The Lonely Launch of the eMac

Back to Contents of Issue: August 2002

by Craig Mod

THE EMAC IS OUT and nobody cares. But don't feel bad if you haven't heard about the eMac because you're not alone. Computer shoppers in Akihabara and Shinjuku certainly didn't seem to know or even look the least bit interested in Apple's new machine, which quietly snuck onto shelves in Japan in June. But who can blame them? In one Macintosh retailer in Akihabara, the only indication of the eMac's arrival was an 8x10 inch piece of paper. No posters. No banners. Certainly nothing on the scale of advertisements for the iMacs when they were released. Consumers seem to be confused, remarked one Akihabara Macintosh salesman. Shoppers in his store this weekend looked at the eMac and iMac, stopped for a moment to consider, then bought the iMac, he said.

Which brings to mind the question, just what is this computer doing here?
Snuggled on shelves between the old iMac and the Flatpanel iMacs, the stark white eMac inconspicuously holds a G4 processor, 17in flat CRT, CD-RW drive and 32MB video card. The system was originally released in late March of this year, but it was available only within the walls of academia. This explains why the eMac lacks any 'non-educational' frills, such as a DVD drive. However, in keeping things basic, Apple is able to provide the computer at a (fairly) reasonable JPY139,800.

The eMac is arguably neither as cute as the original iMacs, nor as hip as the flatpanel. It's something of a hybrid, straddling the area where the two iMacs overlap and coming out looking like a retro-styled original. Its lines are deliberate and clean and functional, making the eMac seem more comfortable in a modern art gallery than in the lap of an affectionate computer user (also, with the 17in screen, it would probably crush them -- this thing is heavy!).

To put Apple's situation in perspective: Apple's new operating system, OSX, loves G4 processors and is being loaded as the default operating system on all new Macs. The previous default OS, OS9, was recently given a funeral, eulogy and all performed by Steve Jobs, at the World Wide Developers Conference. To take full advantage of the next big OSX update, a video card with at least 32MB of RAM will be required.

With development for the G4-loving OSX kicking into high gear, OS9 moving into early stages of rigor mortis and a hardware sensitive OS update coming, we can begin to see how the eMac fits into Apple's plans. Rumor has it that original iMac distribution channels are thinning. It seems that the eMac is going to become Apple's low-end consumer model. If that happens, then all models -- the eMac, flatpanel iMac and PowerMac -- will have G4 processors and video cards easily capable of handling OSX and, when it comes out, the update.

So while there is nothing particularly special or flashy about the eMac, it is a very functional model that nicely rounds out the bottom of Apple's product line. It also puts a fairly powerful computer in the reach of consumers at a price point about JPY40,000 less than both Sony and Fujitsu's low-end consumer models. So while its entry splash may be small in the sea of desktop systems, recent rankings indicate the perks of this quiet computer have displaced poor marketing, sliding it into sixth place and rising at the end of June in the Japanese market.

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