Some 70,000 Mac fans gathered at Apple Expo 2004 in Paris earlier this week for the largest exhibition of its kind in Europe.
By Richard Taylor
BBC Click Online
The event provided a showcase for just what kind of stylish technology we should expect from Apple in the coming months.
The iMac G5 is the latest addition to Apple's stylish collection
Paris is a byword for chic, and as such, it is an appropriate setting for the company which places such a high premium on the elegance of its products.
But Apple actually sees itself as promoting far more than just its products. Instead, it is selling an entire way of life.
Many of the people attending the Paris Expo, the largest gathering outside the US, clearly buy into this idea, as Apple inspires an almost religious devotion amongst its users.
The company's fortunes may have been rocky over the years, but everyone seems to agree that at the moment it is riding high.
Paul Newman, editor of iCreate magazine, says: "I think it's a fantastic time for Apple - things have never been better for them.
"The share price has been rising, the corporate side is doing really well, its products are completely revitalised and it's innovating."
In the run-up to the Paris Expo, one persistent piece of speculation on the Mac rumour-mill was that Apple would use the event to launch an entirely new iMac.
The rumours turned out to be correct, with the unveiling of the iMac G5, the first in the mid-range of Macs to sport the top of the line 64-bit G5 processor.
Equally as important for Mac fans, both 17-inch and 20-inch versions embody the Apple hallmark of minimalist design.
Apple vice president Phil Schiller says: "This new design is a breakthrough. The entire computer, not just the desktop, fits on a stand and is only two inches thin. It's the thinnest desktop ever made."
As for reaction from the crowds, for many of them one word summed it up: beautiful.
However, one attendee wondered what the difference would be from now on between such desktops and laptops.
Another said she liked the design but that it was a bit too expensive for her. As a student, she would have to save up for it.
With the cheapest model retailing at $1,300 dollars (£919), this is style and usability at a price.
Yet it is possibly not enough to convert non-Mac users, who will argue that PCs can deliver similar horsepower at a fraction of the price.
As for software, there were no big announcements, rather a fleshing out of the detail of Tiger, the forthcoming update of the Mac operating system.
Mr Schiller told the conference it would have 150 new features.
The new iMac packs all the technology behind the screen
By far the most innovative is the new search function, Spotlight, which greatly enhances searching for items within your system.
The messaging tool iChat also gets a makeover in Tiger to enhance the visual experience, with small touches like virtual video-conferencing tables reflecting the participants.
Whether this proves to be a gimmick or a real enhancement remains to be seen as Tiger is not out until 2005.
Apple is concerned with far more than just computer hardware and software.
These days the prevailing message splashed across billboards is one promoting the digital lifestyle, largely driven by the phenomenal success of the iPod.
The music player has been the cornerstone of Apple's recent upturn in fortunes, and it is a key component in Apple's iLife vision.
Apple's iPod has been a phenomenal success
As well as getting people using the Mac as a hub to manage photos and edit home movies, Apple would have us buying and organising our music through its iTunes software, then taking it on the road with the iPod itself.
Kenny Hemphill, editor of MacUser magazine, says: "Apple at the moment is very much focussed on its music business - its iPod and its iTunes music store.
"To help with this, they've split the company into two parts, so you'll see even more focus on the iPod and iTunes than we've seen in the last year or so.
"They'll also be very much focussed on the portable side of the business. Powerbooks and iBooks now make up 50% of all the Macs that Apple sell.
"So that's still a very important part of the business, but doesn't make anything like the kind of money you can expect the iPod and iTunes store to make over the next few years."
The importance of the iPod is borne out by Apple's marketing campaigns, which feature the player even when trying to promote computers.
Paul Newman says: "I think Apple's aim is to capitalise on the success they've had with the iPod among the Windows community, who haven't traditionally been particularly receptive towards products made by Apple or the Mac operating system.
"The success of the iPod allows Apple to pitch their product towards that new market."
With less than 3% of the global desktop computer market, Apple hopes to exploit every opportunity in other areas where have a commanding presence.
Competition is never far off: just this week, arch-rival Microsoft launched its own online music store.
Apple does not seem too concerned about staving off challenges from competitors.
"It's actually not a worry when things are going right," says Mr Schiller.
"When Apple is the innovator, the leader doing remarkable things that are successful, then of course the market will start to follow in our footsteps.
"That's a sign that Apple's back in front and doing great things, a great situation to be in."
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