SAN FRANCISCO--After a week of speculation about the main course of Steve Jobs Macworld Expo keynote speech here today -- speculation whipped to a frenzy of hype by Apple Computer Inc. itself -- the secret ingredient proved to be a long-awaited new spin on an old Mac favorite: an eye-catching flat-panel iMac. Whether this lives up to the teasers of "To boldly go where no PC has gone before" on the companys Web page will have to be resolved as a matter of taste.
The new iMac packs a PowerPC G4 processor within a half-globe base of 10.5 inches in diameter; the 15-inch flat-panel display that has a limit of a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels balances atop an extensible chrome arm. The new iMacs also feature nVidia Corp.s GeForce 2MX graphics cards with 32MB of double-data-rate RAM. The high-end model, which will sell for $1,799, features a SuperDrive and a 800MHz G4 chip; an entry-level model will sell for $1,299 with less RAM, a smaller hard drive, no Apple Pro Speakers (included with the top two models) and a 700MHz G4 processor. The top-of-the-line model will be available before the end of January, Jobs said, with lower-spec models coming in February and March.
The previous, CRT- and G3-based model will live on, though -- versions starting at $799 will still be available. This is a move designed to retain sales in the education and low-end markets, said Phil Schiller, Apples vice president of worldwide marketing.
However, Schiller declined to speculate as to whether the new iMacs would eat into sales of Apples Power Mac desktop line, which, for the first time, represents less computing power at similar price points to the iMac. Schiller noted that the Power Mac line will provide PCI slots for expansion and the ability to drive a second monitor (the new iMac can mirror its display, just as the iBook can), both features professionals desire.
In a Time magazine article that was posted the night before Jobs meant-to-be-dramatic unveiling, the Apple CEO was quoted as calling the new iMac "the best thing weve ever done." Live, he presented an overview of the iMacs evolution, saying that the new version represents "the opportunity of the decade to reshape the personal computer."
Almost as an aside, while giving an overview of the state of Mac OS X, Apples Unix-based operating system, Jobs mentioned that, starting today, all new Macs will boot into Mac OS X by default. However, he added, all Macs will also have Mac OS 9 on the disk for Classic compatibility or, with a change in the Preferences panel, it can be used as the default OS.
However, Jobs ran his keynote entirely in Mac OS X and brought industry representatives on stage to demonstrate some of the more than 2,500 applications currently native to Mac OS X.
Prime among these was Adobe Systems Inc.s Photoshop 7, which, an Adobe representative said, "its real, its almost here" to the appreciative laughter of the crowd. In addition to further integration with other Mac OS X-native Adobe applications such as GoLive 6 and After Effects 5.5, both recently announced, Photoshop 7 will take advantage of Mac OS Xs Quartz rendering engine and will add spell-check capabilities within the application. The latter received an enthusiastic round of applause.
Also revealed in the Time article were details of Apples iPhoto software, which will allow users to easily create photo albums from their digital images. Users will also be able to create a 20-page photo album of their images, which Apple will print and collate into a hardcover album for $29.99, with each additional page costing $3.
In addition, iPhoto was designed to simplify and streamline the download and organization of photos from a digital camera. Citing in his demonstration the applications "super-easy cropping," "digital shoe box" and simplified print option, Jobs tagged iPhoto as the last element in Apples Digital Hub strategy, announced at last years Macworld Expo/San Francisco. Also, iPhoto will allow selected photos to be automatically formatted and uploaded to a users iTools Web page, hosted on Apples servers.
The iPhoto software is available for free starting today from Apples Web site, Jobs said.
And an iBook, too
Although many Mac rumorologists expected a refresh to Apples popular iBook portable, the truth was a bit of a surprise. Jobs announced not only price cuts to the line, with the low-end model dropping $100, but a new iBook version with a 14-inch screen (up from the base models 12.1 inches).
Otherwise keeping the same proportions and remaining under 6 pounds, the large-screen iBook will retail for $1,799 and will include a 600MHz G3 processor, 256MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD combination drive and an expanded battery that can get up to 6 hours of power.
But was it all that?
The revelation of the new iMac did draw audible appreciation from the live audience, but was that enough to justify Apples claims that this keynote would provide more than the Mac rumor sites on the Web had dreamed? Perhaps not. After all, the most prevalent suspicion was that a flat-panel iMac would debut at this show. The resized iBook drew a small crowd at a press-only event following the keynote, but it was clear that this show will be not about gigahertz Power Macs, wireless monitors or an anti-gravity device -- as a look around Apples booth, which was filled almost exclusively with iMacs, will make clear, its all about the new consumer model.
But that may not be so bad. As Jobs pointed out in his keynote, the old iMac sold over 6 million units in the three and a half years since its introduction. Should the new model do as well, in a PC market thats still fighting the doldrums, Jobs will have more to smile about.