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It was 20 years ago today

The world changed 20 years ago. Not in a major way perhaps. But definitely in a way that will have touched your life at some point since.

On May 6 1998, the late Steve Jobs stood on a stage and announced the launch of a new computer: the iMac.

The iMac wasn’t just the product that helped save Apple. It wasn’t even just the product that changed the direction for computer design forever. The original Bondi Blue launched both a new design culture and a naming convention that Apple – and others – have followed ever since.

When Steve Jobs returned to the company he’d founded, it’s fair to say Apple was in a mess. Losing money hand over fist, with a product range that was equal parts unloved and confusing, Apple was only a few more poor decisions away from disappearing completely.

One of Jobs’ first acts upon returning was to consolidate the product offering, decreeing that Apple should focus on a quadrant of products.

A desktop each for the professional and home markets, and the same for laptops (*). The iMac was to sit in the “desktop for home” quarter.

When the iMac appeared, nobody had seen the like of it before. Resembling a portable TV – complete with handle in the top – and a CD drive for a mouth. The case was translucent, all the cable connector points were hidden under a tasteful little flap and – horror of horrors – it didn’t have a floppy drive. Oh there was uproar about that at the time, I’ll tell you that for nothing.

The mouse was awful though. A stupid little round thing which constantly twisted, leading to confusion if you didn’t pay attention.

But there was no denying the beauty of the package as a whole. Even with that stupid mouse.

“Today we brought romance and innovation back into the industry. iMac reminds everyone of what Apple stands for” – Steve Jobs, speaking at the launch.

The ‘i’ in fact stood for Internet which, back in 1998, was at the tipping point between “geeks only” and “every man and his dog”. Alongside the funky design, the iMac’s main selling point was the ease with which a user could get online.

The adverts of the time famously declared there was no third step to getting online: Step 1: Plug in the power, Step 2: Plug in the Internet cable, Step 3: There is no Step 3. Slightly disingenuous as you still had to fire up the computer and ‘dial up’ but the point was made never the less. Everything you needed was in the one box: speakers, modem, all the software you needed to get online, a large (for the time) 15″ monitor, USB ports, Ethernet port etc.

Originally only available in a translucent green that Apple named “Bondi Blue”, it wasn’t long until a variety of different colours were released to capitalise on the machine’s success.

January 1999 saw Blueberry, Grape, Tangerine, Lime and Strawberry added to the mix, with the Special Edition Graphite following soon afterwards. The original colours were then replaced with Ruby, Sage, Indigo and Snow (are you keeping up?), with the first two of those then replaced again with the outlandish and garish Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power.

Just before the original G3 iMac was replaced in 2002 – with the angle-poise lamp G4 iMac –┬áthe colours had been cut to just Indigo, Snow and Graphite. Which was probably for the best.

The future of Apple – and the world domination that was to come – wasn’t exclusively because of the launch of the iMac, the iPhone played a rather large role in that. But it is fair to claim that the road to recovery for the Company began on that stage in 1998.

In my office where I’m writing this post, I can see two of the original Bondi Blue iMacs stacked in a corner. One – last time I checked – remains fully-functional, albeit slower than I remember. The other? Well, it sits there bereft of an interior, after I ripped them all out (a surprisingly-difficult endeavour) with the thought of putting a fish tank inside (a bit like this).

Maybe one day.

* compare this to Apple’s current offering: four desktop machines (Mac Mini, iMac, iMac Pro and Mac Pro) and 17 laptop varieties (2x 13″ MacBook Pros with and 2x without Touch Bar, 2x 15″ MacBook Pros with TouchBar and the older model MacBook Pro; 2x MacBook models, each available in four colours; 2x MacBook Air models), and it’s a shame that simplicity appears to be eluding them at the moment.

The image at the top of this page is taken from here. All rights recognised and respected. Image may have been cropped to fit the available space.

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