Attendees of Macworld Expo in New York will remember the experience as the iMac Expo, complete with the slogan, "I think, therefore iMac." We’re thrilled that the iMac stole the show – Apple couldn’t afford for it not to, but we’re distressed that so little else happened that upcoming USB support became a primary news theme. (See "USB and You" in TidBITS-436 to learn more about USB.)
Driven to USB — Several companies displayed prototype drive units designed as iMac companions. For example, Imation’s new iMac-savvy SuperDisk USB drive features a sporty iMac-blue ring around the side of its case. The SuperDisk USB drive supports not only regular floppy disks, but also a 120 MB "Mac-formatted SuperDisk Diskette." Imation plans to ship the drive in mid-August (in North America) with a suggested retail price of $189; SuperDisk Diskettes will be available in five-packs for a suggested retail price of $65.
SyQuest showed off new 1 GB SparQ drives in translucent cherry red and deep purple. SyQuest hasn’t decided on the final colors, but a SyQuest representative said most people preferred the red. These drives don’t accept floppy disks or other SyQuest cartridges, but their 1 GB size makes them the most capacious removable storage drives announced for the iMac so far. According to the SyQuest press release, the drives should be available by the "holiday shopping season." A PC version of the SparQ is currently shipping for $199 with a cartridge three-pack costing $99; pricing on the USB version should be similar.
Keyspan announced plans to ship highly stylized versions of a USB floppy disk drive, a USB-to-Mac serial converter, and a device that attaches up to four serial cables to one USB port. Keyspan also announced a PCI card containing two USB ports for Power Macintosh owners interested in moving toward the USB standard with future peripheral purchases. The USB card should ship in September for under $100; Keyspan hasn’t yet announced shipping dates or pricing for the other products.
USB Imaging — Alps Electric and Hewlett-Packard (HP) both announced parallel-to-USB converters that ship with appropriate printer drivers. Alps announced that its next round of printers (due in Nov-98) would come with a USB option; HP outlined a short-term plan to ship drivers plus a parallel-to-USB converter that customers can use with currently available HP DeskJets. The new $69 HP Printer Cable Kit for Macintosh will work with the DeskJet 670C/672C and the 690C/692C/694C. The 670Cs that Apple sells to education customers should be bundled with the new cable. An HP representative indicated some uncertainty as to the future of the Mac-specific DeskWriter line, which provides either serial or LocalTalk connections. With Apple shifting its emphasis to USB, it’s possible that the DeskWriter will fade away.
UMAX Technologies is currently shipping the USB-based, flat-bed, color UMAX Astra 1220U scanner; however, buyers should note that the press release says that the scanner will work only with Windows as it ships right now. UMAX plans to have Macintosh software for the scanner available in September. The 1220U currently comes in a dull-looking case, but a UMAX representative indicated later versions might sport translucent panels to better match the iMac industrial design.
Peripherals and More — In addition to the hubs and ports announced by Keyspan, USB port enthusiasts should check out ADS Technologies’ soon-to-be-shipping Mac-specific versions of the USB Port for Notebooks, USB Port for Desktops, and USB Hub (the hub connects four USB devices to a USB port). All should be available in the $70 to $100 range.
The folks at Macally (formerly MacAlley) are already shipping a variety of input devices for Windows machines and plan to add Mac versions of their mouse, trackball, extended keyboard, camera, and other products in the near future.
The Final Port — Although USB support for the iMac will be somewhat weak initially, Apple’s early announcement of the iMac was probably instrumental in encouraging these and other companies to speed up USB development plans. USB will be standard equipment on all Macs soon, so it’s good to see that we’ll have options for future peripherals and for retaining some older serial devices.