Jobs Entices Mac Faithful With New, Flat-Panel iMac

Also launches updated iBook, photo-editing software

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As expected, Apple CEO Steve Jobs did not disappoint the Mac faithful at MacWorld Monday, introducing a futuristically designed, flat-panel, G4 iMac computer that he said could give Apple a stronger presence in the business market.

Jobs also introduced new photo-editing software, iPhoto, and an updated iBook, Apple's laptop computer line, to open MacWorld here at the Moscone Center.

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd, which hooted, hollered and applauded numerous times throughout his two-hour keynote, Jobs primarily touted Apple's strategy to make the personal computer a hub for myriad digital devices, such as DVD players, cameras and the Apple iPod, an MP3 player launched in October.

The culmination of this theme was the introduction of the new iMac at the end of the keynote address. The new version of the Apple desktop computer launched in 1998 features a state-of-the-art design, a flat-panel screen connected by an adjustable metal neck to a base that holds the entire computer system, as well as a G4 processor, the fastest available today from Apple.

"A lot of really, really smart people have been working so hard on this," said Jobs of the computer, which he said has been two years in the making. "I hope you love it as much as we do."

To introduce the new iMac, Jobs showed a video with several pop-culture celebrities--photographer Annie Liebowitz, musician Seal and film director Francis Ford Coppola--expressing their awe for the computer.

The new iMac will come in three models, the first of which will ship at the end of the month and cost $1,799. That computer will feature, among other things, a "superdrive" that allows users not only to play and view CDs and DVDs, but also to burn both. It also features 256 Mbytes of RAM, a 60-Gbyte hard drive and an 800MHz G4 processor.

The least expensive version of the new iMac, priced at $1,299, features 128 Mbytes of RAM, a 40-Gbyte hard drive and a CD-RW drive. It will ship in March, said Jobs. The $1,499 model features 256 Mbytes of RAM, a 40-Gbyte hard drive and a combo drive, which allows users to play and burn CDs and also play DVDs. That model will ship next month.

Jobs said the new iMacs are the most affordable computers Apple has ever offered. He said a computer comparable to the most expensive new iMac "cost $4,500 a year ago."

With this kind of pricing, Jobs said, not only will the new iMacs be a viable option for consumers, but they also will give Apple stronger penetration in the business marketplace and strengthen Apple's presence in the education market. Apple, which had been losing ground to PC makers like Dell in the latter, recently made a big play in a deal with the state of Maine to provide every 7th and 8th grade teacher and student in the state with iBook computers, Jobs said.

"You'll not only see [the new iMacs in homes, but in large businesses, small businesses and universities," he said. "It is the ultimate digital hub."

Shelley Watson of iMaven Consulting, an Apple consultancy that works with Portland, Ore.-based Apple solution provider Computer Stores Northwest to train and set up Apple networks in schools and businesses, said the new iMacs, in combination with Mac OS X, could help Apple take a larger bite out of the Windows-dominated business desktop market.

"One of the things Apple is about is solutions, helping the reseller to figure out how to provide solutions [for customers," she said. "I think [the new iMac will make it more conducive for running your business on Macs."

In his keynote, Jobs also launched the new iBook with a 14-inch LCD screen, running on a 600MHz processor with 256 Mbytes of RAM and a 20-Gbyte hard drive. Priced at $1,799, the laptop also features a combo drive CD-RW and DVD drive.

In other iBook news, Apple is cutting $100 off the price of the 500MHz model iBook, which now will cost $1,299, said Jobs. Apple also will eliminate the DVD model iBook, replacing it with a combo-drive model with a 600MHz processor for $1,499.

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