At a press event at its Cupertino, Calif. headquarters, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced a redesigned aluminum and glass iMac, new versions of its iLife and iWork software suites, and a renovated .Mac online service.
After months of iPhone hype, Jobs was eager to discuss his company's Mac-oriented hardware and software innovations. He stressed that Apple's Mac sales had growth three times as fast as other manufacturers' PC sales over the past four quarters.
Jobs made a point of contrasting the typical PC, tangled in cables, with the clean design aesthetic of the new iMac. Apple's philosophy was to "put everything all-in-one and clean up the mess and deliver a better computer at the same time," he said.
The new iMacs embody that philosophy. They're thinner than before and encased in aluminum and glass for easier recycling.
There's an inherent disconnect in addressing the end of a product's life at its introduction. Jobs dealt with that by explaining that the reason Apple was obsolescing its products was "because we really care about this stuff."
Jobs made no mention of the flak Apple has received from environmental groups like Greenpeace in recent months. But the fact that Jobs emphasized that the new iMacs are recyclable suggests Apple has been paying attention to critics pushing for greener products and practices.
"Apple has made a big deal about being green and it's interesting that they're calling out those features," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with JupiterResearch, following the event. "When you buy a computer, you're not always thinking about how it's going to be recycled. But it really shows Apple is paying attention to a very important issue."
The new iMacs come in two models: 20" ($1199, $1499) and 24" ($1799). They feature Intel Core 2 Duo chips, running at up to 2.8 GHz, with 4 Mbyte of shared L2 cache and up to 4 Gbyte of DDR2 SDRAM memory. They come with either the ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT, 128 Mbyte of GDDR3 memory, or the ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO, 256 Mbyte of GDDR3 memory. And they now support up to 1 Tbyte of internal hard disk storage.
Accessories for the new iMacs include a slot-loading 8x SuperDrive with double-layer support, built-in iSight video camera and microphone, AirPort Extreme 802.11n wireless networking, Bluetooth 2.0, a redesigned keyboard, Apple's Mighty Mouse, and an infrared remote.
Jobs then proceeded to detail the changes to Apple's iLife suite of digital lifestyle applications. "Apple invented this whole category of digital lifestyle apps many, many years ago," he said.
Apple's iLife '08 ($79) consists of iPhoto, iMovie, iWeb, iDVD, and Garageband. The iPhoto and iMovie applications saw the most significant changes. iPhoto gained a new organizational interface called Events to help photographers sort and find their images among libraries with thousands of pictures.
"It is not unusual at all to find a photo library with 5,000 or 6,000 photos," Jobs explained. "You can find them but it's getting to be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack."
iPhoto Events are groups of pictures created through both automatic and deliberate actions, based on various criteria like when the pictures where taken. Events allow for a new form of rapid previewing called "skimming." Apple has applied to patent the technique, Jobs said.
In addition to improved search technology, editing tools, and theme-based printing, the new iPhoto has been integrated with Apple's e-mail, storage, and Web hosting service .Mac. Jobs described a new online photo gallery called .Mac Web Gallery as working "like a hand in a glove with iPhoto '08."
Apple's .Mac subscribers can create online photo galleries from iPhoto with a single click and can share the photos and the ability to post images to the gallery with friends or anyone. And thanks to Apple's decision to increase the storage allotment for .Mac accounts from 1GB to 10GB, users of the $99.95 per year service should be able to store a significant number of photos online.
iMovie, the other iLife application that changed significantly, received a redesigned icon to designate its radical new look and feel. Apple's consumer video editing program has been made vastly easier to use through interface and organizational improvements. Apple's "skimming" technology has been put to good use: It makes the time-intensive task of reviewing video clips to see what they contain much quicker.
Apple's close relationship with Google was apparent in several new features: iMovie users can now publish videos directly to YouTube and those using iWeb, Apple's Web page design program, can now embed Google Maps in Web pages they have hosted on .Mac.
"We are working closer with Google," Jobs explained in a Q&A after his presentation. "They make some great backend services that we love to tie into our applications."
Jobs did not mention Microsoft by name but Apple clearly has the software giant in its sights: Apple's new version of iWork productivity suite, which includes upgrades to its Pages word processor and its Keynote presentation program, gained a new spreadsheet application called Numbers.
"It's our spreadsheet and we call it Numbers," said Jobs. "It's the spreadsheet for the rest of us."
While Numbers may lack the bells and whistles of Microsoft Excel, that's clearly the point. The program aspires to be easy-to-use rather than bursting with features. Its most innovative features include the ability to organize multiple spreadsheets on a single page and to control how spreadsheets appear on printed pages.
Microsoft recently said that it had decided to delay the release of Office 2008 for Mac until January. Microsoft's absence from the market works well for iWork.
"It's certainly the right timing for Apple," said Gartenberg. "A lot of people who were looking to purchase an Office upgrade may decide instead to go with iWork."
Jobs said that Apple had sold 1.8 million copies of iWork to date. As a point of comparison, Microsoft has about 450 million Office users worldwide.
Asked about his marketing plan for the new iMacs and applications, Jobs said dryly, "You're going to help us by writing about it. That's why we're all here together."
After the laughter died down and the assembled journalists reassured themselves that they were more than mere marketing, Jobs revealed Apple's sales secret: envy. He said, "Our customer base is really the best sales and marketing force we could ever ask for because they show their friends and their friends get jealous."