While some of you are anticipating the pleasure of playing TV shows and videos on the tiny screen of the new full-sized iPod at VHS quality, the star of this week’s product announcements may indeed be found elsewhere. Consider, for example, what the ultimate personal computer might be, keeping in mind Apple’s vision for the Mac over 21 years ago.
Now before I proceed any further, I have to tell you that my reactions in today’s commentary are conditional, based on the fact that I have not, as yet, had a chance to review the product I’m going to discuss. There are apt to be, as usual, some downsides, beyond the fact that a modem is a $49 optional external appendage. But I have a strong feeling that I won’t be changing this initial review very much after spending extensive face time with the actual product.
When that first all-in-one Mac appeared, following the memorable introduction in a TV spot, it was supposed to be a computing appliance, something that almost anyone could use with minimal instruction. Of course, most of the specifications were pretty minimal too, as was the amount of software available for that thing. Apple has taken lots of false steps along the way and, by dint of the bad decisions of its various inhabitants of the executive suite, frittered away its early leads in the industry. I won’t cover the history, which has been done by several capable authors. Instead, look at what is, at least for now, the realization of that dream, the new iMac G5.
On the one hand, in today’s typical Apple style, it is an all-in-one device, or as all-in-one as a computer can get considering you still have to plug in a keyboard and mouse. Yes, it weighs more than that original compact Mac, but it costs a whole lot less, and I won’t compare the features. That’s been the natural evolution of the industry. But the iMac’s all-in-one factor isn’t limited to its physical design. It is, my friends, very possibly the first computer that can serve the functions of a media center device and a business computer while sacrificing little in either realm.
Other than the lack of the TiVo-like function to record and play back your favorite TV shows, it does most everything you want in a media center computer without the excess baggage. The Front Row remote control may seem a simple idea. Just mimic the basic control scheme of the iPod, and you get the picture. But it’s a sign of brilliance, because Apple really gets it, and the people who build those PC boxes just haven’t a clue. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at any remote control for virtually any media center PC, cable or satellite dish, and so on and so forth. Dozens of buttons, and very few of you can access even a fraction of the functions without thinking two or three times and looking closely lest you press the wrong one. And I include myself in that category.
I won’t deliver a laundry list of the other media center features, such as the built-in iSight camera and all the rest. You have but to look at Apple’s specification sheets to get the full range. Now I suppose you’ll find that there are features available in the clunky PC variations of this theme that are, as yet, not available on the iMac, but that isn’t what Apple is about, which is to package the features most folks really need and make them just work with a minimum of fuss and bother.
Now take that very same computer and put it in the business environment. Look at the typical business owner’s needs, beyond the ultra cheap box that could be well served with a Mac mini and low-end monitor and input devices. Also subtract the small percentage of content creators and other users that need lots of internal expandability and maximum performance for rendering and such. The rest, the mainstream business user, should just adore the iMac.
Although the processor speed bump is minimal at best, Apple has apparently worked hard at tweaking it for top performance. The PCI Express graphics should be powerful enough for most anyone, except that top tier of business users and devout gamers. The switch to DDR2 memory will also help eke a little extra speed from this box. I just hope that Apple has resolved those hardware issues that plagued the iMac’s somewhat thicker first generation ancestor, and I’ll just accept, for the moment, that it has.
Remember, too, that the iMac also has gigabit Ethernet, built-in wireless networking, SuperDrive, S-video and composite video output for home systems and corporate presentation meetings, the Mighty Mouse to satisfy two button requirements, and lots more.
As I said, my reactions are conditional, based on promise and potential. But I’ve also talked with some very smart people I really trust on this topic, and you can hear them on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, so I think I’m really on to something here.
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