Wednesday, October 06, 2004

I'm a so-far proud owner of a new iMac G5! Bought for me as a gift from a buddy of mine as a sorry-I-couldn't-make-it-to-your-wedding-so-I-bought-you-an-iMac gift, I've been enjoying this box.

As usual with Apple products, the packaging on the product was where the fun began. Opening up the box, all the manuals, the keyboards and the mouse were nestled in the top styrofoam. The keyboard and mouse were both wrapped in this nice and glossy plastic with adhesive seals. The glossy plastic made everything look really high quality and the adhesive wrap made everything easier to open than traditional shrink wrap stuff which often requires a knife or teeth. Nice keyboard and mouse with shiny clear plastic exterior and white interior/core. They keyboard is nice and compact, has a USB hub built in and connects to the main PC unit via USB. I also liked the way all the plastic parts had additional peel-away protective plastic on them to avoid scratches from shipping and handling.

Underneath the top foam was the main event: the iMac G5's all-in-one flat-panel LCD and computer in one. Very cool. I liked the brushed aluminum base. I like the way the power cord plugs into the back of the case and creates a flush surface with the back of the case. I like the hole in the brushed aluminum base that the power cord threads through. And then there's the neat and clean vertical row of connectors for everything from USB to firewire to ethernet and a modem port. The LCD itself was fine, nothing spectacular there -- thin bezel flat-panels are really cool and looked at from that perspective, this screen is a clunker. So while sticking all this stuff in one is cool and not having a separate box for the CPU, mobo, and hard drive is cool, I don't find the design to be a grand slam.

I did find that I could easily rotate the entire unit in one direction or the other because of the low coefficient of friction on the brushed aluminum base. I found myself doing this a fair bit -- to show my wife a photograph or to show someone on the other side of the desk what I'm talking about.

On to the applications because that's part of the complete Apple story.

So my iMac came with what Apple calls iLife -- software for photos, music, videos and DVDs. The different apps are pretty well known, especially their music app, iTunes. The integration between these applications and the overall usability is really impressive.

My wife recently had our first baby so I've been shooting some video with my camcorder and I've been taking even more photographs. The camcorder is one of those DV cameras so I just had to digout an old DV to 1394 cable I had to plug it up with my Mac. iMovie made it pretty easy for me to import the video in. It did automatic scene detection, it let me add titles with effects and it let me then drag the scenes and titles into a timeline to create my Movie. All in all pretty easy. Then I decided to try and put my movie on a DVD (so I could send it to relatives, etc) and one of the brilliant things was the tight integration between iMovie and iDVD, their consumer grade DVD authoring app. I would say that end to end, I imported a bunch of video, added a bunch of titles, created a DVD menu for it with some neat music and effects and created a photo slideshow on that same DVD all within an hour or hour and a half (not including the time the computer spent rendering the DVD and burning it). And this isn't something I had ever done before on a Mac or PC so it was all pretty unfamiliar territory for me.

Another kudos to Apple -- Mac OS X just simply looks and feels awesome to use. The animations and effects -- all the 3D accelerated stuff that they use -- go a long way to improve the usability of the system. From a user's standpoint, everything seems to flow smoother, I guess because everything literally does flow smoother. Windows XP seems kind of "Mickey Mouse" next to the richness of the Mac OS X interface. Makes me excited about Longhorn because they'll 3D acclerating everything there.

Another interesting aspect of the Mac OS X -- files are mostly hidden from me. I seldom have to worry about or concern myself with files and file extensions and folders. All of that hierarchy and detail is kind of flattened out and made invisible to me through a combination of the Mac OS X and Apple's suite of tightly integrated bundled-out-of-the-box apps.

Back to the integration of the apps in iLife and overall usability:

It was clear to me in using the Apple software that they probably have two things happening to achieve the integration and usability they have:

1) they've got software designers and programmers with great intuitions and heuristics about how things should work for consumers.

2) they constantly, iteratively, intensively bang on their products to continually refine the usability.

So how else am I using this thing?

I've copied over about 16GB of MP3s (created from my collection of audio CDs, digitized by Get Digital) so I'll occasionally use it to play music (iTunes has AWESOME visualizations, way above and beyond any of the crappy stuff that ships with WMP -- this is due, in part, to the fact that everything is 3D accelerated in Mac OS X). My wife can definitely use the iMac for web surfing which is a big part of what she wants in a home PC, but she hasn't been using it too much so far. I'm not sure why, but that needs to be the subject of some research and observation.

Overall, the question now is: where does this iMac fit into my life? I spend most of my time on my Dell X200 (which is where I'm typing this post from). I dump most of my photographs here. Is my new iMac a really expensive movie making, DVD authoring machine? I don't know yet. We'll just have to wait and see!

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