Apple steps up to G4 Macs

Apple iCEO Steve Jobs unveiled the fast, new Power Mac G4 line during his keynote speech Tuesday at Seybold Seminars San Francisco. He also announced a 22-inch TFT flat-panel monitor.

Apple's new G4 chip will ship in 400, 450 and 500MHz systems. They will include 1MB of Level-2 cache, three times the memory bandwidth and twice the PCI bus throughput of previous models, an AGP 2x bus, Ultra ATA hard drives and built-in FireWire. They will also support AirPort wireless networking.

"We've preserved the design features of the Power Mac G3 in our new professional colours," Jobs said, comprising silver, clear and "graphite" gray components.

A 400MHz version with 64MB of RAM, a 10GB hard disk and a CD-ROM drive is available immediately for $1,599 (£975). A 450MHz model with 128MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive and DVD-ROM will ship in September for $2,499 (£1,524). A 500MHz configuration with 256MB of RAM, a 27GB hard drive and DVD-RAM, is due in October for $3,499 (£2,133). Jobs said the systems will ship with a Photoshop plug-in designed to optimise G4 performance when using the image-editing software.

In a patented surprise twist at the end of his presentation, Jobs unveiled "the ultimate companion for the Power Mac G4" -- the $3,999 Apple Cinema Display, a slender 22-inch, letterbox-format LCD flat-panel screen that Jobs said offers twice the brightness and speed and three times the contrast of other LCD offerings and a flicker-free visible display area equivalent to a 24-inch CRT.

Jobs said that Apple will start taking orders for the new monitor Oct. 1 and warned that supplies will be limited. The device will be available only via Apple's online store bundled with 450 or 500MHz Power Mac G4 systems. Jobs also announced that the company's current displays will be available in the G4 colours.

Jobs had kicked off his keynote presentation with a brief review of Apple's recent financial performance, touting the company's seventh profitable quarter in a row. "Apple now has more than $3bn in cash with very little debt," Jobs said. Moreover, the company ended last quarter with less than one day's worth of inventory ("15 hours, to be precise"), which Jobs said far outstripped competitors such as Compaq and Dell.

"Now let's delve into the really fun stuff," Jobs said, starting his product overview with a review of QuickTime 4.0 and QuickTime TV, a new online network that leverages QuickTime's media-streaming capabilities. Jobs said there had been more than 30,000 downloads of Apple's Darwin open-source streaming server and announced that Rhino Records and Warner Bros. have signed aboard QTV, which Jobs unveiled at July's Macworld Expo in New York.

Jobs Tuesday called on Phil Schiller, Apple vice president of product marketing, to demonstrate the variety and interactivity of QuickTime 4.0 content on the Web. Schiller also demoed the new Warner Records channel, which pairs music videos with the option to buy the associated CD.

Next, Jobs touted the capabilities of Mac OS 9, now slated to ship in October for $99 bearing the slogan "Your Internet Co-Pilot." Echoing presentations at Macworld Expo/New York and May's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, Jobs enumerated nine "Internet power features" in the new OS: Version II of Sherlock, Apple's Internet search engine, which will allow users to group searches and shop online; password-protected multiuser capabilities; voice-authenticated passwords; "keychain" storage of passwords; automatic Internet-based OS updates; built-in encryption capabilities; Internet-savvy AppleScript; and network browsing of such shared resources as file services and networked peripherals.

Playing to the publishing crowd at Seybold, Schiller demonstrated an Apple-events script that tapped a FileMaker Pro image database in New York via the Internet to build an InDesign catalogue automatically. "It's really giving new meaning to the term 'Internet publishing,' " Schiller said.

Jobs reviewed Apple's four-part product strategy including professional and consumer desktop and portable CPUs. He said the company has sold 2 million iMacs in the year since its introduction; 90 percent of iMac users are on the Internet, and one-third are first-time computer buyers. Jobs touted Apple's leadership in adopting Universal Serial Bus, citing such new USB peripherals as a compact NEC scanner and an Epson multifunction device. According to Jobs, 150 hardware vendors have delivered USB products, and twice that many have unveiled new wares.

Claiming that 4,380 new Mac software products have been introduced since the iMac's debut, Jobs brought out IBM Corp.'s Ozzie Osbourne to demonstrate the forthcoming Mac version of ViaVoice, the company's dictation software for driving applications and inputting spoken text.

Jobs next introduced the publishing pros to the iBook, the forthcoming consumer portable unveiled at the New York Expo. "This computer is faster than the fastest Mac available last year at any price," Jobs said. He said the iBook is on track to ship in mid-September. According to Jobs, the company has already taken 140,000 iBook pre-orders; Apple hasn't begun taking orders in the potentially enormous Japanese market.

Jobs unveiled a pair of forthcoming iBook television spots and touted the merits of AirPort, the wireless networking option due to debut alongside the iBook. He announced that an enhanced version of the AirPort Base Station will accommodate 50 users, up from the 10-user version the company first announced.

Jobs has made a name for himself with dramatic product announcements at trade shows, with the introduction of the iBook at last month's Macworld Expo in New York and multicolour iMacs and the new blue-and-white G3 line at January's Expo in San Francisco.

Jobs' speech was Webcast live in Apple's QuickTime 4 format by ZDNet. The 90-minute-plus presentation began at 9 a.m. Pacific time (noon Eastern time). This week's Seybold show opened Monday in San Francisco's Moscone Centre with day-long seminars. The exhibition hall opened Tuesday morning, and the seminars and exhibits will remain open daily through Friday.

More than 300 exhibitors are on hand to display products and services at the annual West Coast publishing show. Unlike other trade shows popular among Mac users, the Seybold show caters to publishing professionals, not general Mac users. The show is decidedly cross-platform, and, unlike Macworld Expos, prohibits direct sales to show-goers.

The theme of this year's show is "21st century publishing," with an eye toward Web publishers as well as traditional print professionals. Jobs' speech today was widely regarded as the kickoff event for this year's Seybold Seminars, but news started breaking on Monday with Adobe System Inc.'s announcement that its long-anticipated InDesign page-layout program would be available this week. Also, during a keynote presentation on Monday, Microsoft introduced its Microsoft Readers software for the emerging e-book market.

Other show-stopper events this week include a keynote-address showdown Wednesday morning with DTP rivals Adobe and Quark Inc. when Quark Chairman Tim Gill takes the stage with Adobe President and Chairman Charles Geschke along with Macromedia President Norman Meyrowitz.

Apple had been predictably tight-lipped in the days and weeks before Jobs' keynote speech. Market analysts and journalists had speculated that he might announce the new G4 processor for the high-end machines used by the publishing industry, or perhaps a speed bump for PowerBook users who do publishing and graphics tasks on the road.

The dark-horse candidate for Apple news on Tuesday was a new generation of iMacs. While widely expected before the upcoming holiday season, iMacs are targeted at consumers, not publishing professionals. Apple might unveil new iMacs next month in Europe at the Apple Expo in Paris.