iMac Turns 5 Today: Looking Back At Launch, Effect Of iMac
It was five years ago today, on a Saturday, when Apple was reborn. Few of us realized what the iMac was going to do for Apple, to the industry, or the impact it would have on industrial design throughout the consumer products world, but it was five years ago today that Apple released the Bondi Blue iMac. It had a 233 MHz G3 processor, a built-in 15" CRT, 32 MB of RAM, a 4 GB hard drive, 24X CD-ROM drive, a 56k modem, and 10/100 Ethernet. More importantly, the original iMac's case was made of something really bizarre, colored plastic!
Hot sales, Big speed claims
The rollout happened mainly at CompUSA stores across the country, with Micro Centers, Apple VARs, and a few other retailers also participating. The launch was held on a Saturday, and was hyped heavily in the weeks leading up to the release. Many CompUSAs had volunteer Mac users assisting with the release, and most of the stores sold out of inventory Saturday morning. It was a Big Deal. In particular, Apple hyped both the speed of the G3 and the then low-price of the iMac, US$1,299, saying that the iMac was up to 40% faster than the fastest Pentium II processor available at the time. From a press release dated August 13th, 1998:
Going back to CompUSA
On a personal note, covering the rollout of the iMac was the first major bit of writing I did as the new editor-in-chief of what was still called Webintosh at the time (we changed the name to The Mac Observer in December of 1998).
We were invited to come in to a local CompUSA to cover the event. We found a constant crowd of people, and what ended up being much more important, an air of excitement for the Mac platform that we hadn't seen in some time, all due to the Bondi Blue Wonder. From our Feature Report on the rollout:
[Check out our full story from August 15th, 1998, for more information on the iMac rollout.]
For some, change is hard
There are two things in particular I find very interesting from that passage. For one, note that even then "The Switch" was capitalized, some four years before Apple's Switch campaign.
Also, note the newness of the iMac's design expressed in the first paragraph. I specifically remember writing that because so many people thought the iMac was ugly, or just plain "too different" when it was announced. There were Mac users in that chorus, too. Go on, be honest: Were you one of them?
It's easy to take the all-in-one form factor for granted today, but at the time the iMac was almost a novelty in its difference. No ADB, no SCSI, built-in monitor just like in the original Mac, no floppy drive, and some newfangled thing called USB; at the time, most people, including most Mac users, were very critical of Apple choosing to go with USB-only.
It's five years later, and even toaster makers like Dell are considering dropping floppy drives, at least on some Wintel models. At the time, however, dropping the floppy was considered an insane move by Apple. Even today you can still find an occasional Wintel user who honestly thinks that Macs are useless because they don't have a floppy. For those keeping score at home, this is largely because floppies were long the only form of boot disk Windows could use, and that was a major issue for Wintel users who took for granted that computers regularly crashed. The Mac world, however, quickly forgot about this absence, and most of us have never looked back.
There were also very few USB peripherals for either the Mac or PC at the time, and almost everyone lamented the fact that this would be an almost insurmountable problem for people stuck with an iMac. This was especially so since the iMac had no PCI slots. "Without expansion," cried the masses, "what can you ever do with the darned thing?!?!"
Of course, hind sight shows us that Apple literally set the world of USB on fire, and a veritable flood of USB products began to hit the market almost immediately after the launch of the iMac. A few months after that, USB products started appearing for Windows, too. Five years later, USB is the standard for most peripherals in both the Mac and Wintel markets. Eventually, even the lack of PCI slots became a non-issue.
To everything, turn, turn, turn...
The iMac was the turning point for Apple. The rollout of the unit was a huge success, and the original G3 line of iMacs became one of the best selling computer models in history. More importantly, it reinvigorated Apple, Mac users and buyers, Mac peripheral makers, and Mac software developers. Companies that had left the Mac platform in droves, both customers and developers, began returning almost immediately, and new companies that had never before catered to the Mac suddenly started releasing Mac USB products. It was a whole new world for Apple and the Mac platform, and it happened virtually overnight.
The iMac rollout also marked the point at which we started seeing fewer "beleaguered" comments aimed at Apple from the mainstream. The critics were still there to criticize the iMac, and Apple's next major evolution, the clam-shell iBook, many of whom continued to claim that Apple was obviously about to die, but other less obtuse writers and reporters started covering Apple with a new positive light. Certainly Apple wasn't out of the woods yet, but the trees had suddenly thinned considerably.
That's not bad for a computer that many dismissed as worthless and weak when it was announced.