9/01/2004

iMac G5

Late last night Apple introduced the new iMac G5. Overall it is a very nice looking machine. Apple was able to create a very compact G5-based machine for a great price. While the boxy shape isn't as Apple-like as the previous iMac, and probably not as aesthetically pleasing to most. There is also very little to this computer that is "new" to the world. Often Mac launches would be paired with other technologies (iMovie, iDVD, etc) but this iMac is pretty much just a computer squeezed into a small space. Regardless, it still seems like the right approach. However I do have a couple of gripes with the iMac, most of which are minor, and Apple could have easily avoided:

First, why can't we have headphone inputs on the front of the machine? The dual front headphone jacks on the original CRT iMacs was a great feature. Additionally, I feel like a front USB and FireWire port should also be present. Reaching around the back of any computer is annoying, even the G4 iMac. Obviously it wouldn't be used for permanent devices, like a keyboard, but instead for temporary devices, like plugging in a friend's iPod or camera to your iMac.

FireWire 800 seems to be lacking on this machine. I have FW800 on my 15" PowerBook and in some ways I am a bit annoyed by it (I would prefer to have 2 FireWire 400 ports instead of 1, I know I can get an adapter). However in a desktop model it is trivial to add another port. I feel like a FireWire 800 port will be a great feature for the future, when (hopefully) there will be FW800 iPods, camcorders and digital cameras. If that ever happens then this iMac will be stuck in second gear. It won't be as bad as the Windows users with USB1 that are using iPods but Apple could plan a bit better. Does this decision mean that Apple is easing their push of FW800? It can certainly be interpreted as that.

The speaker system looks stupid to me. As Phil Schiller explained in the keynote, the speakers are on the bottom of the unit, facing downwards. The sound is reflected off the desk (or other surface) and back at the user. I can tell you from my experience with a similar system on the 12" PowerBook that this is a bad idea. The sound is always muffled and/or tinny. I'm not sure if Apple could have easily mounted larger speakers facing forwards but I would certainly have preferred that.

Also, what's with the power button on the back of the machine? Phil explained that it was lined up with the sleep light on the front and is the only raised button on the back, so it would be easy to press, but why even bother? It seems completely illogical to me for the button to be on the back.

Forrester Research believes that the iMac should have more media center features, specifically Airport and Bluetooth standard, and a TV tuner card. While I understand why Apple doesn't include the wireless features standard (they make higher margins as add-ons) I think there is some validity to the TV tuner idea. Apple could offer some pretty impressive DVR software, integrated as part of the iLife suite. However there are big copyright issues with recording TV. Apple has shown with the iTunes Music Store that they will use DRM to appease the rights holders (RIAA and MPAA), but this is a big project. the DRM system for a DVR application would be pretty convoluted and Apple probably wants to avoid those headaches for now.

Lastly, there has been much criticism of the graphics card. While I don't play any games, I still agree with the criticism that 64 MB is just not enough. Many new games state 64 MB as the minimum, and considering that the iMac G5 is not intended to be a "minimum computer" the graphics card should have 128 MB and not 64. Since the iMac is intended to be an all-purpose, digital lifestyle and family computer, gaming is an important aspect. If the kids in the house want to play games they may find the iMac to be a slug. Also, as more and more of the OS X interface becomes dependent on the graphics card (the resolution independent UI coming in Tiger will probably be vector-based and heavily tax the GPU) Apple's flagship machine should be prepared.

Those points aside, the new iMac looks like a winner. I just hope Apple can keep up with demand. I also like the comparisons to the iPod. Hopefully Apple will make a big marketing push to get the general public interested. This has always been a difficulty for Apple as most PC users out there are unwilling, for whatever reason, to switch to Mac. Maybe the iPod-iMac relationship can change that.