The story of the iMac is the story of Apple

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More than even the iPhone, it is the iMac that shows us what Apple always aims for -- and usually gets. On August 15, 2019, the 21st anniversary of when you could first buy it, here's how one machine changed Apple and how Apple changed that one machine.

The iMac and the Apple logo through the years
The iMac and the Apple logo through the years


It's standard and even a little trite now to say that the Apple of today is unrecognizable compared to the Apple of 1998, when the very first iMac was launched. Yet when people say this, they tend to be thinking of how Apple was ailing then and is now overwhelmingly successful.

They tend to be thinking of how Steve Jobs ran the company then compared to how Tim Cook does now. Look at it another way, though.

Apple's 1998 range included some well-remembered and well-loved devices such as the PowerBook G3. It included some less memorable ones such as the Power Macintosh G3, and it included ones you had to have been there to recall, like the Macintosh Server G3.

But then there was the iMac.

It's been transformed over the years, and Apple's aims for it have changed too, but the sole item on sale in 1998 that you can still buy today is the iMac. That's remarkable for a company that is known for ditching its products as quickly as it launches them.

And it's particularly remarkable because that reputation for casting aside popular products actually began with the iMac.

Hardware out

It's the iMac where Apple first tried to steer toward where the hockey puck is going to be, rather than where it is now. It's also the iMac where Apple tried to get us to use a hockey puck as a mouse, but that failure aside, this computer took Apple to the future.

And it did so by shaking off the past in every way.






You remember that the iMac was the first Mac, perhaps the first computer of the time, to not have a floppy disc drive. You remember that it had no removable media at all.

What's less well remembered now is that it also ditched Apple's previous technology to instead embrace USB. Even less well remembered is that USB was a gamble, far, far more so than it can seem today when everything uses USB.

Apple had been using ADB for 14 years at this point for keyboards -- and it was gone. It had been using SCSI since the dawn of the Mac, and that was exterminated as well.

Back in 1998, USB was for Windows -- but Windows wasn't having it. USB, for all the genuine benefits it brought to how you could connect peripherals, was not being taken up by PC manufacturers.

So Apple wasn't adopting an industry standard in order to fit in, or to somehow give up on making its own technology. It saw the lack of uptake from PC makers, it saw the technical benefits, and it decided to use it.

In doing so, Apple also decided to ignore just how conservative the technology industry is. For an industry that is always looking to the future, computing and technology find it extraordinarily hard to let go of the past.

Which means Apple was both far-sighted about the future, and it was far less shackled to past successes than its rivals.

Of course, that could be because it had fewer successes. Windows PCs hang on to old technology for fear of customers going somewhere else, but then Windows has a lot of customers. Apple was going for broke.

"The iMac alone can't rescue Apple, even if it sells well. "The company has much more to do before it can become truly healthy," wrote Walt Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal "But the iMac is a bold departure from the mediocrity that has marked the company's products in the 1990s," he continued, "and a hopeful sign for millions of Mac fans."

Pro. Go. Whoa.

Back when it was first available to buy on August 15, 1998, the original iMac was backed online by what Apple called a "strategy as simple as the Macintosh." Underneath the headings of Pro, Go and Whoa, the company advertised its Power Macintosh G3, its PowerBook G3, and its iMac.

The Pro section was described with the words "Creative professionals, meet your match." The Go part had "We rewrote the book on mobile computing."

And next to the iMac and the word Whoa, Apple wrote: "It's okay, you don't have to say anything."

Not Apple's most memorable advertising line.
Not Apple's most memorable advertising line.


It's a case, typical of Apple, where there was hype but under it was enough substance that few remember the advertising lines. But when the iMac was unveiled a few months earlier in March 1998, Apple did have to say something.

"I'm really pleased to report to you today that Apple's back on track," said Steve Jobs. "And because of this, the foundation this gives us, we're going to announce some great new products today. And we're even going to roll out the whole product strategy today."

Jobs may have launched the iMac, but he was also launching a new Apple. He spoke about the management team before he came close to talking about the iMac. Jobs said Apple was back on track, and then he spent a lot of time attempting to demonstrate that with figures about sales growth and increased traffic to Apple.com

"Our customers need to know that Apple is going to be here ten years from now," he said.

Which type of customer

Steve Jobs pressed on the point that Apple was working to produce machines for consumers. When he then unveiled the name, he pressed on the point that the iMac was for what consumers wanted.






"[The] iMac comes from the marriage of the excitement of the internet with the simplicity of Macintosh," he said. "Even though this is a full-blooded Macintosh, we are targeting this for the number one use that consumers tell us they want a computer for, which is to get on the internet - simply and fast."

Remember that this was also the first time that Apple had used the prefix i, which would become so familiar with the iPod and the iPhone. Jobs said that the 'i' in iMac stood for Internet.

"[The letter i] also means some other things to us," he continued. "We are a personal computer company and although this product was born to network, it also is a beautiful standalone product."

He had five words beginning with the letter i, and the remaining three were a bit of a fudge. They were Instruct, Inform and Inspire, which with Jobs's spin, he somehow made sound as if they were about the education market.

That was the aim of the iMac in 1998, it was specifically designed to attract consumers.

That changed

The latest edition of the iMac, updated in March 2019, is aimed at more than just Mom and Pop consumers. It is ideal for students -- and at the high-end the iMac Pro certainly isn't.

This is now the machine for creatives and professionals, and if there is one Mac aimed at the entry-level, low-use, market, it's the Mac mini and it has been since 2005.

It had been the creatives and power users who stuck with Apple through its worst years, but it was then the consumers and the iMac that got it into its best ones.

Now that Apple is a Goliath instead of a David, every last shred of the old Apple's product line is gone -- except the iMac. Sure, the new model isn't a plastic dome anymore, and hasn't been for a long time -- but Apple has seen fit to keep the name for 21 years, longer than any other single product line.

"We think iMac is going to be a really big deal," said Steve Jobs as he unveiled it in March 1998. He had no idea.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    I’m still waiting on the true iMac update. First, they haven’t update the design in over 10 years, which is just BS. And why is the iMac the only computer made by apple that doesn’t have the T2 chip? Also, why does it come with 4 old usb 3 and only 2 usb C slots? That should be the other way around if you wanted to by a iMac to last you the next 5 or 6 years. I love Apple’s OS, but i am getting tried of their BS. I wish they would just release the Mac OS for anyone to by to put on any hardware they wished at this point. Their computers are just over priced and always late to the game. A underpowered $6000 MacPro, and 2 year old iMac Pro and a 10 year old design iMac with outdated peripherals. 
    Conspiracy-Apple
  • Reply 2 of 21
    Their computers are just over priced and always late to the game. A underpowered $6000 MacPro, and 2 year old iMac Pro and a 10 year old design iMac with outdated peripherals. 
    It's been 21 years since the iMac was first available for purchase, it's been at least 30 years of hearing comments like this. Apple is not going to license macOS for use outside of their own hardware. They tried that for a bit and have said it would never happen again. The main iMac design hasn't really been changed since 2004 but how are you going to change an all-in-one design with the logic board behind the display? You might as well say that all desktop tower designs have remained the same since the late 80's. Can't they come up with anything new?
    mwhiteiJeffreylolliverfastasleepPickUrPoisonFileMakerFellerwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 3 of 21
    hmlongcohmlongco Posts: 181member
    I’m still waiting on the true iMac update. First... Their computers are just over priced and always late to the game. A underpowered $6000 MacPro, and 2 year old iMac Pro and a 10 year old design iMac with outdated peripherals. 
    Sounds to me like you're not "waiting" at all.

    BTW, the iMac Pro has 4 USB-C Thunderbolt ports.
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 21
    smaffeismaffei Posts: 220member
    Actually, SCSI wasn't introduced until the Mac Plus. Not exactly the dawn of the Mac.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 21
    I bought a graphite iMac in 2000, my first computer since a C64c. I was so astonished by its awesomeness, I really wanted to buy a couple grand in Apple stock. Very sadly, I didn't accomplish that until January 2016. Still great gains, but ... if only ...
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 21
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,020member
    smaffei said:
    Actually, SCSI wasn't introduced until the Mac Plus. Not exactly the dawn of the Mac.

    The Mac was released in 1984. The Mac Plus two years later in 1986; second year out of 35... I’d say that qualifies as “the dawn of Mac”.
    PickUrPoisonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 21
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,020member
    So Apple wasn't adopting an industry standard in order to fit in, or to somehow give up on making its own technology. It saw the lack of uptake from PC makers, it saw the technical benefits, and it decided to use it.

    There were no technical benefits of USB over ADB other than it being faster. Apple was in fact adopting it because it was an industry standard. At the time even though USB had not caught on in the WIntel world, there were already more USB peripherals available than there were for ADB.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 21
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,492member
    Ah, those were the days.

    I always look at the iMac for a desktop, because of its reliability and predictability. Ever since I bought my first one (Bondi Blue) it has done everything I ever needed with no fuss no muss. Sure, there was a learning curve, but my personal computing needs are very modest...and I really like Apple's implementation. Could some things be better? Sure. (iTunes, I'm looking at you...) but it is out of the question to even consider a non-mac for my home use. Ever. 
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 21
    P_Devil said:
    Their computers are just over priced and always late to the game. A underpowered $6000 MacPro, and 2 year old iMac Pro and a 10 year old design iMac with outdated peripherals. 
    It's been 21 years since the iMac was first available for purchase, it's been at least 30 years of hearing comments like this. Apple is not going to license macOS for use outside of their own hardware. They tried that for a bit and have said it would never happen again. The main iMac design hasn't really been changed since 2004 but how are you going to change an all-in-one design with the logic board behind the display? You might as well say that all desktop tower designs have remained the same since the late 80's. Can't they come up with anything new?
    I know they are not going to release their OS, that’s why I said I Wish they would, knowing they never will. And beside, when they said that, Mac’s were their main business. Not anymore they’re not. They love the iPhone cash cow too much. And are you going tell me that the supper thick bezels the iMac still has is ok? Really? What about giving us a 32in screen, or maybe just adding a iMac to the line up the has a bigger screen? And you are ok with the same 4 old USB ports with only 2 USB C ports? The MacMini  has more ports than the iMac! What about that same old crappy thing they call a mouse? What about an update fan system? No, Apple is way behind updating the iMac.
  • Reply 10 of 21

    hmlongco said:
    I’m still waiting on the true iMac update. First... Their computers are just over priced and always late to the game. A underpowered $6000 MacPro, and 2 year old iMac Pro and a 10 year old design iMac with outdated peripherals. 
    Sounds to me like you're not "waiting" at all.

    BTW, the iMac Pro has 4 USB-C Thunderbolt ports.
    I’m still waiting. I have skipped the last 2 releases because of what I just said. And I’m talking about the iMac, not the iMac Pro that cost a good deal bit more.
  • Reply 11 of 21
    crfcomcrfcom Posts: 14member
    My first computer, in 1998, was an iMac. I unboxed it, plugged everything in, and was online in about 15 minutes. The computer, and the experience, were exactly what Jobs had promised. Through my first laptop, my first, second, third, and fourth iPod, and right up to my current laptop, the last one Steve introduced, a mid 2011 BTO MacBook Air, the Mac's and other Apple devices have all been exactly what was promised. I work every day with a PC of some brand or another and come home to my 8 year old Mac Air that's still a better device than the current-year model PC's I use at work. Tim Cook's Apple hasn't convinced me to buy anything new since 2011 except for my iPhone Xr, which I'm happier with than I thought I would be, but Tim hasn't offered a laptop in 8 years that I found compelling enough, for my purposes, to trade my trusty 2011 Air for. Maybe 2020 will be the year. But Tim Cook's Apple just hasn't been as convincing as Steve's was, and that's why I see myself eventually buying another Mac Air with updated processing, memory, batteries, and hopefully a keyboard as reliable as the 2011 I bought from Steve.
    edited August 15 watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 21
    bloggerblogbloggerblog Posts: 1,871member
    Now iMac can buy its own beer dammit! No more suspiciously hanging outside a 7/11 bribing adults for beer!!
    FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 21
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,765member

    hmlongco said:
    I’m still waiting on the true iMac update. First... Their computers are just over priced and always late to the game. A underpowered $6000 MacPro, and 2 year old iMac Pro and a 10 year old design iMac with outdated peripherals. 
    Sounds to me like you're not "waiting" at all.

    BTW, the iMac Pro has 4 USB-C Thunderbolt ports.
    I’m still waiting. I have skipped the last 2 releases because of what I just said. And I’m talking about the iMac, not the iMac Pro that cost a good deal bit more.
    Stop waiting. Buy a PC. I think it would suit you better. Dell updates their cases very regularly, if that’s your overriding reason for buying a computer. 
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 21
    P_Devil said:
    Their computers are just over priced and always late to the game. A underpowered $6000 MacPro, and 2 year old iMac Pro and a 10 year old design iMac with outdated peripherals. 
    It's been 21 years since the iMac was first available for purchase, it's been at least 30 years of hearing comments like this. Apple is not going to license macOS for use outside of their own hardware. They tried that for a bit and have said it would never happen again. The main iMac design hasn't really been changed since 2004 but how are you going to change an all-in-one design with the logic board behind the display? You might as well say that all desktop tower designs have remained the same since the late 80's. Can't they come up with anything new?
    I know they are not going to release their OS, that’s why I said I Wish they would, knowing they never will. And beside, when they said that, Mac’s were their main business. Not anymore they’re not. They love the iPhone cash cow too much. And are you going tell me that the supper thick bezels the iMac still has is ok? Really? What about giving us a 32in screen, or maybe just adding a iMac to the line up the has a bigger screen? And you are ok with the same 4 old USB ports with only 2 USB C ports? The MacMini  has more ports than the iMac! What about that same old crappy thing they call a mouse? What about an update fan system? No, Apple is way behind updating the iMac.
    I think thinner bezels are overdue but should be coming soon. The color fidelity of the iMac displays are top notch, iCloud integration and backup are second to none, the elegance and quality also come at a cost. 
    Things could always be better, having high expectations from Apple will only make their products even better.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 21
    P_Devil said:
    Their computers are just over priced and always late to the game. A underpowered $6000 MacPro, and 2 year old iMac Pro and a 10 year old design iMac with outdated peripherals. 
    It's been 21 years since the iMac was first available for purchase, it's been at least 30 years of hearing comments like this. Apple is not going to license macOS for use outside of their own hardware. They tried that for a bit and have said it would never happen again. The main iMac design hasn't really been changed since 2004 but how are you going to change an all-in-one design with the logic board behind the display? You might as well say that all desktop tower designs have remained the same since the late 80's. Can't they come up with anything new?
    The most important way that the iMac design can be changed (and I would be an immediate buyer upon such change happening) is to make it easy to open for cleaning and upgrades. This could be simply accomplished by putting a discreet hinge along the bottom edge of the display, and corresponding pentalobe screws on the back side, along the top edge of the display. Some other internal changes would be needed such as protecting the power supply so it wouldn't be deadly. Apple has the design and engineering chops to handle this beautifully. The iMac would then have massive bragging rights over the nearly impossible to open and quite underpowered Surface Studio 2. (I wouldn't consider a Surface Studio anyway because: Windows 10.)
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 21
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,148member
    I never liked the toy look of the first iMac's nor the art deco styled lamp model, but that first LCD iMac G5, now that G5 had me hook line and sinker. Up until last year I had an iMac on my desk (various generations).

    Great machines.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 21
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,458member
    You remember that it had no removable media at all.
    It came with 2 (12Mbit/s) USB ports, which people used for their USB memory sticks.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 21
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,880administrator
    You remember that it had no removable media at all.
    It came with 2 (12Mbit/s) USB ports, which people used for their USB memory sticks.

    Not until about 2001. Zip drives were available shortly after launch, but USB sticks took about another year for launch, and another year for any kind of real availability.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 21
    crowleycrowley Posts: 6,018member
    I’m still waiting on the true iMac update. First, they haven’t update the design in over 10 years, which is just BS.
    Hopefully the design of the Pro Display and its stand will give them some inspiration for the future iMacs.  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 21
    robomepp said:
    P_Devil said:
    Their computers are just over priced and always late to the game. A underpowered $6000 MacPro, and 2 year old iMac Pro and a 10 year old design iMac with outdated peripherals. 
    It's been 21 years since the iMac was first available for purchase, it's been at least 30 years of hearing comments like this. Apple is not going to license macOS for use outside of their own hardware. They tried that for a bit and have said it would never happen again. The main iMac design hasn't really been changed since 2004 but how are you going to change an all-in-one design with the logic board behind the display? You might as well say that all desktop tower designs have remained the same since the late 80's. Can't they come up with anything new?
    The most important way that the iMac design can be changed (and I would be an immediate buyer upon such change happening) is to make it easy to open for cleaning and upgrades. 
    They had such a case in 2004, then it was taken away.

    https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/iMac+G5+17-Inch+Model+A1058+Rear+Panel+Replacement/960
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