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Tech 101 | Mac Focus

Redesign Is More Than Just iCandy

January 10, 2002|JIM HEID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Now that's more like it. That was the mood of thousands of Apple fans who clapped and whooped their way through a two-hour revival meeting-cum-keynote address Monday by Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Jobs gave them something to clap about, introducing the long-awaited iMac redesign, a sublime (and free) new digital photography program and a new iBook laptop with a larger screen.

The announcements got the semiannual pilgrimage of the Mac faithful off to an upbeat start--a stark contrast to last July's Expo, where a lackluster keynote led to a bleak week.

The new iMac is an attention-grabber. It's futuristic and yet winsome--a white dome 10 inches in diameter, topped by a chrome bar that supports a 15-inch flat-panel display. The display pivots like a desk lamp, making it easy to position the screen.

Beneath the iMac's dome are a PowerPC G4 chip (previous iMacs used the slower G3), an optical drive, two FireWire jacks and three Universal Serial Bus ports. And a cooling fan: The G4 generates too much heat for a fan-free design. The iMac's fan is controlled by a thermostat, so it runs only when needed. Apple says the fan is no louder than the iMac's hard drive, but I couldn't test that claim on the noisy show floor.

The new iMac will debut in three flavors. This month, Apple will ship a $1,799 model with an 800-megahertz G4, 256 megabytes of memory and a 60-gigabyte hard drive. This model will include Apple's SuperDrive, which can play and burn CDs and DVDs. Next month, Apple will deliver a $1,499 model running at 700 MHz and containing a 40 GB drive and Apple's "combo" optical drive, which plays and burns CDs and plays (but doesn't burn) DVDs. A $1,299 iMac with a CD burner and 128 MB of memory ships in March.

All three iMacs--indeed, all new Macs produced from this week on--will start up running Mac OS X. "It's time," said Steve Jobs, noting that mainstream programs such as Microsoft Office are now available for OS X. (Microsoft announced a free trial version of Office X on Monday.) Users who require or prefer the older OS 9 can still use it--both operating systems come with new Macs.

Bargain hunters may complain that iMac offers no model priced under $1,000. There's no denying that the revamped iMac is a relatively costly consumer computer. But the original iMac cost $1,299--and contained a paltry 233 MHz processor and 32 MB of memory. With the new iMac, Apple has chosen innovation over economy. Now it must convince consumers that the iMac's price isn't unreasonable, given the computer's design and capabilities.

Those capabilities include managing and printing digital photos with Apple's new iPhoto software, which runs on any OS X-based Mac and is available as a free download from Apple's Web site. iPhoto streamlines transferring photos from a digital camera, tweaking and organizing them, and sharing them with others. You can group photos into albums, publish albums on the Web and order Kodak-produced photographic prints.

Many digital photography programs provide these features, but none can match iPhoto's straightforward interface or iPhoto's book-printing feature, which turns a collection of digital photos into a hard-bound, linen-covered book. Choose one of iPhoto's six book designs, click a few buttons and a book will arrive at your door in about a week, according to Apple. A 10-page book costs $29.99; each additional page is $3. The samples I saw were beautiful.

As I walked to my hotel, I noticed the magazine stands that dot San Francisco's sidewalks were already advertising the new iMac. Such is life during Macworld Expo: The Mac is everywhere, and it's possible to forget, if only for a moment, that most people use something else.

*

Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine. He can be reached at jim@jimheid.com.

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