Issue 04 - 2023MAGAZINETechnology
GBO_ iMac at 25

iMac at 25: A Lasting Influence

The iMac, though a desktop PC to the uninitiated, was unlike any other computer ever made

On May 6, 1995, maverick American business magnate Steve Jobs debuted the first-ever iMac computer, which has since become a cult favourite and contributed to Apple’s transformation into one of the leading global technological behemoths. Following the iMac’s popularity, the venture unveiled a flood of new goods and services, including the iPod, iTunes, and, of course, the iPhone, which together contributed to its status as the most lucrative company in the world.

Steve Jobs launched the original iMac on May 6, 1998, just after being called back to help the faltering business. Notably, Jobs was let off in 1985 when the media criticised the second-generation Mac for being a ‘toy’ in comparison to its IBM rivals. The fact that Jobs had previously presided over several product failures, including the Lisa and the Apple 3, made the board’s job easier.

The iMac, though a desktop PC to the uninitiated, was unlike any other computer ever made. The iMac was a breath of fresh air from a design perspective at a time when nearly all desktop systems typically consisted of a cumbersome CRT monitor and an accompanying beige box. The iMac offered an all-in-one device with curved, translucent plastic in several striking colours that look cool and immensely attractive even all these years later.

The gadget introduced numerous firsts for the industry, including USB connections and FireWire, and what has since become an Apple trademark eliminated the floppy drive in a move that was highly divisive at the time. The gadget was the first Apple product to be released with the ‘i’ prefix, which has since been used in the company’s MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets.

The first-generation iMac shipped with Mac OS 8.1 and was powered by a 233 MHz PowerPC G3 processor. It had a 4GB hard disk and 32MB of RAM when it was new.

A generation-defining product

Steve Jobs didn’t want the photographer. He was about to introduce the iMac, the device that would strap Apple in for the wildest corporate comeback in history, in May 1998. This month marks 25 years since the product was scheduled to arrive in August. And Jobs had picked a Newsweek employee, to receive an advance peek and hang around with him as he prepared for the launch. He hadn’t requested a cover, as he would frequently do in later years, because neither jobs nor the almost bankrupt Apple at the time had that kind of influence. Newsweek would not provide any guarantees (even later, when Apple did possess such clout).

Steve Jobs, however, was extremely picky about who would be snapping his photo. When he discovered who Newsweek had commissioned to take the behind-the-scenes photos, he lost it. It was a person who Jobs believed had performed less than admirably during a picture session for Next, the business he founded after John Sculley sacked him from Apple in 1985. Additionally, he had a great deal of doubts about the portrait photographer that our art director had selected to take the cover image. Hasheel Brakha? Jobs was unaware of the individual.

Floors suddenly became knee-deep in virtual eggshells when Steve became agitated like that, requiring everyone around him to step with a lightness that defied gravity. His PR team had to almost beg him to leave his office and go downstairs to sit for the photo. Jobs scowled as he reluctantly followed orders.

Brakha, who had travelled from Los Angeles to Cupertino, was accustomed to dealing with difficult targets; he had shot the Ramones, Devo, and Joni Mitchell. He manoeuvred Jobs into the stances he liked while speaking calming words to him, much like a Yellowstone Ranch cowhand might a wild stallion. Brakha’s lack of apprehension seemed to soothe Jobs. Jobs’ spidey sense had already alerted him to the presence of a fellow artist by the time the photographer ordered the interim CEO to sit with his knees crossed and support the machine on his lap. His smile was genuinely charming, and it became one of the most recognisable images of Steve Jobs ever in addition to being the main image of the Newsweek spread. Later, Apple decided to purchase the rights so it could decide how to use it.

This occurred 25 years ago. Earlier in August, they were commemorating not only the iMac G3’s third anniversary but also the moment when Cupertino’s gloomy skies opened up to the chance that Jobs may pull off a comeback. A powerful G3 chip, a clear 15-inch display, a built-in modem, and software that made the then-complicated process of connecting to the internet easier to understand were all features of the machine that were ingeniously chosen to deliver the best of Apple’s advances to date, even though it did not contain any ground-breaking new technology.

Technology was removed as part of the deal; the computer lacked the floppy disk drive that was commonplace back then. The design was developed and improved upon by Jobs’ young, up-and-coming design whiz, Jony Ive, and was extremely stunning. The outcome was a curved, translucent plastic glob that resembled a blue watermelon and the Jetsons. (The hue was given the name Bondi Blue in honour of the peaceful seas of a well-known Australian beach.) The business had launched a new computer that lived up to that phrase after months of advertising to pound into our skulls the idea that Apple thought differently.

“Apple Computer makes the world a little bit better, and if Apple can get back to its roots as an innovator, the whole industry would benefit from that,” Jobs said, adding that he was passionate about this endeavour. His idea, which he called the “whole-widget” approach, aimed for Apple’s products to be designed from the ground up using internal software development and sold directly to customers.

Sony was the only business offering anything comparable. Jobs claimed that at first, he believed Apple might become the Sony of the computer industry. However, he suddenly saw himself topping even that well-known Japanese electronics company. Now, he declared, “Apple might be the Apple of this industry. And that is what we intend to do.”

Naturally, Jobs did that. The iPhone was the pinnacle of the whole-widget approach, but the iMac G3 was just the beginning. He revealed that the iMac’s internal codenames, Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, were modelled after Columbus’ ships. He responded, “Why?” “It’s a new world,” he replied.

The iMac was successful because of its value, simplicity, and design, which not only pleased our eyes but also sparked our imaginations. The iMac brand is still in use on its silver anniversary and continues to represent the whole-widget approach. But it’s a very different machine now, far more potent and much less entertaining.

Significance of an iMac

In addition to design, the iMac was crucial for Apple financially. Given its current cash-rich resources, it’s difficult to fathom, but Apple was having problems in the late 1990s.

The company had to get back to being profitable by 1998 or it would go bankrupt.

Jobs, a co-founder of Apple, had abruptly quit the company in 1995 but miraculously came back when Apple acquired his fledgling computer company NeXT. The software created by NeXT later made its way into the macOS programme.

The iMac was the first significant Apple product to be released under Jobs’ second Apple tenure, and it was also the first Apple design credited to Apple’s later chief design officer, Sir Jonathan ‘Jony’ Ive.

Ive started working on the iMac in 1992 after joining Apple as a full-time employee and eventually became head of industrial design.

Since then, Ive has been the inspiration for enduring products like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. From then until his passing in 2011, Ive was close with Steve Jobs. Ive has recently retired from Apple, leaving a vast legacy behind.

How did they manage to fit it all in? So what about the actual original iMac? There is no escaping the reality that the iMac G3 appears quite dated in this day and age as CRT displays are no longer widely used.

A CRT, however, is a sizable component. So it still seems quite amazing that Apple was able to fit speakers, a CD drive (no floppy drive, which was contentious at the time), a hard drive, graphics, and a mainboard into this design. We’ve taken one apart, and the parts are crammed very closely together inside the case.

The G3-designated PowerPC 750 processor served as the brains of the iMac. Of course, Intel chips are used in Macs today, but in 1998, the switch to Intel wasn’t yet official. A 1991 partnership between Motorola, IBM, and Apple produced the PowerPC. Motorola departed the alliance in 2004, and it ended when Apple declared in 2005 that it was switching to Intel.

Apple named its later chips G4 and G5, respectively. However, the G5 laptop was never produced (it was too hot, but there was a PowerMac G5), and the G6 was never released because PowerPC chips couldn’t match Intel’s performance.

The Blueberry model shown below is the second generation from 1999, with a slot-loading DVD-ROM drive as opposed to a tray-loading one, 64MB of memory, ATI graphics, a 6GB hard drive, and a PowerPC 750 processor.

Floppy is gone, long live USB. Apple has remained a master at throwing out ports and functionality it no longer deems required ever since. For the iMac, Apple’s own Desktop Bus mouse and keyboard port was replaced by a technology called USB, which as you may know has since made an appearance on a few devices, just as the headphone jack is now a thing of the past for flagship iPhones.

The “anglepoise” iMac G4 took the place of the iMac G3 in 2002. Although it was made of plastic rather than modern aluminium, the iMac G5 from 2004 was the first completely flat model. Of course, it was also far thicker.

Years ago, in 2006, the original iMac with an Intel processor appeared before the chassis switched entirely to aluminium in 2007. Since then, things have become a little predictable, although Apple made significant changes with the 2017 iMac Pro.

Who knows what the future holds for Apple’s all-in-one computer? Fast forward to 2023, and the iMac received another gorgeous facelift with a new colourful style but a familiar form and layout.

The debut of the original iMac on May 6, 1998, marked a pivotal moment in Apple’s history. Under the leadership of Steve Jobs, the iMac’s unique design, innovative features, and strategic marketing signalled the company’s resurgence from the brink of bankruptcy and set the stage for its transformation into a global technological giant.

The iMac’s sleek design, featuring curved translucent plastic and vibrant colours, set it apart from the dull and boxy computers of its time. It introduced several industry-first features like USB connections, FireWire, and the elimination of the floppy drive, which sparked both excitement and controversy. This product also marked the beginning of Apple’s iconic ‘i’ prefix, which has since become synonymous with its lineup of successful products.

The launch of the iMac G3 was a turning point not only for Apple but also for the personal computer industry as a whole. Jobs’ emphasis on design, user experience, and the “whole-widget” approach paved the way for subsequent groundbreaking products, such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. The iMac’s success laid the foundation for Apple’s financial recovery and its rise to become the world’s most valuable company.

The collaboration between Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, Apple’s design guru, played a crucial role in shaping the iMac’s distinctive look and feel. The iMac G3’s successful integration of various components in its compact form factor demonstrated Apple’s innovative engineering and design prowess.

Over the years, the iMac lineup has evolved and adapted to changing technological trends, transitioning to Intel processors, adopting new materials like aluminium, and undergoing design overhauls. Despite these changes, the iMac’s spirit of innovation, simplicity, and elegance has endured, making it a symbol of Apple’s commitment to pushing boundaries and delivering exceptional products.

As of 2023, the iMac’s legacy continues, with Apple’s ongoing commitment to combining cutting-edge technology with thoughtful design. The original iMac G3’s impact is felt not only in the product itself but also in the broader narrative of Apple’s journey from near collapse to global dominance, driven by the visionary leadership of Steve Jobs and the creative brilliance of its design team.

Related posts

Nigeria: Rich in resources but held back by corruption

GBO Correspondent

Gen Z sparking banking revolution

GBO Correspondent

Economy faces uncertainty amid war

GBO Correspondent