The iMac Channel

iMac: a Second Look

16 May 1998 - Dan Knight

We've had over a week to put iMac in perspective - and it's still a winner.

Worthy

The new iMac is a worthy successor to the compact Mac mantle worn by the first Macintosh, the Plus, and the Color Classic. The all-in-one design is friendly, attractive, and smart.

The features are competitive with entry level Wintel boxes: 233 MHz CPU, 32 MB RAM, 4GB hard drive, 2 MB VRAM, USB ports for expansion.

With almost all software available on CD-ROM, the lack of a floppy is not as shortsighted as some thought. And, for those on the cutting edge, substituting DVD for CD-ROM should be easy.

The Market

If you're already a Mac owner, you are not Apple's primary target for iMac. After all, unless you have ethernet or a CD burner, it's nearly impossible to move data from your old Mac to the iMac. (Using 1.4 MB floppies is not a realistic solution, either.)

The primary target is the first time computer buyer, the home user looking for a decent internet computer. That's what the i in iMac stands for.

Unfortunately, that market is driven by connection speed more than CPU power. To tap that market, Apple needs to offer a v.90 modem. Better yet, with cable modems and various DSL services coming into their own, Apple should offer the iMac either with no modem or with the option of cable or DSL modems instead of an almost pedestrian 33.6k or 56k modem.

Computers Crash

It's a fact of life, computer's crash. Sometimes they take down the hard drive. With no removable media drive (floppy, Zip, etc.), it is impossible to backup crucial data in case of a crash.

Adding a floppy or Zip drive will undoubtedly add $100-200 to the purchase price, making iMac a $1,400 to $1,500 computer.

Ouch.

But you need some way of protecting your important files from a crash.

Output

Already several printers can talk to the infrared port on iMac. Now Hewlett Packard has promised an inexpensive USB iMac compatible printer to coincide with the August release of the iMac.

Of course, all those marvelous ethernet capable laser printers are ready to use (assuming the software comes on CD-ROM). And LocalTalk printers can be adapted to ethernet using several different adapters.

Finally, there are USB-to-parallel and USB-to-serial adapters. With the right printer drivers, the iMac will be able to use hundreds upon hundreds of different printers. Expect one or more printing solutions from Infowave (maker of PowerPrint) for the iMac.

The Price

Many others have already noted that the iMac is $300 more expensive than an entry level Windows system. Sure, Macs are better, but too many people I know look only at the bottom line.

Apple needs to reduce pricing as close to $1,000 as it can to maximize market penetration.

A Suggestion

Drop the modem and 100Base-T ethernet. It may only reduce selling price by $100, but that's more than a 33.6kbps modem is worth - or an ethernet port on a stand-alone computer. Instead, put in a PCI slot and a FireWire port. (There goes the money we just saved.)

Then turn around and sell modems: v.90 (56kbps), cable, or DSL. Slower modems could fit use USB. Cable, DSL modems, and ethernet cards could use a PCI slot - or FireWire.

This makes the iMac a viable business computer. (We IS folk hate to buy features we don't need, such as a built-in modem on a computer going on a network already connected to the internet.)

This makes the iMac more forward looking than bundling old modem technology does.

And it keeps the Wintel crowd from sneering at our "Faster than a Pentium" iMacs with poky old modems.

In Perspective

Apple broke with the past in 1984: 3.5" disks, a mouse, a graphical user interface, and no expansion slots. The Macintosh couldn't touch Apple II, CP/M, DOS, or even Lisa floppies.

The original NeXT cube didn't have a floppy drive. It was optional on the PowerBook 100 and Duos. And it is practically obsolete. Maybe it's time to think different about the lowly floppy drive.

As long as those who need one can buy one, Apple becomes a leader in the move away from floppies.

Still, we need a removable media drive, whether the poky Imation/Panasonic floppy-compatible 120 MB USB SuperDisk or the perkier, popular Zip drive in a USB configuration.

If Apple can make the price truly competitive, ditch the 33.6 modem, and provide a reasonably priced way to back up files, the iMac can be a real winner. And if they bundle it with Virtual PC, it could take a bite out of the Wintel world.

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