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The Back Page - The iMac G5: The iPod for the Rest of Us

by - August 31st, 2004

This morning's keynote was a successful one, I think. Phil Schiller had some fairly big shoes to fill, and he frankly filled them better than some folks have done in the past.

Certainly the locals liked it, judging from the screams and cheers I heard when Brad Gibson was phoning his reports in, and from listening to the streamed keynote. Then again, the locals are also really keen on Jerry Lewis, but for my money, Mr. Schiller did a great job.

Congrats, Phil.

And how about that iMac? I love it. In fact, I think it's the bee's knees.

That said, its coolness is not what's important about the new iMac. Before I delve into that, however, let's look at the machine itself.

Looks and ports

The thing looks great. It's a sexy machine. It has nice lines, a tiny footprint, and is thin. Apple has preserved the all-in-one simplicity of the iMac product line, but really stepped it up in elegance. In fact, it stepped it up to iPodian proportions, but again, I'll get into that in a bit.

The iMac G5 also has an enormous amount of ports and other options. As usual, Apple is packing more into this model than most people will need. While that has its own price tag, if you'll pardon the pun, it's also an accomplishment.

I want to take a moment to specifically say that the new digital audio out is a particularly fine addition to this consumer product line, especially with Apple's newfound emphasis on music (GarageBand and iTunes).

Memory and speed

The unit is fast, with a smokin' G5, has a screaming front side bus of 600 MHz, and it can sport a healthy amount of RAM, with 2 GB max. The fact that it ships standard with 256 MB of memory, however, is lame, to be sure. With everything else that Apple packs into the iMac, to skimp on RAM is just silly. Still, if that's what it takes to keep the starting price down, then so be it.

Price

The iMac has a fairly aggressive starting price for all that the iMac has packed into it. A US$1,299 starting price isn't going to win market share for Apple, but Apple publicly wrote off market share earlier this year. As long as Apple's user base is growing, I am fine with that, but the reality is that Apple is going to find it hard to meet demand for this unit at US$1,299 as it is, so that starting price works for me.

Quieter than a whisper

I like quiet. I haven't heard the new iMac yet, but Phil Schiller says it puts out fewer decibels than a whisper, and that sounds quiet to me. I can't stand a noisy computer, and quiet has been a hallmark of the iMac from the beginning. As Greg Joswiak said in Apple's iMac G5 video, for the company to be able to put a G5 into an iMac and have it be quieter than the previous iMac G4 is quite an accomplishment. He's right, and I offer a big fat salute to the gearheads in Cupertino.

Video card

It seems to me that Apple skimped on the video cards, especially for the 20" unit. A 64 MB card is somewhat anemic when today's midrange cards are more often than not 128 MB. The high-resolution display on the 20" model definitely needs some extra push, especially if Apple wants people to play the growing number of cool Mac games on the market.

If Apple needs to offer this card as the default video option to keep the price down, fine, but the company needs to offer a 128 MB option, too. I imagine that such an option will be added at some point, but until then, this is the iMac G5's weak point.

Kick butt

See? It kicks butt. It looks great, is loaded with features, has a healthier price point than Apple has had with the iMac for some time, is fast, is quiet, and supports a mondo amount of RAM. Except for that video card thing, it's great, and even then it's still the bee's knees.

iPod

None of that matters, though, because what's important about the new iMac is the iPod.

Eh? What's that I said?


Is the video iPod everyone has been so hot about
(Photo by Brad Gibson)
Apple is pushing the iMac as the iPod for your desktop. The thing looks like an iPod -- exactly like an iPod -- and so far, Apple is throwing the iPod around in the iMac's marketing message like icing on a French pastry.

When Phil Schiller introduced the iMac G5, the first image he splashed on the screen was an iPod. When the iMac was added to the screen, it was just that, added to the screen, right next to the iPod, with the same angles, the same lines, and the same iconic look.

When he showed the obligatory (and very cool) new product video, the first thing you saw in that video was an iPod. It was enough to make me say "Eh?"

In each case, the iPod was mentioned first to establish the imagery in your mind, and then the iMac G5 was added to the picture.

Then I paid even closer attention. In the video, we see the following text.

First we asked ourselves, what if you could fit all your music in your pocket?

Then we wondered, what if you could fit your whole life into an impossibly thin computer?

From the creators of the iPod...the new iMac G5.

"From the creators of the iPod?" Come on, the iPod is cool, but the Mac is what Apple should be known for.

Ah, but as is so often the case, "should" and "is" don't often meet; and such is the situation here, because there are a couple of million Windows users out there who know Apple for one thing, and one thing only, the iPod.

After establishing that the iMac G5 is made by the very same folks who make the fabulous iPod, we are treated to a montage of imagery that switches back and forth between the iPod and the iMac. This culminates in a fever-pitched flashing between the two so that you (hopefully) can't even tell which is which.

That's just driving home the message, of course, that the iMac and the iPod are practically the same thing.

From there, we cut to interviews with Apple hardware gearhead Greg Joswiak and industrial design guru Jonathan Ive, with the latter's comments being the most relevant. Mr. Ive says:

An iMac is just the ultimate consumer product that is so integrated, it's so simple to use. The similarities between the iPod and iMac really stem from how they were both designed from exactly the same approach: To evolve a solution until it seems completely inevitable, completely essential. The iMac is so uncluttered, it's so quiet and serene, [and] it just lets you do the stuff that you want to do.

You know, like the iPod.

The message couldn't be more clear, at least to me, and I think that maybe this campaign will strike a resonant chord with consumers.

Apple is trying to leverage the success of the iPod to sell more Macs. That's fairly remarkable, considering the fact that Apple sells more Macs than iPods to begin with, but what's important to realize is that Apple sells more iPods to Windows users than it sells Macs to former Windows users.

It's interesting to me that Apple is taking this new approach. Looking back in time, we were first told that Apple hoped to use the iPod to sell more Macs, and so was keeping the iPod Mac-only. Then we were told that Apple could expose more people to the Apple way of computing by making a Windows version of the iPod. From there, Apple said that it had ceased to think of the iPod as a Switcher vehicle at all, but rather as a profit center unto itself.

Clearly, we've come full circle. Apple is now seeing the iPod as being such a smash hit with Windows users that if it can get consumers to think of the iMac G5 as the iPod of computing, they will buy an iMac to accompany their iPod.

Frankly, Apple is probably right about that, at least to some degree. As I said above, the price point on this thing is high enough that it will be beyond the range of many consumers, but the same thing was said by many (including me) about the iPod's comparatively high price tag.

We all know how that worked out.

Perhaps those who have found iPod and iTunes to be a whole new experience may well tune into the message that the iMac is the iPod of computing. If so, Apple could bring more people to the platform.


began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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