US Report: iMac to star at Macworld

Apple's cuddly iMac brings to mind images of R2-D2, the lovable robot of Star Wars fame. It's been said that you just want to give the bundle of wires and chips a hug.

But the machine is also Apple's biggest weapon for the future and the company is planning to use the upcoming Macworld Expo to hit computer users with it. "It's the first time consumers will be able to see it, use it," an Apple spokeswoman said of the Apple show, which began yesterday in New York.

The low-cost iMac was unveiled to analysts and developers amid much fanfare in May, but it's not scheduled to ship until August.

Steven Jobs will speak at the Macworld keynote tomorrow by satellite and will announce new partners. He will be joined by, among others, representatives from Walt Disney, who will unveil iMac-related plans for their Disney's Blast Online, the company's subscription-based online site for kids.

Apple also is focusing on alleviating some consumer concerns about the iMac at Macworld. For instance, the computer doesn't contain a floppy drive, but the company is hoping to get the word out that people are more likely to use CD-ROMs or e-mail documents in the future. According to the spokeswoman, Apple plans to tout the iMac's support for Universal Serial Bus-based devices such as printers and scanners, which are expected to become more popular in the future. "We're hoping to attract new users to the computer, to attract new people to the show," she said.

One goal: plant the iMac in the minds of consumers as a reasonable alternative to the plethora of sub-$1000 PCs that have hit the market recently. The four months between back-to-school and the holiday shopping seasons could be make-or-break time for the company as it pushes the machine.

Macworld Expo's subtitle, "The creative world," was dreamed up before the unveiling of the iMac, and the company will stick to the theme. In addition to plugging iMac, the company will focus on the publishing, film and education communities - former strongholds for Apple. "They're going to use it to emphasise that Apple is going strong, getting healthy and to ensure the creative community that they're coming up," said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies.

He said to look for an increased focus on Apple's multimedia software QuickTime and a one-year progress update on Microsoft's partnership with Apple.

Last year, the company made one of the most stunning announcement in its 21-year history, when Jobs unveiled a $150m (£91.5m)investment by rival Microsoft. This show is not expected to have that level of impact.