See-through computer set for a sell-out

Click to follow
The Independent Online
STYLE COMMENTATORS are comparing it to design classics like the Volkswagen Beetle, and the "helmet" hairdryers of the 1950s. It is being described as the sort of computer that the futuristic cartoon characters The Jetsons would have. AndApple's new iMac, which goes on sale in Britain in two weeks, is already the fastest-selling personal computer of recent times.

When it went on sale in the US seven days ago, more than 150,000 machines, many ordered in advance, were sold in the first weekend. Some stores opened at midnight to serve eager buyers. But besides marking a minor rebirth for Apple, the turquoise-and-white translucent casing of the iMac could also see the end of the beige plastic breeze-blocks that have plagued desks since 1982, when IBM launched the first PC. At long last, design has caught up with the computer market.

"I could imagine Ikea selling stacks of these," said Richard Wilson, research director of the software company Digital Village. "Think of all these people who have bought frosted blue glasses and other translucent things, and want something to go with them. This is the first computer that can sit comfortably in the public space in your home, rather than needing to be hidden under a desk."

Ikea will not be selling them yet, though it may start asking soon. The iMac arrives in the UK on 5 September with a price tag of pounds 999 including VAT. Besides computer stores, it will also be on sale via John Lewis, the department store chain. Apple UK says it has been told already of "thousands" of advance orders.

Some think the reason is obvious. "It looks like it's from another planet, a planet with better designers," said Steve Jobs, chief executive of Apple Computer.

But reviews in the US of the machine's innards have also been uniformly favourable, praising its speed - it is significantly faster than similar- priced PCs running the same tasks - and ease of use. One reviewer noted that it took him only 13 minutes to unpack it and start surfing the Internet.

It can even run programs written for Microsoft's Windows operating system, using a program called "VirtualPC" that simulates a Pentium PC. A number of American stores said that they had received orders for iMacs from existing PC owners "coming over" to the Macintosh operating system - breaking a trend that has continued for more than a decade.

Part of the explanation is clearly the eye-catching design. "People are using words like `gorgeous' to describe it," said Brian Smith, design director of PDD, a London product design consultancy. "That's quite a domestic word, not something that you would normally use to describe a computer."

Nobody knows why personal computers have always, until now, been beige. They just have, rather like Henry Ford's early cars, "available in any colour, as long as it's black".

But now that it has caught one element of the design Zeitgeist by introducing a translucent casing, it is not clear whether Apple will have to offer different colours - perhaps peach next year - to keep pace with fashion. Can turquoise really be the designer colour of choice two years in a row?

How They

Line Up

TOP-SELLING personal computers:

iMac

Cost: pounds 999 (inc VAT)

The cost includes:

"coloured" monitor, system, fax/Internet modem, keyboard, mouse.

Software: database, word processing, spreadsheets, Internet surfing

Memory: 32 ram.

Packard Bell 9266

Cost: pounds 899 (inc VAT)

The cost includes:

monitor, system, printer, scanner, fax/Internet modem, keyboard, mouse.

Software: database, word processing, spreadsheets, Internet surfing

Memory: 32 ram

Compaq 2254

Cost: pounds 899 (inc VAT)

The cost includes:

monitor, system, printer, work station, fax /internet modem, keyboard, mouse.

software: database, word processing, spreadsheets, Internet surfing

Memory: 32 ram

IBM E74

Cost: pounds 1,149 (inc VAT)

The cost includes:

monitor, system, printer, scanner, fax /Internet modem, keyboard, mouse.

Software: database, word processing, spreadsheets, Internet surfing

Memory: 48 ram

Comments