Apple’s iMac Turns 20

In a single stroke, Apple made computers fun, vibrant, hip, and personable again.

iMac G3

I was finishing up my senior year of college when Apple announced the first iMac in all of its Bondi Blue glory. While there were people who derided it for looking too much like a piece of a candy, or for being too underpowered, there was no denying that Apple’s rebellion against ugly beige boxes was striking, even revolutionary. So much about the iMac — its audacious design, its simplicity, its ease of use — was a perfect distillation of everything that Apple represented compared to the rest of the PC industry.

I never owned one of those initial iMacs — I was still tooling along with my Power Computing PowerBase 180 Mac clone at the time — but I eventually bought a 500Mhz iMac DV SE sometime around 2001. I’ve owned two more iMacs since then, a 20” Core Duo and my current machine, a 27” Core i5 (which is what I’m currently typing this article on). Put simply, I love the iMac, and even if it ceases to be my primary machine, I’ll probably always be more excited about iMac-related announcements than for any of Apple’s other product lines.

Looking back on two decades, it’s hard to downplay the effect that little computer — which Steve Jobs revealed two decades ago today — has had, not just on the computer industry, but on a host of others (e.g., the design industry, the automotive industry). As Jason Snell puts it:

That original iMac “Elroy” enclosure was radical in an era where all computers were boxy and beige. It was hugely influential on what was to come — both in freeing designers to be more whimsical, with curves and colors and translucency, and in leading to an infestation of translucent blue plastic stuff in the lives of everyone during the late 90s and early 2000s. If you were a plastics manufacturer, translucency and bright colors immediately went into your brochure — because you haven’t lived until you’ve bought an orange semi-clear clock radio.

In fact, as I wrote this article I realized just how far the iMac’s design legacy has gone. My family owns a bright blue first-generation Nissan Leaf. I realize now that for the last year I’ve been driving around an iMac G3.

What’s more, the iMac completely revitalized and resurrected Apple, which had languished behind its competitors and lost much of its allure. Or, as Snell put it, “without that day, and the product that Steve Jobs unveiled on that stage, it’s hard to imagine that Apple would have ever had the chance to become what it is today.” With a single stroke that suddenly made computers fun, vibrant, hip, and personable again, Steve Jobs told the computer industry, and computer users in general, that nothing was going to be the same.

On a related note, Stephen Hackett’s “iMac G3 Project” contains more information than you could ever want to know about the iMac G3, from overviews of the product’s family tree and the psychedelic iMacs to information about some iMac clones that were essentially sued out of existence.


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