The imac’s last­ing le­gacy

The imac’s in­flu­ence reaches far be­yond the desk­top, or even the PC, ar­gues Dan Moren

Macworld - - Contents -

Plenty has al­ready been said about the 20th an­niver­sary of the imac (see page 48), the com­puter that played an in­stru­men­tal role in bring­ing Ap­ple back from the brink. But the le­gacy of the Bondi Blue imac is still with us in many ways to­day – not just in the com­puter that shares its name, but in an over­rid­ing phi­los­o­phy that Ap­ple

con­tin­ues to ex­em­plify across its prod­uct line. If you wanted an in­di­ca­tion of how Ap­ple would be do­ing busi­ness in 2018, you could do worse than cast back two decades and look at the de­ci­sions that it made when it pro­duced that first imac. (A ma­chine that it­self took a page di­rectly out of Ap­ple’s own play­book for the orig­i­nal Macin­tosh back in 1984.) The line is any­thing but sub­tle.

All in one, and one in all

The all-in-one de­sign of the imac was noth­ing new in and of it­self. The orig­i­nal Macin­tosh had been based on the same prin­ci­ple: a de­vice that was more like an ap­pli­ance than other per­sonal com­put­ers. Ap­ple had pro­duced a num­ber of all-in-one Macs in the in­ter­ven­ing years, with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess.

But what the imac did sig­nal was how im­por­tant the all-in-one phi­los­o­phy was to the fu­ture of the com­pany. Fast for­ward 20 years and not only is the all-in-one imac now the stal­wart of Ap­ple’s desk­top line, but the rest of the com­pany’s prod­ucts have fol­lowed suit. Lap­tops, the pre­dom­i­nant form fac­tor of not only Macs but the en­tire PC mar­ket, are even more all-in-one de­signs than even an imac. In­deed, the Mac mini and the de­funct Mac Pro, which to­gether make up only a small per­cent­age of Ap­ple’s sales, are the only mod­u­lar com­put­ers left in the com­pany’s lineup. (Un­til, that is, the much an­tic­i­pated new Mac Pro ar­rives next year.)

But more than that, the all-in-one phi­los­o­phy even­tu­ally brought us to both the iphone and the ipad: com­put­ers that are fully func­tional with­out the need for any ad­di­tional com­po­nents what­so­ever. Sure, you can add a key­board or some Blue­tooth head­phones, but even with­out those, you’ve got the whole pack­age in the palm of your hand. Ev­ery­thing you need, noth­ing you don’t.

Out with the old­ish

When the imac de­buted, it threw away a lot of the cruft of the Macs and PCS that came be­fore it.

The only trou­ble was peo­ple were still us­ing a lot of that cruft. Not only did the imac es­chew the dy­ing – but still stan­dard – floppy drive, but it also ditched le­gacy ports, in­clud­ing Ap­ple’s own ADB pe­riph­eral con­nec­tors, in favour of the nascent and largely un­fa­mil­iar USB stan­dard. From then on, no cow has been too sa­cred for Ap­ple, some­times to

the con­ster­na­tion of its cus­tomers. Ap­ple did away with the Firewire con­nec­tor on the orig­i­nal ipod for its own 30-pin dock con­nec­tor de­sign, then turned around and tossed that out on its ear to be re­placed by the smaller, more ef­fi­cient Light­ning port. It was one of the first to re­move op­ti­cal drives from its com­put­ers. And, of course, the iphone 7 ban­ished the head­phone jack from the smart­phone line.

Ap­ple’s taken its fair share of flak for some of those de­ci­sions, in par­tic­u­lar when it de­cided to brand its head­phone de­ci­sion as ‘courage’. But there is truth to the fact that the com­pany has no fear when it comes to throw­ing out the past, even if it some­times feels like the cus­tomers are the ones who have ended up un­der the bus – much as it felt to many when the orig­i­nal imac was re­leased.


Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant and last­ing ef­fect of the orig­i­nal imac was that it ce­mented Ap­ple’s place as a trend­set­ter. Not just in terms of its tech­ni­cal de­ci­sions, like em­brac­ing USB or trash­ing the floppy drive, but in terms of the di­rec­tion that the en­tire in­dus­try was go­ing. Where it went, oth­ers fol­lowed.

Com­peti­tors took no­tice of Ap­ple’s suc­cess, even if they missed the mark some­what. The imac prompted a rash of im­i­ta­tors, which is to say that com­pa­nies quickly moved to put out com­put­ers with colour­ful translu­cent hous­ings, as though the blue plas­tic alone was what had made the imac so suc­cess­ful.

And even now, two decades on, we’re still see­ing that com­bi­na­tion of bla­tant copy­ing and some­how not get­ting the real point. In the wake of the iphone X, a num­ber of com­pet­ing smart­phones have showed up on the mar­ket bear­ing a sim­i­lar ‘notch’ de­sign to Ap­ple’s flag­ship de­vice, again as though this su­per­fi­cial as­pect could be at­trib­uted with the de­vice’s pop­u­lar­ity.

So, as the old saw goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Twenty years on, Ap­ple is still em­body­ing the les­sons of that orig­i­nal imac – ones that its com­peti­tors have just as res­o­lutely failed to learn.

The orig­i­nal Macin­tosh

The orig­i­nal imac es­tab­lished Ap­ple as a trend­set­ter whose in­flu­ence is still felt to­day. For ex­am­ple, mo­bile phone com­pa­nies like LG are copy­ing the notch found on the iphone X

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