After Apple unveiled the iMac G5 in Paris this week, Vice President of Hardware Product Marketing Greg Joswiak gave Macworld editors a guided tour of the desktop's new design. Among the topics of conversation: the iMac's cooling system, why FireWire 800 was left out, and how this new model fits in with Apple's objectives.
Q: Apple has acknowledged that the heat created by the G5 chip posed a challenge for a G5-based iMac. Tell me about how the cooling system addresses that challenge.
We have three different cooling zones, or cooling areas. One is over the G5 processor; it's an active system. There's a cooling zone that runs of course over your hard drive, which is also another warm part, and another one that runs over the power supply and logic board. By doing the three different cooling areas, we take a big heating challenge and break it into smaller ones, which is really the essence of good thermal design. In the old days, you'd put one fan here and another one here, one to suck in the air and the other to push it, and hope that you just push enough air through the cavity that you cooled it off -- and that just means loud. By doing this, we have very quiet fans. We have some technology that allows us to pulse the fans, we run them ultra slow, and they only run as fast as they need to. There's some power management technology on the board to do that.
Q: The G4 iMac could move in all directions -- how does the new iMac compare in positioning?
The display tilts from negative-5 to 25 degrees. We found that most people don't end up raising or lowering it. The big thing is the tilt direction, and what we've done here is achieve negative tilt, which is very important, especially if you have kids sitting around a computer, because they tend to be looking up at the computer. And we still have the ability to swivel left and right, but it does it on the entire base; we didn't need to create an arm to do that. There are little skids on the bottom -- this achieves much of the same things [as the G4 iMac] in a different way and, we think, in a better way.
One of the things to note is this arm, which is anodized aluminum, actually mounts inside of the computer. It's mounted at the center of gravity of the iMac, which is what makes it so easy to tilt, and yet there's a lot of technology in what appears to be a very simple design to quickly dampen the motion. You'll notice that it quickly dissipates the energy and stops. And if you ever notice anyone else who does anything like that, try it out and see how quickly it comes to rest.
Q: The new iMac looks like a cross between the eMac and the new Apple Cinema Displays.
Obviously we have one design team. We don't farm out our design, so there's no doubt that you see similarities. One of the similarities that you obviously see is with [the iPod], the same approach to double-shooting plastic -- that's no coincidence either. This is a double-shot plastic, but you have an opaque layer, a crystal layer, over it. That's something that we think looks very nice, but also serves some functional needs. For example, if you're going to put in a CD, you can see from the back where the opening is -- teeny little things like that that tend to, over the course of time, make people love their Mac and inspire magazines like yours, versus people getting [angry] over time at their PCs because of little things that drive them nuts.
Q: Can you tell me about the speakers, having them underneath?
There are little speaker enclosures that are designed to down-fire. And the reason for that is you generally want to hear your sound, you don't need to see it. So we designed it to do just that; it's designed to be for personal listening, with pretty nice frequency range.
One of the things that we wanted to achieve here is true all-in-oneness. That was one of the places we had to break the all-in-one model with previous flat-panel iMac, because you needed external speakers to play stereo sound. And we knew that this one had to be the ultimate when it came to designing an iMac, and the ultimate when it came to designing an all-in-one, so we needed to incorporate speakers. And again, we wanted to do that in a way that didn't compromise the simplicity of the look and the cleanness of the look, but it still allows you to have nice stereo sound with separation and good range.
It's probably worth noting the way we approached the goals of the project, have been true to what an iMac has always been about. The soul of an iMac is really four things. Number one, it's all-in-one elegance, the fact that you can just pull it out of the box, plug it in, and get to work -- it's all there, you don't have to figure out how to get the jigsaw puzzle to fit together in the right way.
Number two is extreme simplicity. You look at this computer, and you know it's simple. And you guys know better than anyone what the experience is like with iLife and Mac OS X -- it's far simpler than what you can do on a PC.
Number three is, it had to be perfect for iLife, perfect for that digital lifestyle, for how you work with your photos and your music and your movies -- that has to be a space that we own. We can't concede that to anybody, and we want the iMac to be the best way to work with the digital lifestyle.
And number four is an innovative design, as we've always done, starting from the ground up. Not being constrained to going to [a generic computer manufacturer] and deciding where you put the logo, designing a computer from the ground up to meet the needs of our customers. It's those four things that were true in 1998, they were true in 2002, and they're true in 2004, as to what an iMac means. And we think it is true that this iMac delivers on those design goals that we've always had better than any iMac has ever done.
Q: The lighter, smaller iMac is obviously more portable. Do you envision people moving it around the house?
I think it's always been the case that we design computer that can go in any room of your house, any place in your school, or any place in your small business, and sometimes customers change their mind. Sometimes they feel like the computer should go in the living room, and then, maybe later on, it should be in the bedroom, and maybe later on it's the kitchen. Every time they change their mind, it shouldn't be a Herculean effort. We all have friends who have PCs, and wherever they first set it up is where it's going to die -- because it's too much trouble to move all the different components, and all the different things they have to do, to move that computer. And that's not the case here. In the case of this 20-inch iMac here configured with wireless, I've got one cord -- the power cord. It's using AirPort for an Internet connection, it's using Bluetooth for its keyboard and mouse connection. So for me to move it, I shut it down, I unplug it, I can carry it anywhere I want, and it's simple enough to plug it in, turn it back on, and get back to work.
Q: How do you remove the back?
There are three screws, and they're captured so they don't come out at all, so you don't need to worry 'Oh my God, where did that screw go?' Loosen the screws, and the back will simply come off, downward first, and the back is off -- you now have full access to the machine. AirPort is easy to add. The antenna are embedded in the computer, so all you have to do is get your AirPort card, plug it in, push the antenna jack in, and you're off and running. You can put up to 2GB of RAM inside, with standard 400MHz DDR memory.
Q: What about the rest of the machine's insides?
The power supply isn't a brick left out on the floor, it's all integrated inside. It's really amazing, because this is the most compact design we've ever done for an iMac, yet it's the most accessible. It's very easy to service this, which is why you see tabs, because it's easy enough for a service person or even a customer to self-service on this product. There are even four indicator lights on the motherboard that an Apple Care person will tell you to look at the lights, and depending on what's lit up, can tell you the state of different sub-systems.
Q: Anything special about the ports?
You have standard analog audio out, but it's also one of the combo jacks like we have on the AirPort Express that allows you to do digital out as well, so you can do 5.1 surround sound, for example, from DVD Player.
Q: Why no FireWire 800?
FireWire 800 had really been more attractive to a professional crowd. And really, more [appealing] than the speed has been the advantages [professionals] have with cable lengths.
Q: Why Serial ATA?
This has been derived obviously from what we did with the Power Mac G5. We were one of the first to really ship with Serial ATA. This is, in a lot of ways, related to that.
Q: Opening up an iMac used to be a weekend project or required a technician. This seems much easier.
A place where the iMac really shines is that it is extraordinarily accessible. The iMac had always been a little bit more difficult to access. Normally if you go to an engineering team and say, "I need it to be smaller, I need it to be more powerful, and I need it to be quieter," if you don't get kicked out of the room, usually you'll be told, "OK, pick two of those." And this is a case, like with the PowerBook, where they said, "We'll deliver all of that." This is obviously significantly smaller than the previous iMac. We made it more powerful with the G5 processor, and we made it quieter -- this is 25db, a whisper is 32db, I think the previous iMac is 28db.
Q: Will the work that went into the iMac help you for a G5 PowerBook?
There's still a luxury we have in two inches that we don't have in a fraction of an inch, if you think about how much space there really is in the bottom of a PowerBook. We've not been willing to do a battleship-like product that some of the PC guys have done with their PC notebooks that use desktop processors. Certainly we were trying to learn from the iMac, but not like, "Oh, there's this breakthrough now, expect it next month.
Q: What about availability? Phil Schiller said middle of September in his keynote.
Well, let's be realistic. That's when they first start shipping. By definition a ramp means going from zero to whatever full capacity is going to be. On day one, there's all this demand that's built up, and inevitably, there's a shortage. People get excited about our products -- that's good, and in no way do I want to dampen that. ... but the reality is with any new product, it's hard to imagine any example where [a shortage] isn't the case.
Updated 9:20PM 09/04/04: "Pre-installed Bluetooth functionality" was originally mentioned in the lead paragraph but is not part of the actual Q&A; this was an editing error, and the reference has been removed.
This story, "Joswiak: 'True to What an iMac Has Always Been About'" was originally published by PCWorld.