Facebook Twitter

Apple makes waves with new iMac

Model uses a flat panel on a swiveling stand

SHARE Apple makes waves with new iMac

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple Computer introduced an unorthodox new version of its iMac personal computer on Monday, seeking to refresh its popular 3-year-old consumer model, which had begun to get stale.

The new PC, which sports a translucent swiveling flat-panel display on top of a hemispherical pearl-white base, is certain to cause as much industry controversy and consternation as the original rounded Apple iMac, which was first introduced in 1998.

The earlier machine was designed around the cathode-ray tube, which Steven P. Jobs, Apple's chief executive, pronounced dead on Monday. He said the company had taken advantage of the falling costs of LCD flat-panel displays to entirely rethink what a computer should look like.

The company rejected the notion of simply deepening the flat panel display design now used for its separate desktop monitors, for both aesthetic and technical reasons, Jobs said.

"Why don't we let each element be true to itself?" Jobs asked during a product introduction on Monday here at Moscone Convention Center, where the company's Macworld exhibition opened on Tuesday.

The new Apple iMac immediately began creating controversy when the computer maker gave attendees copies of the current Time Magazine, which featured the new computer on its cover with a headline calling it "Flat Out Cool!"

Apple announced last month that it was moving the day of introduction forward one day, and a Time employee, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, said that the magazine had guaranteed Apple a cover story in return for an exclusive about the new product in its Monday issue. A spokesman for Time, Ty Trippet, said that "as a newsmagazine, we don't guarantee covers," and added that there were other cover subjects ready as well.

Industry analysts and industrial designers said the new design was a major gamble on the part of Jobs, who has become a legend for his insistence that computers be more than plain white boxes.

Although the original iMac was a huge success, selling 6 million since its introduction, Jobs has had other less successful design forays that have won raves from critics and industrial designers but have fallen flat in the market place.

Known for pioneering the use of plastics in the case of the original Apple II, Jobs unveiled a striking black cube computer after founding Next Inc. in 1986. Although it had a small cadre of devotees, that machine never found a broad market.

More recently, in July 2000, Jobs again introduced a small cube-shaped computer, which won design raves but met a tepid market.

The new iMac was a further indication that Jobs has not lost his willingness to make big bets. The initial reaction of many of those who saw the machine was that it echoed one of the animation characters from Jobs' second company, Pixar Inc.: Luxo Jr., an anthropomorphic desk lamp on whose adventures an early digital animation by the company was based.

Novelty aside, the new machine won early respect from some Wall Street analysts.

"I was skeptical," said Charles Wolf, a principal at Needham & Co., a Wall Street investment firm. "I think they are going to have a great upgrade cycle."

He said the company's claim of 800,000 visitors at its 27 new stores in the past month was welcome news and would translate into significant sales in the future.

The design of the new iMac clearly left some Apple loyalists scratching their heads. One former Apple executive referred to the new iMac as "Half Dome."

Others said they were eagerly waiting to place their orders for the new system, whose top model is scheduled to be available at the end of January. The new machines will be priced from $1,299 to $1,799.

Jobs, who was able to raise speculation about what he planned to introduce this year to a fever pitch, and who is no stranger to hyperbole, expressed confidence that Apple once again had been successful in differentiating itself from the rest of the computer industry.

"We have been innovating while most of our competitors have been laying off workers, restructuring and retrenching," he said.

Industrial designers on Monday generally reacted favorably to the fact that Jobs has continued to explore the question of what a personal computer should look like.

"I think the design community is genuinely pleased that Apple pushes the envelope because there aren't a lot of people out there who do," said Jim Sacherman, a veteran industrial designer who is an executive at Flextronics International, a Silicon Valley manufacturing firm.

Jobs also introduced new software designed to extend the company's "digital hub" strategy. The program is known as iPhoto, and it is designed to permit digital camera users to store, edit, print and share their images. The system will permit users to use the Internet to order photographic prints of their digital images from the Eastman Kodak Co., or order custom photo albums directly from Apple.

Jobs also said the company would begin shipping a $1,799 version of its iBook portable computer with a larger, 14.1-inch display. Apple will also begin shipping its new Macintosh OS X operating system as the default version on its new computers beginning on Monday, nine months after the introduction of the new program.