When I first read about the latest iteration of the iMac, I got the impression that, absent the remote control, it would serve well in an office environment. Having spent a week with the computer, my opinion remains unchanged. Sure, it’s got a wealth of features that are ideally suited for the home user, but only professional users who require the utmost in processor power and perhaps a larger display would feel something is lacking.
When I interviewed an Apple product marketing manager on the subject for last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl, my opinion was essentially confirmed. But it was limited to a passing comment, and the conversation was quickly returned to the consumer-level aspects. On the other hand, you don’t expect an Apple spokesperson to divert from the company line. So are they missing something here?
Well, I’m quite sure they’d rather sell Power Macs to businesses, but for most office environments, they’re overkill in both price and features. If you examine the ubiquitous Dell boxes in the working world, you’ll find most are scarcely above the entry-level in price and performance. You don’t need state-of-the-art processing power, or cutting-edge graphics for accounting or word processing software, or a vertical market application earmarked for, say, a legal or medical facility.
In fact, I dare say that you could replace all those PC’s with, say, the Mac mini and few would suffer from the experience. Except, perhaps, for the IT department when it finds that it has a lot less work to do to keep the systems functioning.
But if the entry-level isn’t quite sufficient, where in the Apple line do they go if they want to switch to Macs? Other than content creators and scientists, the iMac is just perfect. Just hide the remote and turn off the iSight camera, of course. But Apple’s pitch is strictly consumer. Of course, I do realize that trying to sell to both markets might just create a mixed message, so the focus remains on what they call “The WorldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Most Entertaining Computer.”
All right, I’ll grant them their priorities. Using the iMac G5 is fun, and I recall the brief moments when my son, Grayson, discovered Photo Booth and began to stretch and squeeze pictures of his face; that is, until the novelty wore off.
In 2006, maybe as early as Macworld San Francisco, you will probably see additional entertainment-related enhancements to the Mac line. Some suggest a TiVo-like device to receive TV shows and record video. This would place the iMac, and perhaps the Mac mini, fully into the media center computer camp. Today’s iMac is largely a tentative first step, although a highly successful one by most estimates.
At the same time, I wonder to what extent Apple hopes to conquer the business market, and how the iMac’s consumer focus is eliminating this model from serious consideration beyond the home environment. That would be unfortunate, unless, of course, Apple considers unbundling the camera and the remote and offering a cheaper version strictly for office use, or for home users who don’t care so much about the digital lifestyle toys.
The only other concern, and it’s a passing one, is the reliability of the new design. As you have no doubt heard, the first generation of the current iMac form factor had its share of reliability issues. The first update appeared largely free of any serious hardware ills, and the late 2005 or iMac G5 (iSight) has extensive internal design changes. Components are no longer placed in easily removed modules, and there seems a heavier focus on proper cooling for the heat-generating G5. When I had the review sample here, I left it on continuously, day in and day out, and it never got excessively warm, even when it was streaming video content.
Of course, heat concerns should vanish entirely when the iMac finally receives an Intel transplant. When will that happen? Well, the early bets are on the Mac mini and the iBook in January or February, with an outside possibility that the PowerBook may join them early on or after a very brief period. I expect the Power Mac will be situated at the end of the food chain, awaiting processors not expected until late 2006 or 2007. The iMac? Well, Apple will want to goose sales for back to school 2006, so it doesn’t take tea leaves to guess when it might join them.
For now, however, I doubt that many will feel they are suffering in either performance or features with the iMac in its present form.
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