This game-changing computer model put the elegance back into technology and design, writes Chris Pearson.
How the G3 computer rebooted Apple’s fortunes and revolutionised tech design.
At a special presentation in California in May 1998, the air was electric as Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the company’s latest computer. Apple was struggling in the market and this new design could make or break it. As the room fell silent, Jobs uncovered the iMac G3.
Sinuously curved, the translucent blue plastic case was almost lickable. “The back of our computer looks better than the front of the other guys,” said Jobs. “It looks like it’s from another planet. A planet with better designers.” This was a compliment to Jonathan Ive (pictured), Apple’s then vice-president of industrial design and future architect of the firm’s signature aesthetic.
The G3 sported clean lines and attention to detail but, most of all, it seduced the senses. Even the prosaic mouse and keyboard emerged from Ive’s studio luminous and tactile, while the internal modem meant one less box to clutter the desk.
The public eagerly took a bite of this
Apple. First-time computer buyers devoured one-third of iMac sales in that first year.
While the original colour was called Bondi Blue (supposedly after an Aussie holiday Jobs had taken), Apple revisited the fruit theme the following year with Blueberry, Lime, Grape, Tangerine and Strawberry options.
“Elegance in objects is everybody’s right,” said Ive. The G3’s fun, cartoon-like styling embraced the future while looking back at the past, he explained. “I asked, what computer would the Jetsons have had?”
British-born Ive inherited a passion for detail and craftsmanship from his father, who created furniture and silverware in his spare time. After studying art and design at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University), he co-founded a design consultancy in London and worked on the Macintosh Folio, a forerunner of the iPad, for Apple. That eventually led to a position at Apple headquarters in California from 1997.
This triggered a dream run for Ive, who masterminded the forms of the iPod, iPad, MacBook and iPhone. In 2001 he literally reinvented the wheel by using one as an operating mechanism, first on the iPod Classic and later the iPod Nano in its rainbow of colours. Meanwhile, the iMac G3 was succeeded by the G4 in 2002 and, two years later, the smart and svelte G5, foreshadowing today’s ultra-slim aluminium models.
In 2007, Apple debuted another gamechanger – the iPhone. The company sold 13 million iPhone 6s and 6s Plus within three days of launch in 2015. And it keeps finetuning this winning formula. Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, said. “We’ve packed an amazing amount of innovation and advanced technology into a thin and light, jewel-like device.”
WHAT IT MEANS TO US
While the iMac line continues to evolve, Apple’s range has moved beyond the desktop. The iPhone was the most popular brand of smartphone in Australia in the second half of 2016, with 1.7 million units sold, according to the 2017 Telsyte Australian Smartphone & Wearable Devices Market Study. That’s due in no small part to Ive’s elegant aesthetic, extended over the entire portfolio.
Last year, the company published Designed
by Apple in California, a visual history of its products over the past 20 years. Essentially, that’s the period since Ive – now chief design officer and Sir Jonathan Ive, KBE – arrived.
Said Ive at the launch, “We strive to define objects that appear effortless… that appear so simple, coherent and inevitable that there could be no rational alternative.” # apple.com.au
1998 The iMac G3’s radical look was masterminded by Jonathan Ive (above).
2004 The G5 housed a more powerful iMac processor in a case just 5cm thick.
2016 A waterresistant case accommodated advanced features in the iPhone 7.
2007 The original iPhone combined phone, music, camera and online connectivity.
2001 Apple’s firstgeneration iPod held up to 5GB of music on one portable device.