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Next-gen ‘iMac 2001’ debuts on Web

Here, to be precise

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Exclusive It's amazing what turns up in the post of a morning. Today we received what is claimed to be a piccy of Apple's next iMac. That's all very well and good, but by a clever stroke of luck - or just possibly a Photoshop artist's pen - it even manages to combine three of the current Apple hardware rumours doing the rounds.

First, here's the pic we received, retouched (we have to admit) to remove certain Apple trademarks, specifically the word 'iMac' from the bottom centre of the screen frame and the Apple logo on the front of the lower system unit. We don't want the legal people getting us on that at least...

Click for larger image

The diagram was passed on by a third-party who claims to have received it from someone at "a third company that is already producing something for Apple". Could that be AlphaTop, which last week said it had been signed up by Apple to build what it called new iBooks with larger LCD screens. Apple immediately denied everything. It's certainly tempting to speculate that this iBook-styled iMac is what the AlphaTop representative was talking about. The existing iMac is, after all, little more than an iBook with a CRT display instead of an LCD.

Now here's the really interesting bit: The new iMac's LCD screen, says the original source, can be removed and used as a Webpad. It has its own battery and a wireless link to the main (you'll note the exposed iBook-style modem, USB, FireWire and Ethernet ports on the side) system unit. "I don't have clue about what wireless transmission they use, but it can't be Airport," says the source. Bluetooth perhaps?

Apparently, the screen contains enough processing power to display the Quartz data sent to it by the main system unit, not unlike the way some remote terminals work. The mention of Quartz implies this is a MacOS X-only box, and we have been hearing rumours for some time that Apple is preparing a MacOS X-only version of the iMac to demonstrate the new OS to consumers.

Equally, every so often the rumour mill churns up a claim that Apple's working on a tablet computer, and it's hard not to wonder if that rumour is a shadow of this next-gen iMac. "The screen swivel is really great, like the one in the old NeXT monitors, and allows you to place the thing pretty much in any way you like it with a finger," claims the source.

But wait, there's more. A couple of weeks back, before Apple's Worldwide Developer Forum, it was claimed that the company is working on a rackmount server. Well, we've got that one taped too, apparently. Says the source of the pic: "Notice there is no CD/DVD unit in the front. It is in the other side, opposite to the ports. Turn the thing 90 degrees around the Z axis and you have the ON/OFF button, the reset and the DVD slot in the front and the ports in the back. It is a thin-server for X Server and WebObjects deployment.

"You can... use the pad to control as many servers as you want, with a switch of TCP/IP address and some neat control panel wired in the hardware (which is some sort of window server chooser that will automatically list anything in range)."

Now, at this point we'd urge some caution. None of this has been corroborated by other sources, and the fact that it pulls together so many disparate rumours is suspicious. Then again, a project as big as this - and reinventing the three-year-old iMac would be a major programme for Apple, particularly reinventing it as radically as the pic we received would suggest - could easy leak little bits of information that can lead to very different scenarios and only come together when you have the full picture.

There are signs that Apple is attempting to run down its existing iMac inventories in preparation for a summer upgrade, probably to be announced at Macworld Expo New York. That suggests something is a happening to the iMac, even if it's only some new colours, faster CPUs and more memory.

We remain open minded. It's certainly possible to fake all this up with a copy of Illustrator; the contents of MacOS Rumors, ThinkSecret and AppleInsider; the AlphaTop story; and a vivid imagination. And we've not yet had enough information to say that it isn't a fantasy. Or just a concept design Apple has been working on that will never come to market.

It’s certainly a fantastic product, though we wonder, what with the wireless link to the Webpad and the expensive nature of LCDs, whether it's going to be too pricey for some. It could be offered as a luxury Special Edition, but that has too much of the Cube about it, and Apple really can't afford another marketing failure right now.

Whatever the authenticity of the pic, it's certainly a machine we'd like to see. It'll be interesting to see whether we will... ®

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