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iMac G5: Has Apple Lost Its Design Edge?

iMac G5: Has Apple Lost Its Design Edge?

What bothers me most about the iMac is that the design seems rushed. The base seems too narrow for safe use and appears to be directly pulled from Apple's monitor line. On monitors the screen is relatively light, but when you add the PC functionality, you also add a lot of weight. This shifts the center of gravity up and makes everything less stable.

By Mary Enderle MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
09/10/04 8:52 AM PT

I live the digital lifestyle in my home, with over eight networked computers, a wireless hub that allows me to work from the backyard and over eight remote controls just for the television.

We also have very modern taste in furniture with lots of glass, stainless steel and leather. We could certainly integrate the new iMac G5 with its clean design into our living room. But the designers were trying to make it functional as well.

Apple has always designed beautiful machines, and the new G5 lives up to company's reputation for clean, minimalist design. The computer is hidden behind a flat-panel screen attached to an anodized aluminum base, with both the speakers and power supply built in. The iMac also has a wireless keyboard and mouse, which helps keep your desktop clean.

From Clean to Clutter

The design is clean, however, only until you start filling up the many port options on the back. Then things become cluttered.

The iMac G5 is being touted as a smart accessory to the sexy iPod. As much as I believe in accessorizing, it will be a stretch for most consumers to decide to buy the new iMac desktop to accent their iPods.

Hewlett-Packard launched their version of the iPod last week, and it works with both Apple computers and HPs -- so folks will not be rushing to the stores to buy the new G5 simply so it will link to their iPods. In any case, it's strange to think of a desktop computer as an accessory to a smaller peripheral.

Sony's Entry

Sony has a similar product on the market, the V series. Although the design of some of their other desktops and laptops is a little more cutting-edge than this series, this one does compete on both price and clean design with the G5. It includes a wireless keyboard and mouse.

Sony has another desktop, the W series, whose overall design feels more like the iMac. It feels more like modern furniture design than a consumer electronics product. In fact, we have one in our living room. People are always commenting on what a beautiful design it is. When the keyboard is folded up it doesn't really look like a computer.

Sony products include TV capabilities, and Apple's don't. This makes me wonder whether Apple missed the move to "media center" products or simply skipped TV to hit a price point. In fact, although Apple does promote home videos, the company just doesn't seem to believe in the overall concept of people watching TV on these TV-like configurations. To be honest, we don't watch much TV on the Sony either.

Top-Heavy Design

What bothers me most about the Apple is that the design seems rushed. The base seems too narrow for safe use and appears to be directly pulled from Apple's monitor line. On monitors the screen is relatively light, but when you add the PC functionality, you also add a lot of weight.

This shifts the center of gravity up and makes everything less stable. Knocking over a monitor can be expensive, but if you have the hard drive spun up, knocking over a PC could be catastrophic. If it is my data we are talking about, I want to see it better protected.

The other part that bothers me a lot is the lack of built-in wireless networking. This box looks best without cables, but there is virtually no way to use it networked with out adding something that breaks the clean lines.

Dulling Apple's Design Edge

Even if you add the iPod, you break the clean lines. I would prefer the ports be on the base or on the floor so this doesn't happen.

Unlike the old iMac, you can't raise and lower the screen. This will be a problem in Europe, where they actually have rules about this kind of thing for office use.

Whatever the iMac is -- a "smart display" retread, a tablet computer without any of the tablet features or a laptop that isn't mobile -- it isn't a good desktop design.

In fact, I haven't seen good desktop design from Apple since the old Apple Cube.

Unlike the previous iMac, this version seems poorly thought out. A good design should remain attractive when fully configured. This one simply does not live up to Apple's typically high standard.

Sony wins this desktop battle. If I were choosing, I'd pass on this product and use one of the laptops instead. On laptops Apple and Sony are more evenly matched, though I still prefer the Sony 505x notebook.


Mary Enderle is a design and brand consultant for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


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