Apple Spins New iMac as Media Hub

Updated: Apple has designed its latest iMac G5 to be a home's central point for accessing everything from music files to television, in a bid to strengthen the links between its computers, music players and onli

Thin is in at Apple Computer Inc. The company has unveiled a slimmer iMac G5, designed to be used in the home as an entertainment hub, to go with its thinner line of iPod music players, introduced this fall.

Apple, which rolled out the new all-in-one desktop along with a video-playing iPod on Wednesday, has updated the iMac G5 with a new chassis thats as much as a half-inch thinner and that comes with a built-in iSight camera and a special remote control.

However, the new machines ability to manage multimedia marks its biggest change.

Apple will load the new iMac G5 with Front Row, software that provides a special interface for accessing music, video, DVD movies and photos. Front Rows icons are visible from across a room, and it works in concert with a six-button remote. The remote, which resembles an iPod Shuffle, has a range of about 30 feet.

Although the new iMac G5 does not work as a personal video recorder, Front Row allows it to be used to show movie trailers, and to purchase music videos and some ABC TV shows via Apples iTunes Music Store. The built-in camera can take photos and assist in video conferencing, Apple representatives said.

The iMac, which will start at $1,299 for a model with a 17-inch screen, is likely to be considered by many to be the first major computer hardware revision from Apple this year.

The company, which has committed itself to moving its computer lines from PowerPC processors to Intel Corp. x86 chips beginning in 2006, has rolled out numerous updates for the iMac, Power Mac and Mac Mini desktops as well as for its PowerBook and iBook portables.

But, aside from adding faster processors and more standard memory and updating aspects like graphic capabilities, those updates did little to change the basic design of each machine.

The new iMac works to establish a stronger link between the companys computers, iPod music players and its iTunes Music Store, and to fend off would-be competitors based on Microsofts Media Center software by positioning itself as the hub for controlling multimedia, analysts said.

"Part of being a digital hub is working on the 10-foot interface and not just the 1-foot interface," said Steve Baker, analyst at NPD Group Inc.

"As [Apple] moves more deeply into content and media, with things like iPhoto and iTunes, its got to have a way for people to work with them and make [the experience of viewing the files] more user-friendly and more living room-friendly than the typical 1-foot interface" of launching files with a mouse click.

The move also shows that, despite Apples pledge to fully switch to Intel chips by 2007, the company is continuing to move forward by offering more powerful systems based its current processor, the PowerPC.

The company has long been expected to move its Power Mac G5 to IBMs dual-core PowerPC970MP processor, for example.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about the PowerPC 970MP.

The 17-inch iMac G5 will come with a 1.9GHz G5 processor—Apples term for IBMs PowerPC 970 processor—while a model with a 20-inch screen will offer a 2.1GHz version of the chip and sell for $1,699.

The machines will also come with base level equipment, which includes 512MB of RAM, an 8x DVD-burning SuperDrive and an Apple Mighty Mouse. The 17-inch iMac G5 includes a 160GB hard drive, while the 20-inch offers a 250GB drive, Apple representatives said.

Apple last updated its Power Mac G5 line in April, when it bumped its speed from a maximum of 2.5GHz to 2.7GHz by rolling out a model with dual 2.7GHz PowerPC 970 chips. During June it phased out single-processor, 1.8GHz Power Mac G5s in favor of its current lineup of dual-processor 2.3GHz, 2.5GHz and 2.7GHz models.

Meanwhile, major upgrades to the PowerBook line, which received a touch-up that included faster processors in January, have also been a long time in coming. However, the machine could well be the first Apple computer model to use an Intel chip.

Analysts say that "Yonah," Intels first dual-core mobile Pentium, would fit well into PowerBook and Mac Mini models, due to its performance and power consumption. The chip, which will arrive in notebooks in January, is expected offer two cores running at about 2GHz and consume a maximum of about 30 watts of power.

Apple has been already been working on updates for its Mac Mini. Some Minis currently being sold come with parts that exceed the machines published specifications, the company confirmed in late September.

Some buyers reported receiving Minis with 1.5GHz processors, for example, whereas the fastest processor named in the machines published specifications runs at 1.42GHz.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about the Mac Minis potential for enterprise use.

Prior to that, the Mini had received a minor upgrade, along with the iBook, in July. Mac Minis were adjusted with measures such as an increase in standard memory, while the 12-inch and 14-inch screen iBook models got processor upgrades that bumped the 12-inch model to 1.33GHz and the 14-inch to 1.42 GHz.

Apple has also been pushing the envelope with its iPod music player line. Apple introduced a thinner, lighter iPod capable of playing video on Wednesday.

Before that, Apple replaced its iPod Mini with the smaller iPod Nano. The Nano, which has a color screen and click wheel, comes with up to 4GB of storage capacity.

Analysts have said that the millions of iPods that Apple has sold should help the companys computer sales.

Morgan Stanley, a New York-based financial services company, said in a report earlier this year that Apple could see its global PC market share increase from about 3 to 5 percent in 2005 thank to a halo effect wherein iPod owners consider moving on to purchase a Mac.

Editors Note: This story was updated to include additional details on the new iMac and accessories. Dan Turner provided additional reporting for this story.

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