BitDepth 643 - September 02

Ten years ago, Apple was a very different company and the iMac was its unlikely saviour.
Ten years of iMac

Ten years ago, Apple put the common "i" on its consumer mac and created an icon.

A decade is a long time by any measure, but in the computer industry, which makes dog years feel sluggish, it's an eternity.
In August 1998, Apple introduced a new computer that changed their flagging fortunes. It's hard to imagine the Apple of the iPod and iPhone on the ropes, but in 1998, the company looked like a boxer on the ropes, getting pummelled.
This was, after all, a time when Wired Magazine put a multi-hued Apple logo on its cover encircled by thorns with a single word, "Pray."
Back then, there wasn't an "i" anything, only the lingering feeling that the company that had put the personal in computing was out on its feet, too stubborn to fall to the mat.

This was the Apple of the ridiculous Performas, a range of computers that only the most obsessive of Macheads could figure out that seemed to change models with the addition of another stick of memory or a change in hard drives.
In the wider computing world, computing was either done on a desk with a tower and a monitor or on the move with a hefty laptop.
Into this mix of largely beige product, Apple took a desperate but carefully aimed jab with the unlikeliest of machines.

The iMac cometh
The original iMac was a chubby little bulb in a hue that wasn't exactly blue or green that Apple called bondi blue after a beach in Australia. The first of designer Jonathan Ive's successful designs for the company, it was an agreeable looking computer that looked as if it belonged in a home, not in a cubicle.
The first iMac wasn't the fastest Mac nor was it the best equipped. It shipped with a middling 233mhz PowerPC processor and 32MB of RAM, the CD drive was read only, a mistake that the company wouldn't correct for years and dispensed with Apple's traditional serial and SCSI ports in favour of the new USB port specification.

This was the Macintosh that shipped with the worst mouse ever made (from the company that popularised the mouse as a computing device), a horrid little disc shaped obscenity that managed to be both painful and clumsy to use.
Long before flash drives, Apple basically killed off the floppy with this model and pointed to the built-in modem with a nervous smile and said, "Internet."
It's easy now to look back and see the obviousness of that move, but it was both unheard of and unappreciated. New iMac owners went out and bought USB connected floppy drives until Internet speed technologies caught up.

Design drives profit
But none of these daring changes were the reason that the iMac reversed the company's faltering finances. This was the first Macintosh in years that could be described as charming.
Channelling the cute utility of the original 128k Mac, it could be moved around using a handle built into the pear shaped case and stood in stark contrast to the boxy sameness of the rest of the company's product line.
The romance built into the iMac went well beyond Apple, inspiring a surge in colourful plastic in consumer devices that still hasn't subsided.

The iMac took Apple from a US$878 million loss in 1997 to profits of $414 million in 1998 and the company hasn't had a loss making year since.
Since the computer's introduction, Apple has evolved the iMac design and technology, building the concept of an all-in-one computer through a 'pot and sunflower' shape to today's flatscreen device.
Along the way, it has driven fundamental changes in the expectations consumers have of a home computer and encouraged every computer manufacturer to think about what their boxes look like as well as what they build into them.

The Apple computer of today is much more than the Macintosh, with hundreds of millions of iPods and millions of iPhone in the hands of consumers who use all kinds of computers, but the design inspiration of that game changing Mac remains present in all of Apple's devices and more than a few from the company's competitors.
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