Today marks the 20th anniversary of the late Steve Jobs introducing the iMac, in what has become a defining moment in Apple’s storied history. Apple CEO Tim Cook commemorated the occasion on Twitter today.
20 years ago today, Steve introduced the world to iMac. It set Apple on a new course and forever changed the way people look at computers. pic.twitter.com/GbKno7YBHl
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) May 6, 2018
“This is iMac,” said Jobs, who had returned to the helm of Apple as interim CEO just eight months prior, after being ousted from the company twelve years earlier. A large crowd erupted with applause at the Flint Center, the same theater where Jobs unveiled the original Macintosh back in 1984.
The excitement centered upon the fact that the iMac didn’t look anything like other desktop PCs of the time. This wasn’t a typical boxy monitor-and-tower in dull beige. This was an all-in-one machine with curvy, translucent plastic, first in bondi blue, and later in several other colors of the rainbow.
Jobs was as charismatic as always on stage:
This is iMac. The whole thing is translucent. You can see into it. It’s so cool. We’ve got stereo speakers on the front. We’ve got infrared right up here. We’ve got the CD-ROM drive right in the middle. We’ve got dual stereo headphone jacks. We’ve got the coolest mouse on the planet right here. All of the connectors are inside one beautiful little door here—the Ethernet, the USB stuff. Around the back, we’ve got a really great handle here. The back of this thing looks better than the front of the other guys, by the way.
iMac was all about getting everyday people connected to the internet. In fact, the letter I in iMac stood for internet, according to Ken Segall, the creative director who came up with the name for the computer. It also stood for individual, instruct, inform, and inspire, according to Apple’s presentation.
More importantly, the iMac was a turning point for Apple, a company that had lost its direction by the mid-1990s. Apple was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, had a bloated product lineup with over a dozen Macintosh models, and seemed to lack a clear plan forward. That is, until Jobs stepped in.
Jobs aimed to simplify Apple’s product lineup with a four-quadrant product matrix, with one desktop computer and one portable computer for consumers and professionals respectively. iMac filled the consumer-desktop quadrant.
Jobs in Apple’s press release for the iMac:
We designed iMac to deliver the things consumers care about most—the excitement of the Internet and the simplicity of the Mac. iMac is next year’s computer for $1299; not last year’s computer for $999.
Today we brought romance and innovation back into the industry. iMac reminds everyone of what Apple stands for.
The original iMac pioneered many industry firsts such as USB, FireWire, and quiet fan-less operation, and while the removal of the floppy drive and legacy ports was controversial, the computer ultimately pushed the industry forward.
The original iMac’s tech specs:
- PowerPC G3 processor clocked at 233MHz
- 15-inch display with 1,024×768 resolution
- Two USB ports and Ethernet with a built-in software modem
- 4GB hard drive
- 32MB of RAM, expandable to 128MB
- 24x CD-ROM drive
- Built-in stereo speakers with SRS sound
- Apple-designed USB keyboard and mouse
- Mac OS 8.1
The strategy was effective, as the iMac kickstarted Apple’s return to profitability, just months after it flirted with potential bankruptcy. iMac sales topped 278,000 units in the first six weeks, and in October 1998, Apple reported earnings of $106 million in its fourth quarter, contributing to its first profitable year since 1995.
Apple’s naming scheme lived on with the iPod in 2001, iPhone in 2007, and iPad in 2010, products that led it to become the world’s most valuable company.
The success of the iMac was due in part to a significant marketing campaign developed by ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day. The ads, both in print and video form, focused on the iMac’s design and the simplicity of both setting it up and connecting to the internet. A few of the spots featured actor Jeff Goldblum.
A sampling of taglines from the campaign:
- Sorry, no beige.
- Chic. Not geek.
- No artificial colors.
- The rebirth of cool.
- The most colorful way to the Internet.
- Family vehicles for the information superhighway.
- The thrill of surfing. The agony of choosing a color.
- The most dramatically new Macintosh since the original.
In the two decades since, the iMac has undergone several revisions, keeping up with rapid technological advancements. Over those years, Apple’s attention to both design and function hasn’t wavered.
In 2002, the iMac received its first significant redesign, with a thin flat-panel display affixed to a white semicircular base with a cantilevered metal arm. In 2004, Apple integrated the main logic board, optical drive, and other components behind the display, allowing for a thinner aluminum stand.
iMac in 2002 on left and 2007 in middle, iMac Pro on right
In 2007, Apple ditched white plastic and gave the iMac an aluminum enclosure backed by black plastic. A model with a complete aluminum unibody enclosure was released in 2012. Starting in 2014, the iMac gained high-resolution 4K and 5K Retina displays. And, in 2017, the powerful iMac Pro was released.
It is 1998, though, that will always be remembered as the year Apple started a new chapter of success. Happy birthday to the iMac.
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