Apple Computer's new Power Mac G4 Cube, like the curvy and candy-coloured iMac, is ushering in a new era of form and functionality in desktop personal computers, according to industry experts. Differentiating computer hardware in both design and technology to fit practical user requirements should appeal mostly to space- and power-conscious Asian desktop computer users, according to Stan Ng, Apple's worldwide product manager for the desktop line. 'In the past, when we were focusing on business segments, we wanted to get the consumer market going, and we made a breakthrough with the iMac. We've had Power Mac to target the creative professionals for many years now. But we have never had a product that really spoke to a home power user,' Mr Ng said. 'It was [Asian] customers' feedback that told us we needed to devise something incredibly small and powerful at the same time. Our customers are not willing to sacrifice performance.' Research firm International Data Corp estimates the market share of traditional desktops will dwindle from 42 per cent in 1998 to less than 10 per cent by 2003 in the United States alone. The traditional beige box will give way to 'smaller, chic, and innovative forms'. Apple's iMac, which has sold more than 3.7 million units worldwide since its launch in May 1998, has made such a lasting impression in terms of industrial design for desktop computers that Apple has vigorously used the courts to protect its design patents. It sued eMachines and Future Power for releasing PC clones that bore a striking resemblance to the iMac design. Traditional PC manufacturers have changed their attitudes towards the conservative beige-box design in response to Apple's iMac, with little success. Dell Computer discontinued its WebPC line of curvy desktops seven months after their introduction, claiming the decision was due to component shortages. Compaq Computer also took its dark-blue Presario 3500 off the market in June after eight months of 'underwhelming sales'. 'Because we control the hardware, the software, we can create these incredible designs,' said Mr Ng, referring to the Power Mac G4 Cube and the iMac. 'If I were a Dell or Compaq, I go to Intel to get a motherboard, which is dictated by them. I go to Microsoft to get an operating system, which may not support all the features I want. I go to other people to get the things I need to put together a [PC] design. That's not a real design.' Analysts said that as more low-cost PCs inundate the market, Apple would need to capitalise on its successful iMac line. Apple's G4 Cube is eight inches cubed (without monitor and keyboard), has a transparent plastic casing and a digital video disc slot. 'A lot of the design inspiration came from trying to create something that is very beautiful and functional at the same time,' Mr Ng said. Investment bank Salomon Smith Barney said Apple was trying to fill a void in its desktop offering by addressing a segment it had overlooked - the high-end consumer buyer and the professional with space constraints. Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said the G4 cube 'marries the Pentium-crushing performance of the Power Mac G4 with the miniaturisation, silent operation and elegant desktop design of the iMac'. The Cube packs a 450-megahertz G4 processor, 64 megabytes of random access memory, 1MB of level 2 cache, a 20-gigabyte hard disk drive, DVD-Rom drive with DVD-video playback, and ATI's RAGE 128 Pro-graphics card with 16MB of graphics memory. 'Quite a bit of thought went into this product. We looked at a lot of information we got from our customers. Many of our customers in Hong Kong, Japan, Taipei and Singapore told us space is such a huge consideration for them in their houses, apartments and condominiums, in their offices - all these environments do not have a lot of space,' Mr Ng said. The Asia-Pacific is becoming an increasingly important market for Apple. Last quarter, Apple's total shipments to the region grew 32 per cent over the same quarter last year. Salomon Smith Barney said Apple, pressured by stagnating sales of its iMac last quarter, would need to 'continuously innovate and improve its product lines for both the consumer and professional segments'. Apple had shipped 445,000 iMacs instead of the 500,000 units it had initially expected. While Apple's management said at the unveiling of the G4 Cube in New York the product might cannibalise sales of the high-end iMac offering and the low-end PowerMac G4, the innovative design of the new product was expected to bring incremental sales. Also, unlike the case with iMac products, users need to buy an Apple monitor. Mr Ng said the G4 Cube 'sets many industry firsts in terms of design and engineering'. The G4 Cube cools its components without a fan. Apple engineers designed a central channel that dissipates hot air. 'Hot air rises up along this centre channel, and this centre channel acts not only as ventilation for the air, but also as the heat sink that can distribute the heat evenly above the metal grill, and help cool the machine as much as possible,' Mr Ng said. Opening the G4 Cube is made simple by flipping the machine upside down and grabbing a pullout handle that separates the internal components from the plastic casing. Apple put the components on the three outer faces of the G4 Cube's core, so users can easily upgrade parts of the system, such as the memory card. 'If we had just layered component on top of component, the customer would not be able to access the graphics card, or memory card. What we had to do was put a lot of the components on the outside, facing the customer,' he said. A technology used in the G4 Cube but not in personal computers is ceramic patches as antennae. These patches receive signals from the antennae feed, and magnify them, enabling the device to receive a wireless signal in an operating range of about 50 metres. 'It is a technology that was first used in space ships and military devices for global positioning. Everything we do is a combination of form and function. 'The marriage of art and engineering. We don't do design just for the sake of creating pretty shapes,' Mr Ng said.