May 7, 1998 2:05 PM PDT

Retailers think iMac will sell

Apple Computer yesterday took the wraps off its most innovative-looking computer in years, placing a big bet that style will help distinguish the Mac from the pack of PC systems.

The iMac's all-in-one design is reminiscent of the original Apple's new iMac Macintosh, but adds a curvy, wedge-like look, a two-toned see-through case, and even a round mouse. The question that remains is, will it boost Apple's fortunes in a manner also reminiscent of the first Mac? The initial reaction from some retailers is yes.

"We'll sell lots of them. This is the sexiest computer I've ever seen," said Jim Halpin, president and CEO of CompUSA, in a phone interview today with CNET's NEWS.COM.

Halpin thinks the new Macintosh might even be able to persuade buyers of Windows-based computers to buy a Mac instead, simply because the styling is so dramatically different from other PCs.

CompUSA is the largest nationwide retailer of personal computers, with sales of over $1.45 billion for the most recently completed quarter. It carries brands ranging from Compaq to IBM to Apple, and the superstore chain could be instrumental in stimulating sales of the iMac.

"There's a huge segment of our customer base looking for something simple to install and use," said Michael Koidahl, president of Westwind Computing.

Seattle, Washington-based Westwind sells mostly to business users, but Koidahl said he's already seeing interest in the systems for use by receptionists and in other areas where a low-maintenance, low-cost system is required. "We've been selling Umax systems for our low end. On the downside, they're not quite the same quality as Apple, and they are not quite as glamorous," he noted.

Apple's first brand new Macintosh consumer system in over a year is different from previous Apple offerings--and its PC rivals--in that it will offer lots of built-in features at a low price. The iMac will come with a 233-MHz PowerPC processor, a 4GB hard drive, built-in networking, an internal modem, and a CD-ROM drive for $1,299, among other features.

The iMac will also be the first Mac to feature USB (universal serial bus) technology. This is important since the iMac is slotless. In other words, it does not offer the ability to add new features via circuit boards that typically plug into slots inside the computer; most computers come with these slots. Instead, Apple claims the USB technology will allow users to add devices externally through the USB connection.

Apple has made another radical design decision: the iMac won't ship with a floppy disk drive or serial port connector. The only thing that can be upgraded internally on the system itself is memory.

CompUSA's Halpin doesn't think the lack of internal expansion options will hinder sales. "My 13-year-old daughter won't ask about expandability. She will just want to buy one because it's cool," he said.

An Apple spokesperson said that floppy drives have been outmoded by the distribution of software on higher-capacity CD-ROMs, and that the Internet largely superseded filesharing, which had been another reason for using floppies. Those who want to expand the system with a drive for backing up files or other peripherals can do so with the USB port, he said.

 

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