Apple Computer Inc. rolled out its latest iMac desktop computer at a convention for Mac users in Paris yesterday, a sleek model in which the processors and drives are packaged behind its 2-inch-thick monitor.
Philip W. Schiller, Apple's senior vice president for worldwide product marketing, touted the new iMac in his keynote speech at the Apple Expo as "the world's thinnest desktop computer."
The iMac G5s are coming to the market months later than the company had planned; Apple told investors in July that the new line was delayed as a result of a shortage of G5 processors from IBM. What's more, Apple sold out of its previous line of iMacs that month -- meaning the company missed having an iMac on the market for the back-to-school buying season.
Where sales have been climbing for other products in its lineup, sales had fallen off for the iMac before the inventory problem -- down 15 percent in its most recent quarter, which ended in June, compared with the same period a year ago. Apple blamed the previous iMac's aging, two-year-old form as a factor for the weak performance. Sales for its PowerBook laptop line climbed 37 percent, by comparison.
Apple hopes the new machine's fresh look will help the company make up lost ground during the holiday season. Schiller's onstage description of the computer, posted on the company's Web site, detailed nearly every design choice, ranging from the placement of the power button to the number of screws holding the case shut (three). Available in 17- and 20-inch versions, the new desktop starts at $1,299.
Some analysts speculated yesterday that Apple is trying to associate its new desktop with its iconic iPod digital music player. The computer, designed by the same team, has a similarly minimalist look, and promotional pictures of the iMac G5 at Apple's Web site yesterday showed the two white devices side by side, in profile.
"It's no accident," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD Group Inc. "This is a case of the tail wagging the dog -- sales of the iMac are being driven by the iPod."
Though Apple holds only a sliver's worth of the desktop computer market -- about 2 percent, by some estimates -- the company is often regarded as having a disproportionate influence on the consumer tech industry. Several digital music players on the market attempt to mimic the iPod's look and style, for example, though none has caught on among consumers to the extent that Apple's player has. Microsoft Corp. is preparing to become the latest to enter the fray when it opens its own Web-based music store this week to sell songs for a variety of players.
Mac enthusiasts and Wall Street generally approved of the new desktop. Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Steven M. Milunovich bumped up his revenue projections for Apple's annual financial performance following the announcement -- pushing estimated earnings from 87 cents a share on $9.30 billion in revenue to 90 cents on $9.53 billion in sales -- and rated the stock a "buy." Shares closed at $34.49 in Nasdaq trading, up 37 cents, or 1.08 percent.
Adam Engst, who runs a Mac news site called TidBITS, said in an e-mail that he preferred the look of the new iMac over the "curvy chunkiness" of recent computers from Apple. Arlington Mac enthusiast Phil Shapiro said he liked the look of the 17-inch model because it looks more portable than last year's iMac -- an important factor for him since he sometimes has to haul his computer around town for teaching computer classes.
Though most of the chatter at Mac sites also gave the new design a thumbs up, some people groused that they wished the company offered a cheaper version of the computer. The company offers desktop computers at $799, the price of its eMac computer, and $1,299, the price of the 17-inch iMac.
The new iMac's unveiling came after days of intense speculation on Mac fan Web sites about Apple's coming desktop designs. "I have a hard time thinking of any other company where people spend time speculating about what the next machine will be," said Paul Saffo, a research director of a Silicon Valley think tank called Institute for the Future -- and a Mac user.