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Apple Cans iMac G3 Line - Looking Back On The Mac That Saved Apple

by , 1:50 PM EST, March 19th, 2003

Apple has officially canned the CRT-based iMac G3 product line. The news first broke yesterday that Apple had pulled the iMac from the Apple Store, and mainstream publications such as the Washington Post have since gotten confirmation from Apple that the product has been retired.

I covered the initial rollout of the iMac at CompUSA in August of 1998 for The Mac Observer (we were still called Webintosh at the time). At that time, the Mac market was a vastly different place than it is now. Cloning had but recently ended with many negative feelings on the issue, there were no Apple retail stores and CompUSA's Store-Within-A-Store was brand new, as was the newfangled USB technology that had been utterly rejected by the Wintel world. At the same time, while the 233 MHz iMac was on the low end of the MHz spectrum then offered, Apple's product line on the whole was easily the fastest on the planet. The G3 spanked competing technologies for Intel and AMD, and was running neck and neck with those companies' offerings in terms of MHz, as well. Despite that, Apple sales were falling, having dropped to US$5.9 billion in fiscal 1998, compared to US$7.1 billion in 1997, though Apple's profits were still very healthy.

The iMac was seen as a revolutionary design doomed to failure by the PC press, and even by many Mac fans. Editorial after editorial was published decrying the lack of an ADB bus, the lack of USB peripherals, the lack of PCI slots, the all-in-one design, the absurd and unprofessional color of the unit (real computers were boxy and beige, or so the prevailing wisdom went), and the lack of a floppy drive. It was the latter that particularly got most critics, especially Windows users who were used to relying on a floppy boot disk to revive their Wintel machines. Floppy disks were also perceived by many as being the most popular way to transfer files between PCs, even though most file transfer needs has actually long outgrown the capacity of a floppy.

Despite all this people lined up to see the Bondi-Blue wonder. From our report in 1998:

We also spoke to some of the customers who were lining up to see and buy this incredible new computer. These customers were a curious mix of Mac users looking to upgrade, Mac fanatics wishing to cheer Apple on, PC users who were thinking of making The Switch, and the curious who were wondering what 15 other people were staring at. In fact, there was a constant crowd of 10-17 people crowding around the single demonstration unit (all other units for sale were being kept in boxes). The closest thing we have ever seen to the interest and excitement surrounding the iMac was the demonstration of a brand new Windows game such as Quake II or Unreal, and those paled in comparison.

Check out the full article for a contextual look at the iMac's introduction, its reception, and the rest of the industry.

History has since shown us that the iMac was a success. The Washington Post says that some 10 million of the units were eventually sold before Apple canceled the model yesterday, and it is a fact that USB became a hit after Apple embraced the technology as the only way to connect peripherals to the unit. Four and a half years later, the PC world is just now beginning to leave off floppy drives, and style and fashion have become an expected part of computer design. Indeed, many have credited the iMac with saving Apple, something I certainly believe.

Most recently, IDC analyst Roger Kay, an analyst whose opinions we have often derided in the past, told C|Net: "It meant that they were able to maintain share instead of stumbling along or going out of business. Without the iMac, they would have gone into a nose dive."

Having saved Apple, revolutionized the computing industry, and influenced industrial design in many other areas, now the li'l-unit-that-could can retire, and make its inevitable transition into a collector's item. Join our forum members in discussing the end of the original iMac.

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