CRT-based alternative to the flat-panel iMac

July 17, 2002
Apple introduces 17-inch flat-panel iMac

February 4, 2003
Apple refreshes iMac line with new 15-inch and 17-inch models

March 18, 2003
Apple discontinues original gumdrop-style iMac, ending its five-year run

September 8, 2003
Apple speeds up 15-inch, 17-inch iMacs

Nov. 18, 2003
Apple introduces 20-inch iMac

July 1, 2004
Apple announces new iMac on the way, though delayed; stops taking orders for current models

Previous models included the iMac G4, introduced in 2002, whose swing-arm-mounted flat screen drew comparisons to a desk lamp, and the first-generation CRT-based machine from 1998, whose form is still emulated by the eMac.

Aimed primarily at the education market, the eMac offers a 17-inch CRT, 1.25GHz PowerPC G4 processor and combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM for a starting price of $799.

What it packs
In spite of the new iMac's slim profile, Apple squeezed a fair amount of power into the machines. All three models include a G5 processor, otherwise known as IBM's PowerPC 970, and two come with Apple's SuperDrive DVD burner.

The most basic $1,299 model will include a 1.6GHz processor and a 17-inch screen, with a resolution of 1,440 by 900 pixels. It also comes with 256MB of RAM; an 80GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive; Nvidia's GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics chip; and 64MB of dedicated graphics memory. Apple's Mac OS X version 10.3 operating system is also included.

The intermediate model, priced at $1,499, has the same screen but offers a faster 1.8GHz processor, whose data pipeline to and from memory also accelerates to 600MHz from 533MHz. It comes with the Apple SuperDrive, a combination DVD-burner/CD-burner.

The $1,899 model's 20-inch screen offers a resolution of 1,680 by 1,050 pixels. This iMac also includes the 1.8GHz chip, a 160GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and the SuperDrive.

Customers who purchase any of the machines directly from Apple can add more memory and a larger hard drive and can opt for add-ons such as an Apple AirPort Extreme wireless card. When fitted with 1GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive and an Airport card, the 20-inch model costs about $2,300, Apple's site shows.

As part of its efforts to keep the iMac G5 trim, Apple used design tricks such as incorporating the machine's power supply, making for a less bulky power cord arrangement; many other thin desktops use a brick-like external power supply. Apple also included a complement of audio- and video-out, USB, FireWire and Ethernet ports, and gives customers the option of adding Bluetooth, the short-range wireless networking technology for connecting peripherals.

The Bluetooth module alone adds $50, while the module plus a keyboard and mouse adds $99 to the price of an iMac purchased directly from Apple.

Specifications aside, it's the design that Apple hopes will sell the system.

"Everyone is going to be asking, 'Where did the computer go?' The entire computer (now) floats in the air," said Schiller. Apple, he said, is aiming for a machine that people will be "proud to have in their den, their living room or in the front of a small business."

Jo Best of Silicon.com in London contributed to this report.