Finally it's here — the new iMac, unveiled yesterday in Steve Jobs' keynote speech at Macworld Expo, San Francisco.
Was it worth waiting for? In a word — yes. Once again Apple has come up with the most innovative and stylish computer on the market and, for a change, the technology inside isn't stuck in the Stone Age.
But with this computer, it's not really what's on the inside that's important; the most striking characteristic of the iMac is Jonathan Ive's ground-breaking design. The new iMac bears an uncanny resemblance to Luxo, the lamp logo of Jobs' other company, Pixar.
It has a 15in LCD screen suspended on a moveable chrome arm. This is attached to the base of the computer which looks rather like a white, plastic Christmas pud.
The whole unit is finished in the same pristine white as the recently launched iBook, with silvery Apple logos slapped on the base and screen — as if you'll forget where this computer came from.
Long time coming
This is the first major revamp of the iMac since its launch in May 1998. It's taken Apple two years to perfect the design and technology, but clearly that has been time well spent.
For a couple of good reasons, Apple has eschewed the route taken by many PC manufacturers of making flat-panel-based all-in-one computers by housing all the components in the back of the screen.
Firstly, by keeping the computer in the base it has been able to retain the slim lines of the flat-panel and second, by sitting the drives in a horizontal rather than vertical position, they can run at full speed, and the motherboard is kept well away from the screen, easing heat dissipation.
Other neat touches are the ability to move the screen through 180 degrees and to angle it to any degree you like, thanks to the flexible arm.
It also has the usual plethora or ports you'd expect from Apple, with five USB ports, two FireWire ports, built-in ethernet and modem, and a built-in speaker and microphone. It is also sold AirPort-ready — with the addition of the right card it can be wirelessly networked.
All of these ports, plus the internal components and tray-loading drive are fitted into a base unit that measures just 267mm. To upgrade RAM or add an AirPort card it's a simple matter of removing the base and slotting it in.
Apple has boosted iMac performance by upgrading the processor to a G4 and swapping the 16MB ATI Rage 128 graphics card for a 32MB nVidia GeForce2 MX, and all units will ship running Mac OS 10.1.
There will be three models in the new iMac line-up, with the top of the range unit — the 800MHz G4 — reaching the shelves first at the end of this month. Priced at £1,599, it will sport 256MB of RAM, 60GB hard drive and SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW combo drive), plus a pair of Apple Pro speakers.
Next up is the £1,299 mid-range 700MHz G4. Due out in February, it will feature a combo DVD/CD-RW drive and 40GB hard disk. Finally in March, Apple will ship the £1,149 model with a CD-RW drive, 128MB RAM, a 40GB hard drive and CD-RW.
It remains to be seen how well these iMacs will do, but Jobs says he hopes to attract customers ranging from consumers right through to large businesses. Apple already has an order for 1,000 units from a large American firm, but only time will tell if it can beat the original iMac, which sold six million units over its three-and-a-bit-year history.