The iMac G3 is one of the most iconic computers that has ever existed - and it's now 20 years since Steve Jobs revealed it to the world (see the video below).
The iMac brought several major innovations, not least that it was available in various colours, or ‘flavours’ including Strawberry, Blueberry and Bondi Blue (the original 1998 colour). The keyboard and ‘hockey puck’ mouse matched the colour scheme, too. Not everybody liked the mouse...
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It’s bizarre to think that there was absolutely nothing around quite like it at the time. All-in-one PCs had been seen before, such as 1983’s not-that-portable Compaq Portable.
Beyond design, the iMac was also very important for Apple financially. It’s hard to imagine given its current cash-rich resources, but Apple was facing troubling times in the late 1990s.
1998 saw the corporation needing to return to profitability or face ruin.
Apple co-founder Jobs had left Apple under a cloud in 1995 but returned by a twist of fate when Apple bought his new computing venture NeXT. The software developed by NeXT went on to become part of the macOS software that we know so well today.
The iMac was the first major Apple product to be released under Jobs’ second Apple tenure and was the first Apple design credited to Apple’s now chief design officer, Sir Jonathan ‘Jony’ Ive.
Ive studied Industrial Design at Newcastle Polytechnic in the UK and while working for a design agency, worked on some Apple designs for laptops. Ive became a full-time Apple employee in 1992 and, after rising to head of industrial design, started on the iMac.
How did they fit everything in?
So what of the original iMac itself? Now that CRT displays are long gone, there's no getting away from the fact the iMac G3 looks rather old-fashioned.
But a CRT is a rather big component. So for Apple to be able to squeeze speakers, a CD drive (no floppy, controversial at the time), hard drive, graphics and mainboard into this shape remains rather incredible. We've actually disassembled one and all the components are incredibly tightly packed inside the case.
At the heart of the iMac was the PowerPC 750 processor, known as G3. Nowadays, of course, Macs use Intel chips but back in 1998, Intel was seven years off announcing its move to Intel. PowerPC was a 1991 alliance between Motorola, IBM and Apple. It broke up when Apple announced it would move to Intel in 2005 (Motorola left the alliance in 2004).
Later chips saw Apple use G4 and G5 to name its products. But there was never a G5 laptop (too hot, but there was a PowerMac G5) and the G6 never saw the light of day; PowerPC chips simply couldn’t compete with Intel’s performance.
The below Blueberry model is the 1999 second version with a slot-loading, rather than tray-loading, DVD-ROM drive, boasting 64MB of memory, ATI graphics, a 6GB hard drive and PowerPC 750 processor.
Goodbye floppy, hello USB
As then, Apple still remains expert in junking ports and features it no longer considers necessary. Just as now the headphone jack is history for flagship iPhones, back then not only did the ubiquitous 3.5-inch floppy drive go in the bin for the iMac, but Apple’s own Desktop Bus mouse and keyboard port was replaced by a technology called USB...and as you know, that's appeared on one or two devices since.
The iMac G3 was replaced by the "anglepoise" iMac G4 in 2002. The 2004 iMac G5 was the first of the totally flat models, although it was plastic rather than today's aluminium. And it was - of course - considerably thicker, too.
The first Intel-based iMac debuted 12 years ago, in 2006 before the chassis went all-aluminium in 2007. Things have been a little predictable since, but the recent iMac Pro saw Apple change things up more than a little.
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