SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Three years after rewriting the books on computer design and simplicity with the iMac, Apple Computer Inc. on Monday unveiled updated models with a flat-screen display, faster processor and a new look.
The revamped iMac looks nothing like its egg-shape predecessor or any other PC for that matter. A 15-inch liquid crystal display attaches by a chrome swivel bar to a white base that holds the guts of the computer.
``This is the best thing I think we've ever done,'' said Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder and chief executive, during a two-hour speech at the Macworld Expo trade show.
Mac fans had been wondering for weeks what might be introduced during the show, which for years has been used by Apple to announce new products and strategies.
Most believed a new iMac would be revealed. Other rumors, such as a new handheld computer or an update to the Mac OS X, were not mentioned.
It remains to be seen whether the new iMac will take off as did its predecessor, which sold 6 million units in three years. Computer makers have been suffering through the current economic recession.
The basic configuration, which will cost $1,299 and be available in March, runs on a 700 megahertz G4 processor. It has 128 megabytes of memory, a 40 gigabyte hard drive and a rewritable compact disk drive.
The middle model, available in February, has twice as much memory and a combination rewritable CD drive and DVD player. It is priced at $1,499.
The flagship model, which will start selling this month, has an 800 MHz G4 processor, 256 megabytes of memory, a 60 gigabyte hard drive and a combination ``SuperDrive'' that can write and record CDs and DVDs.
Apple spent about two years developing the new machine and chose early on to make revolutionary changes in its design rather than create a smaller version of the original iMac, Jobs said.
All wires _ including the power cord, universal serial bus cables and others _ run from the back of the machine's white base. DVDs and CDs are inserted at the front, just below a large silver Apple logo.
Yet the most noticeable difference is the sharp, nonflickering liquid crystal display. The viewable area on the 15-inch monitor is the same as most 17-inch, old-style cathode ray tube monitors.
The monitor tilts in all directions and swivels. The base is heavy enough to prevent the unit from tipping over _ or being used as a replacement for a laptop computer.
``This is in my mind the most aggressive model they have ever introduced,'' said Charlie Wolf, an analyst at Needham & Co. ``They blew out my expectations with this machine.''
Jobs said the new iMacs will form a digital hub to which cameras, music players and other devices can be connected.
Since announcing the digital hub strategy last year, Apple has unveiled several Mac-only programs and gadgets, including the popular iPod music player and iTunes music software.
On Monday, Jobs unveiled another component: A program that imports, stores and helps share pictures taken by a digital camera. It also links to Internet services for printing pictures and even publishing a book.
The company also enhanced its iBook line of laptops, adding a souped-up model with 14-inch screen rather than a 12-inch screen.
Jobs also touted the increasing number of applications that now run on Mac OS X, the Unix-based operating system that was launched in March. By the end of this month, all new Macs will first boot up using OS X, though the classic Mac OS 9.1 will remain an option, he said.