25th Anniversary of the iMac

Steven Levy, in a 1998 profile for Newsweek that holds up startlingly well:

“Look at that!” says Steve Jobs as he pulls his Mercedes into a parking space. He’s pointing at a new Volkswagen Beetle, and as soon as he parks, he dashes over, circling the shiny black Bug, taking the measure of a well-publicized update of once great product design. “They got it right,” he concludes.

Last Wednesday Jobs himself received a more thunderous thumbs-up at the announcement of Apple Computer’s successor to its own hall-of-fame classic, the original Macintosh: a machine designed for consumers dubbed the iMac (only Apple would dare to lowercase the “I” in Internet). The crowd in Cupertino, Calif.’s Flint Center — site of the historic Mac launch 14 years ago — largely consisted of Apple employees. But due to an industrial-strength cone of silence shrouding the new product, few had been aware of its existence. So after a morale-boosting slide show documenting the company’s new profits, and a demonstration of the speed of its sleek new laptops, the crowd went bonkers when interim CEO Jobs, in a rare appearance in a business suit, literally unveiled a piece of hardware that blends sci-fi shimmer with the kitsch whimsy of a cocktail umbrella. As distinctively curvy as the Beetle, dressed in retro-geeky, translucent plastic, the iMac (due to ship in August) is not only the coolest-looking computer introduced in years, but a chest-thumping statement that Silicon Valley’s original dream company is no longer somnambulant.

That first iMac shipped 25 years ago this week. No amount of praise heaped upon it is sufficient. It reestablished the Mac platform, and paved the way for everything the entire company has since accomplished. (The Macintosh platform was younger then (14) than the iPhone is today (16), an observation that I find rather upsetting.)

This line from Larry Ellison, then an Apple board member, at the invitation of Jobs, defines Apple as much as it does Jobs personally:

Yes, his demeanor can be alarmingly frank — he can sometimes glance at an employee’s hard-won accomplishment and sneer, “This is a ‘D’.” But critics who focus on the brutality of his assessments miss the point: Jobs’s verbal boot camp can catalyze previously untapped greatness. “There’s too much emphasis on this style issue,” says Larry Ellison. “Steve is obsessed with quality, and that can make him uncompromising, but he gets results.”

As Jobs himself would soon say, “Design is how it works.” The original iMac exemplifies that. Yes, everyone noticed first what it looked like. But it was an insanely great computer.

See Also: Umar Shakir’s copiously illustrated retrospective for The Verge of every major iMac design.

Wednesday, 16 August 2023