The iMac G3, originally released as the iMac, is a series of Macintosh personal computers that Apple Computer sold from 1998 to 2003. The iMac was Apple's first major product release under its CEO Steve Jobs, who had recently returned to the financially troubled company he co-founded after eleven years away. Jobs reorganized the company and simplified the product line. The iMac was designed as Apple's new consumer desktop product—an inexpensive, consumer-oriented computer that would easily connect to the Internet.

iMac G3
Three-quarters view of a bulbous, blue-and-white plastic computer. The front is dominated by a black computer screen, and tapers off in the back.
Original "Bondi Blue" iMac
ManufacturerApple Computer
Product familyiMac
Release dateAugust 15, 1998; 25 years ago (1998-08-15)
LifespanAugust 15, 1998 – March 2003 (4 years and 7 months)
Introductory priceUS$1,299 (equivalent to $2,330 in 2022)
DiscontinuedMarch 2003; 21 years ago (2003-03)
SuccessoriMac G4

The iMac's all-in-one design is based around a cathode-ray tube display; the G3 processor, components, and connectivity were all included in a single enclosure. Apple's head of design Jony Ive and his team developed a teardrop-shaped, translucent plastic case that was a radical departure from the look of the company's previous computers. The company developed new working methods to quickly finish the computer, and new workflows they used for designing future products. The iMac G3 eschewed legacy technologies like serial ports and floppy disk drives in favor of CD-ROMs and USB ports.

Critical response to the iMac was mixed; journalists said the machine would be good for new computer users but bemoaned the lack of legacy technology, and said the mouse and keyboard were uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the iMac was an immediate commercial success, with more than 5 million lifetime sales as Apple's fastest-selling computer.

The original model was revised several times, improving the processor speed, the amount of random-access memory, hard drive space, and other capabilities. The iMac is credited with saving Apple from financial ruin, and for turning personal computers from niche, technical products to mass-consumer fashion. Other computers and consumer products appropriated the translucent plastic look, leading to legal action from Apple. The iMac G3 series was succeeded by the iMac G4, and the iMac G3's position in education markets was succeeded by the eMac.

Background edit

In the late 1990s, Apple Computer was experiencing severe financial difficulties. At the end of 1997, the company was selling 1.8 million Macs per year, in comparison with 4.5 million two years earlier. Apple's sales were compromised by licensed Mac systems that undercut and out-performed Apple's own products.[1] Apple was unable to quickly distribute its products and compete in the low-cost computer market, and entirely abandoned the sector.[2]

In December 1996, Apple purchased the NeXT computer company, founded by Steve Jobs. In the deal, he returned to Apple, the company he had co-founded and had been ousted from in 1985.[3] The NeXTSTEP operating system became the foundation for Apple's next-generation Mac OS X.[4] Jobs returned to Apple as an advisor but the company's board of directors dismissed CEO Gil Amelio on July 9, 1997, and Jobs succeeded him as interim CEO.[5][6]

Jobs streamlined the company into profitability by cost-cutting, but the company still needed new hit products.[7] He planned to reduce Apple's extensive and confusing computer offerings, to four products: a laptop and desktop model each for professionals and consumers.[8] The planned consumer-oriented desktop computer became the iMac, to be inexpensive and with easy Internet connectivity.[9] The engineering and design teams had less than one year to deliver a finished product.[10]

Design edit

In 1996, Apple's industrial design director Robert Brunner left the company and was succeeded by 29-year-old Jony Ive, who inherited the award-winning design team.[11] Ive was dispirited with Apple's leadership and also considering leaving.[12] At a meeting announcing Jobs's appointment as Apple's CEO, Jobs told staff Apple's problems stemmed from its poor products. Ive noted Jobs's focus on making industrial design a core part of Apple's comeback strategy.[13] Ive and Jobs quickly developed a rapport, and Jobs retained Apple's industrial design team under Ive's leadership.[14]

Initially, Jobs wanted the new consumer desktop to be a network computer—a cheap, low-powered terminal without disk drives that would connect to Internet servers. Ive's team was given Jobs's specifications for the new product in September 1997: it should be a distinctive, all-in-one computer with a price of around $1,200, much lower than the $2,000 (equivalent to $3,600 in 2022) for entry-level models.[15] The design team tried to discern what objects conveyed the emotions they wanted the computer to evoke. While collaboratively developing sketches, designer Doug Satzger drew an ovoid drawing based on his earlier work on Thomson televisions. Ive and the rest of the team focused on the ovoid design, although Jobs initially rejected the look. Ive defended the design as playful and fun, and persuaded Jobs to accept the idea. Jobs began carrying a foamcore model of the computer around the Apple campus to show it off.[16]

Earlier Apple products featuring translucent plastics such as the eMate 300 influenced the look of the iMac.

When discussing the idea of a machine inspiring positive emotions, the designers mentioned colorful candy dispensers.[17] Materials tests with solid plastics looked cheap, so they made the case translucent.[18] Translucent hardware design was not new to Apple's products; the Power Macintosh 8600 and 9600 tower computers had translucent green latches, and the LaserWriter 8500, eMate 300, and Studio Display have more extensive translucent colored plastics. Former Apple senior designer Thomas Meyerhoffer described the eMate's plastics as accessible and distinctive.[19] To Ive, the translucency "came across as cheeky" but emphasizes the aesthetic design of the internal components also. Inspiration came from translucent items the designers brought to the office such as a piece of greenish-blue beach glass. This "Bondi blue" object inspired the color Jobs selected for the first iMac.[20]

Apple's design team radically overhauled its processes to meet the tight deadline. In the past, they had sent two-dimensional blueprints or hand-drawn sketches to toolmakers to create molds, a laborious process that could take months. Instead, Apple relied on computer-aided design (CAD) using the three-dimensional (3D) modeling program Alias Wavefront to sculpt models, with CNC milling machines and primitive 3D printers used to create physical mockups. Apple's product designers wrote software to allow the Wavefront 3D models to be brought into Unigraphics, a program that was used in aerospace design. This process allowed the engineers to compare 3D models of the computer's components with the casing, speeding up the process of finding a workable combination of external and internal elements.[21]

Jobs began to reconsider the network computer concept as similar products struggled in the market. He was persuaded to recalibrate the project as a full-featured computer with optical and hard drives.[22][23] The finalized iMac's components and 15-inch (38 cm) cathode-ray tube (CRT) display are enclosed within a plastic shell. The computer features translucency throughout, such as the small foot to raise the computer, and the power cord resembling condensation on glass.[24] Port labels and regulatory markings have holographic stickers.[25] The design team added a recessed handle to the back of the computer to make it more personal and approachable for new computer users.[24] The cost of the casing was more than three times that of a typical computer[26] but Ive credited Jobs with intuitively understanding the design aims and not demanding justification for the increased costs.[24] The keyboard and mouse were redesigned with matching translucent plastics and trim for the iMac. Ive was especially proud of the round mouse, which shows the complicated internal components that are partially hidden behind the Apple logo.[27]

Jobs wanted the new computer to be a modern, legacy-free PC without old or proprietary technology.[28] Engineers adapted the abandoned Common Hardware Reference Platform specification to speed development. This includes standard SO-DIMM RAM of Windows-based PCs, and an Open Firmware read-only memory (ROM). Previous Macintosh computers have complex, machine-specific ROMs but the new computer's instructions are loaded from memory, shortening production time.[29] The iMac has no serial ports, Apple Desktop Bus, or floppy disk drive. To replace the removed ports, the iMac has Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports, which are faster and cheaper than Apple Desktop Bus and serial ports but were very new—the standard was not finalized until after the iMac's release—and unsupported by any third-party Mac peripheral.[28][30] Jobs wagered USB would solve the problem of accessory makers abandoning the shrinking Mac market with its special connectors.[31] The iMac does not officially have an expansion slot, but early versions have a "mezzanine slot" intended only for internal use but a few third-party expansion cards, such as video card upgrades and SCSI ports, were released for it.[32] Early models have an IrDA infrared port that wirelessly connects personal digital assistants and other devices.[30] Jobs was furious the initial iMac model came with a tray-loading CD-ROM drive rather than a more-modern slot-loading drive, and nearly canceled the product launch over it. According to Jon Rubinstein, Jobs had always known about the CD tray. Jobs continued with the launch after he was assured subsequent models would include a slot-loading CD-ROM drive as soon as possible.[33]

In early 1998, representatives from the advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day were shown the new computer, codenamed "C1". Creative director Ken Segall said the agency's first impression was that the product might be too shocking to be successful.[34] Jobs was proud to show off Apple's work, saying "the back of our computer looks better than the front of [our competitors'] computers". Jobs informed Segall the internal name was "MacMan", contributed by Apple's marketing executive Phil Schiller, and solicited a study for a better name. Apple stipulated the name must contain "Mac", it must evoke easy Internet connectivity, and it must not sound portable or toy-like.[35] TBWA spent one week developing other names and Segall presented "iMac"; it is short, it identifies as Macintosh, and the i prefix suggests the Internet.[36] Jobs disliked all of the suggested names and gave the agency another week to generate more possibilities. At the next presentation, Segall once again ended with "iMac"; Jobs said he no longer hated the name but still preferred "MacMan". Segall thought he had failed, but the next day he learned Jobs had suggested the name to other employees and gotten a positive response. The product was thus named the iMac.[37]

Release edit

The iMac G3 series has a total variety of 13 colors and patterns.

Steve Jobs unveiled the iMac on May 6, 1998. The product launch echoed that of the original Macintosh in 1984. It was staged in the same location, the Flint Center for the Performing Arts at De Anza College. Jobs invited Apple founding members Steve Wozniak, Mike Markkula, and Michael Scott, and members of the original Macintosh team. After demonstrating the look of traditional computers, Jobs revealed the iMac from under a tablecloth. The computer displayed "Hello (again)" on its screen, hearkening back to the Macintosh's whimsical "Hello" introduction.[38]

Apple began shipping the iMac on August 15, 1998.[39] The computer was supported by a $100 million advertising campaign that stressed the iMac's ease of use, Internet connectivity, and striking contrast from competitors' products. Actor Jeff Goldblum narrated television advertisements that rhetorically asked if computer companies had been in "thinking jail" for making only beige products.[40] Other promotions included radio giveaways, midnight launch events, and "golden tickets" hidden in select iMacs that could be redeemed for a tour of an Apple factory.[41]

Model lineup edit

The first version of the iMac has a 233 MHz PowerPC G3 processor, ATI Rage IIc graphics, 4 GB hard drive, a tray-loading CD-ROM drive, two USB ports, networking, an infrared port, built-in stereo speakers, and headphone ports, a Bondi blue themed case, and MacOS 8.1. On October 17, the iMac was updated with faster ATI Rage Pro Turbo graphics options and MacOS 8.5.[42] A more substantial revision came in 1999, with five color themes: blueberry, strawberry, tangerine, grape, and lime. They have a 266 MHz processor and a 6GB hard drive. The IrDA port and mezzanine slot were omitted.[43]

On October 5, 1999, Apple released a new series of iMacs. Whereas the original iMac models focus on Internet connectivity, the new iMac line adds the emerging digital video (DV) market.[44] The new models resemble the previous models but with a slightly smaller enclosure; the steel casing shrouding many of the components in the previous model was removed, and the colors are lighter and the plastics clearer. The tray-loading CD-ROM drive was replaced with a slot-loading drive, a rear door allows users to easily add additional RAM, and a slot for an AirPort wireless networking card was added. Apple partnered with Harman Kardon to design the iMac's new internal speakers. Harman Kardon also produced a separate subwoofer, the iSub, which was powered by USB. The new iMacs have no fan so the components are cooled via convection and hot air is exhausted through vents around the computer's top handle.[44] Three new models were released, and some colors and features are only on certain models. The cheapest model, at $999, was produced in only one color, a 350 MHz processor, 64 MB of RAM, a better graphics chipset, and a larger hard drive. The iMac DV came in five colors and with the iMovie video editing software. It has a 400 MHz processor, two FireWire ports, a larger hard drive, and DVD-ROM optical drive. The iMac DV Special Edition came in a new color named graphite, with more RAM and a 13 GB hard drive, the largest capacity in the lineup. The iMac DV models have a VGA output port for mirroring the display on another monitor.[45][46]

On July 19, 2000, Apple released a new iMac lineup with four configurations in five colors. The base model has no FireWire port or video-out socket, came in an indigo casing, and retailed for $799. It has the same 350 MHz processor and 64 MB RAM as the previous iMac but with a larger hard drive. The iMac DV and DV+ models have a 400 MHz and 450 MHz processor, respectively, and larger hard drives; and the DV+ model has a DVD-ROM drive. The most expensive model is the iMac DV Special Edition, which had a 500 MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, a larger hard drive, and an exclusive snow color.[47]

The next iMac revision was released on February 22, 2001. The new machines came with CD-RW drives and iTunes software as Apple shifted to digital music consumption.[48] The iMac and iMac Special Edition shipped with 400 to 600 MHz processors and FireWire became standard alongside a faster graphics chipset and larger hard drives. In addition to the previous indigo (iMac) and graphite (iMac Special Edition) colors, Apple created two new patterns—Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian—intended as visual representations of music.[49]

A final revision in July 2001 have more sedate colors: indigo, graphite, and snow. These models shipped with Mac OS X, a 500-, 600-, or  700 MHz processor, up to 256 MB of RAM, and a 60 GB hard drive on the Special Edition.[50] Following the introduction of the iMac G4 in January 2002, Apple continued selling some G3-based iMac models,[51] with 500- and 600 MHz models in indigo, snow, and graphite. The indigo and graphite models were discontinued first, and the snow model was discontinued in March 2003.[52]

Reception edit

The iMac G3 received mixed reviews on release. Tech reviewers were often negative about the machine.[4][53] Hiawatha Bray said the iMac was doomed and a severe misstep from Jobs.[53] In comparison, Macworld's Andrew Gore said the iMac G3 might be as important as the original Macintosh in shifting the computing paradigm, and that Apple's "Think different" marketing campaign was not just empty talk.[54] Reporters including Newsweek's Barbara Kantrowitz and the San Francisco Chronicle's David Einstein considered it the first promising step in Apple's possible resurgence.[55][56][57]

The look of the iMac was generally praised.[58] Many reviewers compared its curved look to the recently-released Volkswagen New Beetle,[56][59] while journalist Rob Morse likened it to a "huggable", futuristic machine like R2-D2 or a toy from The Jetsons.[60] Less-positive reviews compared the iMac to an AMC Gremlin.[57]

Positive reviews highlighted the computer's ease of use for setup and operation;[55][61][62] According to Morse, the iMac felt "almost human" and approachable for a non-tech consumer.[60] While publications including CNN and PC Week considered the iMac's performance fast,[55][57][61][63] others felt the machine was underpowered, and PC World's testing showed that the machine generally performed poorer than Windows PC competitors.[64] While reviews noted that general consumers and new computer buyers would be well-served by the machine,[65] reviews were less sure that it could fit into an office environment, especially if it was not networked.[56][58][63][66]

Criticism focused on the iMac's lack of legacy ports.[4] Gore considered the loss of the floppy drive acceptable but wished that the CD-ROM module, which was identical to that of the PowerBook notebook, could be swapped. He said the lack of expansion slots limited the computer's future potential.[67] The Washington Post's John Breeden highlighted the lack of SCSI for making the iMac unsuitable for office work.[66] Other reviewers bemoaned the high cost of external replacements for the internal floppy disk drive,[68] low amount of installed memory,[58] and its tinny speakers.[66]

Another major complaint with the iMac was its original mouse and keyboard, which reviewers said were small and difficult to use comfortably,[69] calling it an example of style over substance.[62] The shape and ease of use of the mouse was derisively compared to a hockey puck, and its cable was frequently considered too short.[70] The mouse's round shape made it difficult for users to discern its correct orientation.[27] The mouse and keyboard were later replaced with the Apple Pro Mouse and Apple Pro Keyboard for the 2000-revision iMacs.[71] Other complaints included the lack of software and USB accessories, incompatibility with Microsoft Windows, and price.[72] Later iMac G3 models addressed some of the product's perceived shortcomings.[4][73] As the product line aged, reviews noted the new models offered few advancements over previous versions.[50]

The iMac won numerous design competitions and awards, including Gold at the 1999 D&AD Design Awards in the UK,[40] and "Object of the Year" by The Face.[74] iMac G3 models are held in the collections of museums including The Henry Ford, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Powerhouse Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.[75]

Sales edit

The iMac G3 was an immediate hit with consumers,[72] with 278,000 units sold in the first six weeks, and 800,000 units after 20 weeks. It was the top-selling desktop computer in US stores the first three months of its release.[43] Nearly half of iMac sales were to first-time computer buyers, and nearly 20 percent were Microsoft Windows users who had switched to the Mac.[76] The quarter the iMac shipped, Macintosh computer sales grew year-on-year for the first time since late 1995, and saw the Mac grow its worldwide market share from 3 to 5 percent.[7] Apple went from losing $878 million in 1997 to making its first profit in three years in 1998.[39] The iMac continued to be a strong seller for Apple as it returned to profitability, with 3.7 million units sold by July 2000,[77] and shipping the five-millionth iMac in April 2001.[78]

Legacy edit

The iMac G3 became a computing icon. Paul Atkinson wrote that the original Macintosh made a huge impact on computing, but it had not affected the look of computers; for decades, personal computers were defined by unimaginative, beige boxes. The iMac, in contrast, did not affect the way consumers used computers but its design changed the idea of the appearance of computers. Apple defined itself in opposition to its competitors, who rushed to produce computers that followed the iMac's design language, adding similar translucent or colored plastic to their designs.[79][80] The iMac mirrored contemporary design trends in its use of streamlining and curves; one designer said the focus on rounding helped make objects more approachable and personal.[81]

Apple protected the distinctive iMac design with legal action against competing computer makers who attempted to imitate the iMac, such as eMachines' eOne.[82] The iMac made computers fashionable rather than utilitarian,[83] and helped popularize USB and hasten the demise of the floppy disk.[39] Following Apple's lead, other computer makers focused on "legacy-free" personal computers.[84][85]

The iMac's massive success helped buoy Apple while it released a modern operating system and refreshed the rest of the Mac lineup, and maintained Apple's position as a leader of the emerging digital audio and video sector.[4] It also established a formula of quickly polishing a new Apple product through rapid iterative updates.[86] Macworld noted the iMac saved Apple financially and proved Apple could still produce exciting, innovative products.[39] The iMac also served as the public's introduction to Jony Ive, making him one of the world's most-celebrated designers.[80][83] The product's name influenced many of Apple's later products—such as iPod, iLife, and iPhone[39]—and for a time defined Apple's consumer-focused product lines.[87] Apple's consumer laptop the iBook followed the iMac's lead in a lack of legacy technology and use of colorful, translucent plastic.[88] The iMac was so successful in the education market Apple created a G4-powered successor named the eMac.[4]

The design influence of the iMac G3 was not limited to personal computers; by the early 2000s, multicolored, translucent plastic designs had become common among consumer designs, including microwave ovens and George Foreman Grills. USA Today called the translucence trend "electronics voyeurism".[83] Apple would follow the bulbous, candy-colored iMac G3 with the flat-panel, white iMac G4 in 2002.[39] Apple's desktop lineup remained relatively monochrome in the following years; the 2021 release of Apple silicon-based iMacs were sold in seven colors and were considered to hearken back to the iMac's colorful roots.[89][90][91]

Specifications edit

First generation edit

Model iMac (233 MHz)[92] iMac (233 MHz)[92] iMac (266 MHz)[93] iMac (333 MHz)[94]
Release date August 15, 1998 October 26, 1998 January 5, 1999 April 15, 1999
Color(s)   Bondi Blue   Blueberry   Grape   Tangerine   Lime   Strawberry
Processor 233 MHz G3 266 MHz G3 333 MHz G3
Cache 32 KB of L1 Cache and 512 KB of L2 backside cache
Memory Two SO-DIMM slots: 32 MB–256 MB PC100 SDRAM
Graphics ATI Rage IIc with 2 MB of SGRAM[43] ATI Rage Pro Turbo with 6 MB of SGRAM[43][95]
Hard drive 4 GB 6 GB
Optical drive
24x CD-ROM
Connectivity 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet
56k modem
4 Mbit/s IrDA
Peripherals USB
Audio input/output jacks
Built-in stereo speakers
Original Operating System Mac OS 8.1 (initial release) or Mac OS 8.5 Mac OS 8.5.1
Weight 40 lb (17.25 kg)
Dimensions 15.8 × 15.2 × 17.6 inch (40.1 × 38.6 × 44.7 cm)

Second generation edit

Model iMac (Slot Loading)[96] iMac (Summer 2000)[97] iMac (Early 2001)[98] iMac (Summer 2001)[99]
Release date October 5, 1999 July 19, 2000 February 22, 2001 July 18, 2001
Colors   Blueberry   Grape   Tangerine   Lime   Strawberry   Graphite   Indigo   Ruby   Sage   Graphite   Snow   Indigo   Graphite   Blue Dalmatian  ✿  Flower Power   Indigo   Graphite   Snow
Processor speed

350 or 400 MHz G3

350, 400, 450, or 500 MHz G3

400, 500, or 600 MHz G3

500, 600, or 700 MHz G3

Cache 512 KB of L2 Cache 512 KB of L2 Cache or 256 KB of L2 Cache 256 KB of L2 Cache
Memory Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
64 MB–512 MB
Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
64 MB–1 GB
Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
64 MB–1 GB
Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
128 MB–1 GB
Graphics ATI Rage 128 VR with 8 MB of SDRAM[46] ATI Rage 128 Pro with 8 MB of SDRAM[46] ATI Rage 128 Pro with 8 MB of SDRAM
ATI Rage 128 Ultra with 16 MB of SDRAM
ATI Rage 128 Ultra with 16 MB of SDRAM
Hard drive 6 GB, 10 GB or 13 GB 7 GB, 10 GB, 20 GB or 30 GB 10 GB, 20 GB, or 40 GB 20 GB, 40 GB or 60 GB
Optical drive
Connectivity 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet
56k V.90 modem
AirPort ready
Peripherals USB
FireWire (except 350 MHz models)
Audio input/output jacks
Built-in stereo speakers
Video out
Original Operating System Mac OS 8.6 Mac OS 9.0.4 Mac OS 9.1 Mac OS 9.1 and Mac OS X 10.0.4[50]
Weight 34.7 lb (15.7 kg)
Dimensions 15.0 × 15.0 × 17.1 inch (38.1 × 38.1 × 43.5 cm)

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External links edit