The Digital LifestyleThe new iMac is Apple's most desirable consumer machine to date. It's also the company's key component in its digital hub strategy, and as such it has to be able to hook up with all kinds of devices easily and flawlessly. With this in mind, let's look at what Apple gives you in terms of the machine's interfaces and bundled extras.
First of all, there's the design of the machine itself. It's not an ugly box that you'll want to stick in a back room; it's an interesting shape that pleases the eye. A minor point, maybe, but it wouldn't look out of place in a living room. Next there's the screen. Flat-panel displays are much easier to look at and produce sharper, more precise images than CRT monitors, and Apple's colour management software means that your digital photographs will be shown to perfection. There's no nicer way to view a digital slide show than on the screen of a Mac with a flat-panel display!
With all but the cheapest model of iMac, Apple includes a pair of Pro Speakers. Not having experienced these before, I was unprepared for how good they were going to be. Given their size, the output they produce is amazing for both its quality and volume. The iMac itself does have an internal speaker which is used if you don't have the Pro Speakers or headphones plugged in, but it sounds thin and weedy by comparison. Whilst a Mac with a pair of these speakers couldn't exactly replace your hi-fi, it's surprising how impressive it sounds.
There's a wide range of other ports around the back of the machine. Aside from the ports already mentioned, there's Ethernet, modem, VGA, two FireWire and three USB ports. Having so many FireWire and USB ports seems quite generous, and underlines the fact that Apple lets you plug in a lot of devices to the machine at once without having to worry about buying a hub. Bear in mind that there are still three free USB ports even after you've plugged in the keyboard and mouse (two at the back of the machine and one spare on the keyboard). The keyboard, incidentally, is superb. The optical mouse is nice, too, though I do wish that Apple would credit its users with having sufficient mental capacity to be able to cope with more than one mouse button.
And then, on the 800 MHz iMac, there's the SuperDrive which is able to read CDs and DVDs and write CD-Rs, CD-RWs and DVD-Rs: a fantastic piece of hardware for anyone who likes making home videos or music CDs. For home video enthusiasts the 60 GB of hard drive space on the 800 MHz model is very useful for movie editing. The only drawback is that 60 GB in the hard drive context is less than it would be in almost any other computing context because hard drive sizes are measured by saying that 1Kb = 1000 bytes, whereas 1Kb = 1024 bytes when you're talking about RAM (or almost any other kind of computer term). The formatted capacity of the drive is actually slightly under 56Gb; but that's still a lot, luckily! Just try not to fill it with so many games that you don't have enough room left to make your movies!
The bundled software includes all of Apple's i-series utilities (including iDVD 2), of course, along with AppleWorks 6, a few assorted other utilities and a full copy of Otto Matic. Pangea's games have been featured in Apple's consumer machines ever since the launch of Nanosaur, and whilst they aren't really my cup of tea, they are at least bright, cheerful and well executed; good, inoffensive family fun, especially if the family includes younger children.
So basically this is a great bundle. The computer itself looks ultra-modern, is extremely powerful, and has a fantastic screen. There are enough ports around the back to keep all but the most demanding users satisfied without having to buy anything else, and the bundled software includes all you need to be able to start doing interesting things right away, without buying anything else. As an all-in-one package, it's simply unbeatable.
SummaryIt would be hard for anyone not to acknowledge that Apple's new iMac is not only a fantastic machine, but a great bargain too; even at the newly increased price. Admittedly, the price of the top-end model in particular is high, and yes, you can get a PC with a similar level of performance for quite a lot less money; but one has to look beyond the numbers. The Mac provides an unquantifiably nicer user experience than any PC. The Mac OS is also now a true Unix system, which means that it's extremely solid and reliable. (At this point I should perhaps mention that Windows XP crashed twice in quick succession soon after I'd installed it on Virtual PC, and I've heard various horror stories from people who own real PCs with XP installed.)
Mac users have always had to pay rather higher prices for their machines than PC users; but then, if you want the best you've got to pay a premium, and in terms of what you get, the new iMac is actually a real bargain. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
The real choice, for someone who's interested in upgrading an older Mac, is whether to go for an iMac or a Power Mac. Previously the distinction between professional and consumer machines was clear, but the new iMac blurs the issue considerably. It has a fast G4 processor, a huge hard drive and a SuperDrive (not to mention the top-notch keyboard and screen), and you don't have to go to the expense of buying a separate monitor either. So, is a Power Mac really worth the extra money?
To decide if you want a Power Mac rather than an iMac, you really have to answer the following questions:Do you want to be able to use screen modes higher than 1024x768?Do you want to be able to hook up two or more monitors? (The iMac can use a second monitor for video mirroring but cannot drive two separate displays.)Do you want to be able to add internal expansion (more hard drives, PCI cards and graphics cards)?Do you want the ultimate in power with a dual-processor workstation?
Unless you answer yes very firmly to any of those questions (particularly the first one), then an iMac would almost certainly suit you. Probably the only really important restriction for most users is the relatively limited screen size. 1024x768 is a decent resolution, but bigger would be nicer, and bigger is not likely to be available on an iMac for the foreseeable future.
The other questions are less important, and frankly the internal expansion issue is much less serious than it used to be, if you're prepared to have a number of external boxes hanging out of the back of your otherwise pristine-looking iMac. External hard drives, Zip drives, CD burners, video adapters and so on, are all available for use via USB and FireWire, so the absence of lots of PCI slots isn't the disadvantage it might once have been.
So, to sum up, I simply can't imagine that anyone could possibly be disappointed with a new iMac. Whilst the previous G3 iMacs were always very definitely consumer machines, the new G4 model delivers professional-level performance, and professionals need feel no shame in buying them. Whether this hurts the sales of Power Macs remains to be seen, but there's no denying that the new iMac is a machine that can appeal to all levels of user.
Quite simply, I'm firmly convinced that the new iMac is the nicest and best value desktop machine that Apple has ever designed, and I don't say that lightly.
Excellent value for money
Pro-level performance from a consumer machine
ConsDespite being good value, still expensive in real terms
No way to expand the available screen space
Awkwardly positioned power button and slightly vulnerable screen