Steve Jobs once suggested the ‘i’ in ‘iMac’ stood for internet, individual, instruct, inform and inspire. And presumably at some point later on: “I wish we hadn’t started this ‘i’ thing because now everyone’s at it.” But start it, Apple did – 25 years ago – with a little desktop computer that changed everything and paved the way for Apple’s desktops and laptops of today.
Great. Now I’m having flashbacks to when all tech kit had to have a transparent blue shell.
Bondi blue, thank you. And at the time, this made the iMac unlike any computer you’d ever seen. Until then, desktop PCs had been boring and beige – even Apple’s. The iMac was different. You wanted to show it off. Geeks could peer at its innards, while normal people would be intrigued by a piece of tech actually designed for real humans. Well, apart from the hockey-puck mouse. Steve Jobs claimed it was “the coolest mouse on the planet”. It wasn’t. It was awful.
Here’s the reveal of the iMac G3:
But not as awful as the beige PC I later saw with a lump of blue plastic glued to it…
Indeed. Foreshadowing the next 25 years of tech, industry detractors mocked the iMac. No floppy drive! USB! Unnecessary expensive parts like fast networking, a display that wasn’t terrible, and speakers that actually allowed you to listen to music! And then, when Apple cleaned up, these rivals still only saw what was on the surface. Apple was looking to the future and ditching legacy junk; PC folks merely stuck plastic parts to creaking tech and sat there baffled when that quick fix didn’t lead to sales and awards flooding in.
And it wasn’t just computers – wasn’t there even a transparent blue iron?
Oh, the game was up when home appliances got in on the act. Even Apple took things too far with hideous ‘Blue Dalmatian’ and ‘Flower Power’ iMac cases in February 2001, before going boring with duller hues later that year. Fortunately, having reimagined the PC once, Apple kept rethinking the iMac – first with a model that looked like a Pixar movie escapee, and most recently with the refined 2021 redesign. And each has stayed true to the original iMac’s ideal: a computer for the rest of us that doesn’t skimp on what matters.
iMac through the ages
A whistle-stop tour through the best – and worst – moments from the iMac’s evolution.
Flower Power (2001): The first iMac refresh had fruity colours. But the third gave us Flower Power. Normal people looked on, aghast.
G4 (2002): The G4 iMac ramped up the cute (featured in our list of the best Apple gadgets ever). With its dome base, adjustable arm and head-like screen, it looked like it had stepped out of a Pixar animation.
G5 (2004): Forming the basic template for every iMac that’s followed since, the iMac G5 embraced minimalism, elegance and sheer skinniness.
‘Aluminium’ (2007): The iMac got ‘Intel inside’ in 2006, but the next year marked a more obvious change, with a swish aluminium enclosure.
‘Slim unibody’ (2012): Apple’s ‘thin’ obsession led to this design, 5mm at its thinnest – and with the computer’s innards housed in a bulge on its rear.
M1 (2021): Apple’s M1 iMac refined the famous design in key ways. Subtle colours livened up the look, and losing the Apple logo from the chin reeked of confidence.