Apple refreshes iMacs, as expected

iWork '08 debuts with 'Numbers,' new spreadsheet; Mac Mini lives

Apple Tuesday refreshed its iMac desktop line, dropping the model with the smallest screen, cutting the price of the top-end system, and tweaking the design for a thinner, trimmer look.

In an event held at Apple's Cupertino headquarters, CEO Steve Jobs introduced three new iMacs -- two with 20-in. LCD screens, the third boasting a 24-in. monitor -- priced between US$1,199 and US$1,799. All are available immediately in Apple's retail stores and at the company's Web site.

The entry-level iMac, now priced US$200 above the previous cheapest model, includes a 20-in. screen, a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of memory and a 250GB hard drive. The US$1,499 middle model, which also has a 20-in. screen, features a 320GB drive, a 2.4-GHz processor and a faster ATI graphics card. At the top of the lineup, the 24-in. iMac, which sells for US$200 less than the previous top-end model, contains the same innards as the US$1,499 model but features a larger screen.

The 20-in. screens offer 1680- by 1050-pixel resolutions; the 24-in. screen has a resolution of 1920 by 1200 pixels.

All three sport FireWire 400/800 connections and a CD/DVD optical drive, they also support Bluetooth and 802.11n wireless. A new keyboard -- which was the focus of rampant Internet speculation over the last week -- is more MacBook-like and comes in an optional wireless version.

Jobs also demonstrated new features in iPhoto, part of the revamped iLife '08 suite; new links between both iPhoto and Apple's iPhone, and the company's .Mac online service; and other iLife '08 applications, including a refreshed iWeb and a totally redesigned iMovie. "We're still calling it iMovie," quipped Jobs, "but we're giving it a new icon to show it's a whole new app." The iLife '08 suite, which retails for US$79 separately, ships with all new Macs.

Apple's second major suite -- iWork -- received an update, too. The entry-level application bundle, which last got an upgrade in January 2006, now includes a spreadsheet, dubbed Numbers, to complement the Keynote presentation maker and the Pages word-processor-cum-document-designer, which made up earlier editions. Numbers, according to the slide Jobs threw up on the screen, is "the spreadsheet for the rest of us," a reference to the original 1984 Macintosh advertising tagline.

iWork's price remains at US$79, Jobs said.

Some scuttlebutt, which included rumors of the demise of the screenless Mac Mini and enhanced MacBook notebooks, didn't pan out. The Mini remains in the Apple portfolio, and in fact has been slightly enhanced, said Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook in a short Q&A near the end of the rollout. (The new Minis come with faster CoreDuo processors.) The portables, meanwhile, which were last updated in June when the MacBook Pro shifted to Intel's Santa Rosa chip set and began shipping with screens backlit by LEDs, stayed static.

As usual, the Apple online store in the U.S. and the U.K. went offline prior to Jobs' presentation, and displayed the familiar "We'll be back soon" sticky note. It was expected to come back to life soon after Jobs wrapped up.

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