It’s 20 years since Steve Jobs publicly unveiled the iMac. While today it looks every bit as dated as Ally McBeal and the Teletubbies, it was arguably the first step in Apple surviving and thriving as a mainstream consumer tech firm.
As hideous as the shape and color may have been in retrospect, the original model was designed (by Jonathan Ive) to appeal to consumers in a couple of ways. The garish colours stood out in a world of beige computers that inherently made people feel of dull jobs. And building much of the computer into the monitor (including speakers and a CD-ROM tray), while hardly an original idea, appealed to people who didn’t want multiple boxes and cables cluttering up their home or office.
It was also an internet ready machine, with a built-in modem and ports for both telephone line and Ethernet connections. That proved well-timed: within a couple of years of the iMac’s release, the majority of Americans would be online.
As Apple Insider notes, another piece of future-proofing in the new machine was including USB ports rather than dedicated sockets for different types of peripheral. That said, the bundled mouse being disc-shaped was certainly a misfire.
The original models didn’t exactly become a fixture in homes around the world: within four years flat-screen technology allowed for a far slimmer redesign that’s not that different to today’s iMacs.
But the real legacy of the iMac was that it was specifically aimed at people who weren’t interested in what was going on inside the casing and were happy to pay a premium for something that was ready to use and looked good (if only by the standards of the day). That Apple found this strategy was indeed viable was no doubt a key step towards developing the iPhone and iPad and in turn playing a significant role in smartphones and tablets being widely adopted consumer devices.