Its always fun to watch a computer company swinging in the breeze, trying to explain itself. Specifically, Im talking about those occasions when it becomes necessary to convince customers that what they were once told was right was actually wrong, and that the new reality—hardware, software, whatever—is whats really right.
Microsoft does this all the time, given the breadth of its product line and its role as its own biggest competitor. But today, we turn our attention to Apple Computer and its decision to bail on the current “table lamp” form factor for its new iMacs. The base-stalk-screen design has given way to an integrated system unit and LCD perched atop a sleek, metal, L-bracket base.
Apple is the only PC manufacturer to have really done well with integrated designs, combining the display and system unit into one piece. For most of its history, back to the original Mac, Apple has offered a one-piece. This years redesign replaces something odd-looking with something that looks like it actually belongs on a desk.
Perhaps this is a sign that Apple intends to sell more desktops to businesses, though its just as likely, probably more so, that disappointing sales of the previous model prompted the change. The new design is very reminiscent of the “anniversary” Mac that came out a number of years ago. It used the same basic form factor as the new model, looking like a laptop turned into a desktop (which is what it happened to be).
Looking at Apples glamour photography of the new machine, you might catch yourself ooohing and aaahing before asking an important question: Where are the keyboard and mouse? They dont appear in many of Apples marketing materials, and Ive yet to find a picture that includes the standard keyboard and mouse, along with the wires that attach them to the computer.
Bluetooth is not a standard part of these machines, so Apples cordless keyboard and mouse arent, either. I understand doing this to keep prices lower for people who dont want cordless—saving $100. But if Apple is going to play these tricks, at least one of the easy-to-find pics should show this handsome computer with ugly wires dangling from it.
In fact, the low-end model would have a keyboard, a power cable, a network cable, and perhaps cables for an iPod and iSight camera dangling from the back. Sure, the machine looks sleek in the pics—though a bit tippy, if you ask me—but it wont look nearly so good on your desktop. You can, however, reduce the wire count by one if you invest $79 in an 802.11 AirPort card for the machine.
I also wonder whether the built-in speakers—not being in Paris at Apple Expo, I havent heard them—are sufficient or whether outboard speakers will be necessary, adding more wires and taking up more desktop space.
The pricing for the new models is OK, but nothing to write home about. The low-end model, starting at $1,299, quickly became an $1,800 model by the time I added memory, more hard drive space, wireless networking and a Bluetooth keyboard. This is a good value, I think, but most Windows users will see it as an expensive, underpowered machine.
The underpowered part isnt true; its just that Mac gigahertz and Windows gigahertz dont mean the same thing. The new iMacs run at 1.6 GHz and 1.8 GHz, which seems slow compared with many consumer Windows boxes. In actual performance, the Mac does just fine, but you have to see this in person or trust reviewers for it to make sense.
Overall, the new iMac is better-looking than the old one, though not as good-looking as Apple wants you to believe. It looks more at home on business desktops, which is a significant improvement, and the processor bump to G5 is certainly welcome. Perhaps people who were turned off by the previous design are ready to part with their dollars now.