Apple entered a new era Tuesday with the launch of its first Intel-powered iMac. The move represents an Apple shift to more mainstream technology and an alliance with a company that has considerable clout in the PC market.
The latest iMac features Mac OS X running on Intel's new Core Duo processor, delivering performance that Apple CEO Steve Jobs says is up to twice that of its predecessor and promises to knock the socks off of Mac customers.
"The biggest difference is the speed offered with two processors on a single chip, which provides a vast improvement over the G5 processor," said Mark Anbinder, managing editor of TidBITS, an online publication that covers Macintosh technology.
Intel's Core Duo also enables the machine to run cooler and draw less power, he added.
In June of last year, Apple announced the leap to Intel from IBM's G5 technology, marking a major shift in direction for the Mac maker as it abandoned the Power PC platform.
While Apple could gain greater access to the corporate PC market with Intel's technology, some analysts say, the Mac would lose some of its "alternative" appeal and Apple could lose some control over product development.
But, in the end, Apple was drawn to Intel in large part because of Intel's notebook PC chips. Apple was unable to deliver a G5-powered notebook because of power-management issues associated with Power PC. With Intel chips, Apple will be able to deliver a dual-core product that has better heat control.
"This is a bigger story for Apple than for Intel," said Illuminata's Gordon Haff, noting that Mac machines comprise a small slice of the PC market. "Apple liked Intel's roadmap better than that of Power PC, and the idea is that they will now sell a higher percentage of notebook computers."
Still a Mac
Haff said the move could be a smart one for Apple in that the company can do more with Intel's mobility platform in creating portable computers. But he added that, to make the most of this switch, Apple would have to use Intel chips in all of its machines. In fact, Apple promised to do just that in announcing the new iMacs.
Anbinder contends that most Mac fans won't be turned off by the change to Intel processors. "Dedicated users will recognize that this is still a Mac," he said. "They have seen the company make changes in the past, such as the move from Motorola to IBM that was also touted as a significant shift."
And while current Mac OS X users should experience a seamless shift with the new iMacs, Anbinder noted that OS 9 "Classic" applications will not run on the new machines. Apple's Rosetta technology enables the new Macs to run older OS X applications, he added.
Still, Haff suggested that the switch to Intel could affect the Mac's image as a fundamentally different product.
Besides the processor technology, the latest iMacs feature all of the bells and whistles and design features of their predecessors, including the iLife and Front Row multimedia applications, and a built-in iSight video camera.
The new 17-inch, 1.83-GHz iMac lists at of $1,299, while the 20-inch, 2.0-GHz version will sell for $1,699.