Midnight launch boosts Apple's iMac fightback

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The Independent Online
A TOP British designer's products were spirited away from a London shop late last night. But the event was perfectly legal and will have left the designer, Jonathan Ive, of Apple Computer, very happy.

The occasion was the midnight launch in Britain of the iMac, Apple's new computer aimed at the mass market, which could just save the company from extinction.

After two years of huge financial losses, Apple is poised to record a profitable year, boosted by orders for the machine.

It even appears to be winning share from the dominant Microsoft Windows product used on 90 per cent of PCs.

The iMac was launched in the United States three weeks ago and in Japan last week. Sales are already in the hundreds of thousands and Apple's factories are working around the clock to meet demand, which it claims to be meeting.

Before today's launch, a lone demonstration machine was already a hit at Micro Ankiva, in Tottenham Court Road, London, one of two shops (the other is in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire) that opened at midnight to meet fans' demands to have the latest technology as soon as possible.

"There are seven people who are picking them up then," said Philip Barton, the shop's marketing manager. "And we have 150 in stock. Stocks aren't a problem - we have no complaints on that." The machine is on sale today for pounds 999 (including VAT) at 85 shops, including the John Lewis department store.

The iMac, which needs just two plugs - one for electricity and one for an Internet connection - has an eyecatching translucent blue and white casing, and is the brainchild of Ive, 30, and the design team he heads at Apple.

In a recent interview, Ive said that the rest of the computer industry has "become incredibly conservative from a design perspective ... there is an obsession about product attributes that you can measure empirically. How fast is it? How big is the hard drive? But it's also inhuman and very cold."

Ive joined Apple in 1992 from the London-based design firm Tangerine, where he had principally worked on designing bathroom items like washbasins, bathtubs and toilets.

An echo of that is visible in the soft lines of the new machine - whose coloured translucent box required the input of sweet-makers knowledgeable on the science of colour control.

The signs are now that iMac could be part of the revival that will stop the company itself going down the toilet. At Apple UK, the marketing director, Alan Hely, said the launch is "our biggest since that of the original Macintosh in 1984".

The company has set itself the target of doubling its present share of the consumer market - estimated at about 4 per cent - over the next year.

That will still leave the company far behind the dominance of Microsoft's Windows operating system, running on Intel chips. But market research from the US suggests that 13 per cent of iMac buyers are former Windows users, while 15 per cent are first-time computer buyers.

If, as analysts predict conservatively, 400,000 iMacs are sold in the US by the end of the year, 50,000 would have gone to people who previously used Bill Gates's product.