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.
Even twenty years later, I still like the design of the original iMac. In fact, despite not being a desktop guy, I love all the various iterations of iMac designs through the years …
I’m officially old. The first PCs were all desktops, so that’s what I owned in the early 80s. Including the original Macintosh, a machine that was already a radical rethink of the hardware as well as the software. Keyboard and mouse aside, it was an all-in-one (AIO) design, something that was a radical move at the time.
By the time the iMac came along, I was already eyeing a third-party portable version of the Macintosh. A year later, Apple did it officially with the Macintosh Portable and I bought one.
But much as I was a laptop guy, I always admired the designs of the iMac. The first one was essentially an update of the original Macintosh design. Rounded rather than square. Colorful rather than beige. But the same AIO form factor, the same carrying handle and the same cute look.
And it didn’t just look good, it also used the latest spec. Apple had the courage to abandon what was then the standard form of data storage – floppy drives – in favor of an optical drive. It dropped support for serial, ADB and SCSI ports and offered instead those new-fangled USB ports, the first computer to introduce them.
With the iMac G4, Apple reinvented the form factor from scratch. The CRT monitor was replaced by a flat-screen LCD one, and we got what I still think of today as one of the cutest PC designs ever.
Apple could have simply made a slimmer version of the G3, and I think it would have been well-received. But at a time when flatscreen displays were an exciting new technology, it decided to make a real feature of it – while still retaining the convenience of an AIO form factor.
The G4 was not only a great-looking machine, the flexibility of the screen position made it a real win on the usability front too. Apple’s ads for the machine also helped turn a really stylish look into a playful image.
Initially marketed as ‘the new iMac,’ it only got its G4 branding after the launch of the G5.
With the iMac G5, Apple once again did a radical redesign – giving us the first version of the modern iMac form factor.
By mounting the logic board and optical drive behind the display, Apple was effectively able to make the computer itself invisible: it looked like a display and nothing more. This was again a radical design move at the time, and one that really worked for me.
Apple also included a much more advanced cooling system with variable-speed fans controlled by the operating system, making it virtually silent at low CPU loads.
I even bought an old one for pennies as a kitchen Mac for a couple of years, where it did solid work as a music player and recipe book while still looking modern enough to fit contemporary decor.
The first Intel iMac retained the white polycarbonate design, but was followed by an aluminum version already recognizable as a close relative of the current iMac.
A unibody version followed in 2009, bringing us a sleeker design and the first 27-inch model with what was then a radical new 16:9 aspect ratio. Today, we take that for granted, but I can still remember how utterly fantastic the widescreen design looked at the time.
This form factor remained essentially unchanged for three years, which again I think is testament to how right the design was at the time.
With the Late 2012 model, Apple pulled off a clever optical illusion: a bulging-back design that made the iMac look wafer thin from the edges. That illusion rapidly dissipated when you looked at it side-on, but it was a pleasing look at an angle, and a neat update to what was by then a classic design.
And that’s pretty much the same design the iMac has today, with the space gray color of the iMac Pro the only major visual differentiator for the latest generation.
I don’t think there’s a single model I wouldn’t be happy to give house-room even in a modern flat. Each variant was great design for its time, and pulls off the remarkable trick of still looking good today.
Do you share my view that each of the iMac designs has stood the test of time? Or do you think some of them look too clunky today? Do you have a favorite? As ever, let us know in the comments. And if you haven’t already done so, check out our detailed look back at the evolution of the machine.