It looks like the iMac turned ten yesterday. Back in 1998 it was hard to grasp this. It seemed like, yay, Apple got the internet a bit more quickly than other computer people and made an entry-level computer with built-in ethernet and modem (to be fair, at least the PowerMacs shipped with Ethernet and the Performas shipped with a modem at the time). And it was a cute machine, looking all bubbly, and colourful, and tiny. With the small size allegedly being achieved by arranging the innards of a PowerBook around a screen. Perhaps that was expensive at the time, perhaps it wasn’t after they made hundreds of thousands of them, who knows. It certainly looked good and amazing in the
Uh, nice, screen – now where’s the computer? way that people never seem to unlearn. And while it perhaps wasn’t the most powerful machine on earth back then, it certainly left an impression of being powerful enough for the tasks most people would want to use it for.
While I never had an iMac myself (or perhaps because I never had one?), I always liked the machines. Reducing the nuisance of having a computer to the basics, not tormenting people with all the cables that can get into the way, and swiping away any ‘buts’ about expansion that distractors may have, the machines stuck to those simple principles all the way through. The original iMac’s design probably needed until the slot loading drives came to be really good – and the technological bits like built-in FireWire, wireless networking and a reasonable optical drive only became standard later on as well.
Give or take a flowerpower or dalmation version, the design made it through the years and was eventually replaced by the white ‘desk lamp’ G4 iMac. Uh, a flat screen! And shown off with rather nice (though apparently not always completely firm) mechanics while the computer itself was hidden in an improbably tiny dome at the bottom. I am not sure this design ages as well, but I keep thinking it’s rather cool.
Finally the G5 iMac came. And for me its design is for iMacs what the Titanium Powerbook’s design was for laptops. It looks slim and authoriative at the same time. It’s simple – yet it is rather powerful. And – unlike its predecessor – it has no problem scaling to various screen sizes.
The latest revisions of Intel iMacs changed the casing to be less angular and thinner to the sides. Just like the MacBook Air that makes the machines looks thinner and smoother. But to me that’s just unnecessary and it reduces the machine’s coolness to me. Luckily the machine still looks quite good as it is and you won’t see the thinness when looking at it from the front anyway.
Let’s hope the iMac is good for many more years. Its idea of making the computer invisible is brilliant. It’ll just be hard to significantly improve the design now. Simply because there’s not much left to remove. At least if you want to keep the screen, that is…
[Postcards by a local Mac dealer for their anniversary shortly after the iMac had been introduced. I always loved that idea.]
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