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The New iMac: A Desktop Stuck in a Laptop's Body

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This article was originally published on Nemoscope, a blog about technology from a teen's perspective.

Throughout the past few years, there has been a surge in mobile technology. From the tablet craze to the swivel-screen laptop, the message is clear: The modern cloud-based lifestyle demands thinner and lighter.

Apple contributed to this trend by creating the iPad. While the revolutionary mobile device is controversially flawed, Apple's influential marketing cleared the path for other tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Nexus 7, and Kindle Fire.

The Macbook Air received a major update when Apple tried to produce the lightest and sleekest laptop on the market. There were plenty of complaints that it was poorly built and not customizable. Its lack of an optical drive had held back sales in the past, but with the rising necessity of mobility and diminishing use of discs, the Air finally had its time to shine.

Here's why the public didn't mind the shortcomings of the iPad and Macbook Air: Most of their owners bought them as secondary machines to complement a main computer sitting at home. When they were sitting at Starbucks, the last thing they needed was an optical drive. Discs could be dealt with on their desktop in their home office. As for customizability, changing up the RAM in an airplane toy or a light machine for checking Facebook was far from critical. Therefore, Apple thrived.

After a whopping 19 months, Apple finally revisited its desktop hardware. However, it returned in the wrong mindset. iFans were expecting a retina display, primary SSD option and significantly better graphics. In this long-awaited December update, Steve's elves delivered essentially nothing.

This time around, Apple did what it has done with its Macbook and iOS products during the last few years: increased aesthetic appeal. The new iMac is significantly thinner than its predecessor, and eight pounds lighter. At 12.5 pounds, the iMac is to most desktops as Gary Coleman is to Santa Clause.

But for a desktop, is bling and weight what customers are looking for? In an age where people have a laptop, tablet, and phone, the desktop is home base. It's where everything important is saved, and expensive single-license software like Photoshop is installed. On their desktop, they import old CDs or hookup record converters to put obscure Greatful Dead albums on iTunes.

Let's have a show of hands: How many of you care so deeply about what your desktop weighs that you consider this while buying one?

Thought so.

A desktop's weight doesn't matter. People don't constantly pick it up and move it after the initial trip from store to car to desk. A select few will occasionally upgrade the RAM, but that's about it.

So what was Apple's aim? Let's look at its "revolutionary" product's tagline: "It's amazing to look at. And even more amazing to use."

Well, this portrays where Apple's priorities stand. Looks. Then usability. This allegedly innovative corporation has sacrificed functionality and technological innovation to make its primary desktop computer more physically attractive. Why? Maybe because the majority of its users are swiping their credit cards based off sleekness and glamour, and don't care to speculate on the meaning of 5400-rpm. But general technological ignorance is a whole other rant that I won't start. For now, let's look at what Apple sacrificed for aesthetic appeal.

An internal disc drive

With the introduction of the Mac App Store, Apple no longer relies on discs for revenue. Most of its software sales consist of impulsive downloads. However, just because Apple thinks the optical drive is obsolete doesn't mean the everyone else does. Surely, the mobile world doesn't have much use for it anymore. But discs remain a significant device, and the loss of an internal optical drive is devastating to desktop users. The only reason Apple rid its main desktop of this essential feature was to make it thinner. This would make sense if the iMac was a laptop, but desktop users don't even consider monitor thinness. The main factor for monitors is the size of their screen because that is what desktop users view. Weight is the last of their concerns.

Customizability

The iMac has followed its little brother and distant cousin, the Macbook Air and the iPad, in their non-customizable bodies. More advanced users will no longer be able to open up the back of their desktops to upgrade RAM or replace a hard drive. Since desktops are generally more expensive than laptops, most people purchase them expecting them to last. While an iPod is un-devastatingly replaced when its irreplaceable battery dies, most people don't replace a desktop for a faulty hard drive. When the Macbook unibody made it more difficult to customize, techies grumbled. When the iPad was released, they rolled their eyes. The Air made them grit their teeth. The iMac was considered the one place non-customizability wouldn't hit. In December, Apple proved them wrong.

Hard drive downgrade

One aspect of the new iMac Apple loves to brag about is its "Cutting-edge storage options." But are its storage options really cutting-edge?

The new iMac offers a 1TB (or 1,000GB) hard drive by default. Its predecessor offered 512GB with a 1TB upgrade option. Capacity-wise, the new iMac upped the old. But has it?

While there is "5400-rpm" in new iMac's specs, there is "7200-rpm" in the old's. "Rpm" stands for "rounds per minute." Since a hard disk drive is essentially a spinning disk, it does what any disc does -- spins. The number that most people ignore indicates how many times per minute it spins. The higher the number, the faster the hard drive. While Apple may have upgraded the capacity on its recent iMac upgrade, it compensated by downgrading hard drive quality far below price range standard. While 5400-rpm hard drives are common nowadays, they tend to reside in $400 computers, not $2,000 investments.

Apple's 2012 iMac release is an eyebrow-raising disappointment. The iMac is moving in the wrong direction: unnecessary features at the expense of essential aspects of desktops. Hopefully, Apple will learn the difference between a desktop and a laptop before its next update.