Some may remember the original Mac. It was nicknamed the ‘128K Mac’ because it literally had only 128K of memory (RAM). To imagine that a computer could run on so little memory is unthinkable today, especially when your cell phone has 1000 times, or more, the memory. To put it into perspective, 128K of RAM is 128,000 bytes, or 0.128 megabytes, or 0.000128 gigabytes. Today’s iMac ships with a minimum of 1 Gigabyte of RAM. That’s over 1 billion bytes, or 8000 times an original Mac.
The first Mac had no hard drive, only a floppy drive that used 400K 3.5-inch disks. Powering the first Mac was a Motorola 68000 processor running at 8Mhz, nowhere near a gigahertz. The screen measured only 9 inches diagonally but displayed a high-resolution black and white image (remember, the Mac OS was one of the first to use a Graphical User Interface – a GUI – and brought about the desktop publishing revolution). Included in the package was a small keyboard, without a numeric keypad, and a single button mouse (one of the best Apple ever made). All of this massive speed and storage sold for $2495.
Over the years, Apple has produced many variations of the all-in-one design. Just to name a few: Mac Plus, Mac SE, Mac SE/30, Classic, Classic II, Color Classic, LC 500 series, Performa 5000 series, and the luxurious Anniversary Mac (which is an amazing story in itself). All of these models had one thing in common, Apple beige (except for the Anniversary Mac). But that was about to change.
In 1998, Apple was a shadow of its former self. To say that Apple was dying is a bit over dramatic, but they had no clear direction and were losing money. Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and soon became interim CEO (he was nicknamed the iCEO after the iMac was released). He killed many open projects and the deal with Mac clone makers in an effort to help bring Apple back to profitability. With the end of the Mac clones, Apple needed a new machine for the ‘masses.’ Enter the iMac.
On May 6, 1998, Jobs introduced the iMac to the world. It’s hard to describe how different the iMac was at the time. It really looked like something from the Jetson’s. The original iMac is referred to as the Bondi Blue iMac because of its blue-green colored plastic case. The introduction of the iMac seemed to cause a whole new industry of colored plastics; even hamburger grills were soon after made with similar colored plastic.
What set the first iMac apart from other Macs, or even other PCs, is what it didn’t have. First and foremost was the absent floppy drive. At the time, floppy disks were waning in popularity, helped by the Zip drive (Iomega’s Zip disks could store 100MB on a cheap disk). Plus, most software at the time was being shipped on CD-ROMs.
Up until the iMac, Macs had ADB ports for keyboards and mice, plus serial ports for printers and modem. They also had SCSI ports for scanners, hard drives, and CD-ROM drives. These were all missing on the iMac. The iMac had two USB ports, a phone jack (56k modem), and an Ethernet networking port. That’s another thing the iMac created, a demand for USB peripherals (printers, scanners, keyboards, mice, etc). Before the iMac, very few peripherals had USB ports, which was surprising since USB had been around since 1995. The popularity of the iMac helped force more manufacturers into the USB arena.
The original Bondi Blue iMac had a 233Mhz Motorola G3 processor and came with 32MB of RAM and a 4GB hard drive. The built-in color screen was a very high quality 15-inch picture tube that had a very high refresh rate, giving it a very sharp image. The only negative that anyone could find with the iMac, although some reviewers didn’t like its futuristic looks, was the mouse. Known as the ‘hockey puck’ mouse, it has been voted as the worst mouse ever made, by any manufacturer. The Bondi Blue iMac originally sold for $1299.
There have been several updates to the original iMac. The ‘fruit’ iMacs came in five colors: Orange, blueberry, strawberry, grape, and lime. Next came the slot-load iMacs, which added an important feature, Firewire. Firewire is a high-speed port that gave the iMac an important advantage. It was used for expanding storage, using external high-speed hard drives, plus, it was also used by digital camcorders to transfer digital video directly to the iMac’s hard drive. This and the introduction of iMovie made the iMac a very inexpensive non-linear video-editing machine. iMovie gave the average Joe the ability to easily create videos with pro-like results. When the iMac got the SuperDrive, a DVD burner, the average Joe could also make ‘Hollywood’ style DVD movies.
The iMac continued to evolve with even more amazing industrial design with the introduction of the flat screen iMac. This iMac used the faster G4 processor and had a unique ‘desk lamp’ style moving arm holding an LCD flat panel display. I still feel that this iMac was the best-designed iMac ever. Allowing the display to move from side to side, up and down, to almost any angle was an amazing design feat. The G4 iMac came in different sizes: 15, 17, and 20-inches.
After the G4 iMac came the G5 iMac, what else. This was another breakthrough industrial design that helped set Apple apart from any other computer maker. The G5 design took a flat panel LCD display and put the computer inside it. By doing this, the screen becomes the computer, and the computer becomes the screen. It was an elegant solution that harkened back to the design of the Anniversary Mac. The G5 brought some interesting features, like a built-in iSight web camera, and wireless Bluetooth technology. By using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, plus a wireless connection to the Internet and a printer, the only wire needed is the power cord.
While the G5 processor is still a very fast chip, Apple decided to switch to Intel processors and the iMac was one of the first machines to be converted. The first Intel iMac was pretty much the same as the G5 model, just faster. The one thing that the Intel chip brought to the iMac was dual-cores. The Intel iMac was the first iMac to have more than one processor.
Today we have the latest super sleek Aluminum Intel iMacs. The new iMac starts at $1199 ($100 less than the original Bondi Blue). It has a 20-inch LCD widescreen display, 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB RAM, a 250GB hard drive, and a DVD burner. The new top-of-the-line iMac has a whopping 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM, 1,000GB of hard drive space (a terabyte), and a 24-inch HD resolution LCD screen.
It’s amazing what a decade has done to the iMac, let alone the twenty-four years since the first Mac. The evolution of the iMac has been remarkable, to say the least. Looking back, it’s hard to see where Apple might be today if it wasn’t for that cute little ‘i’ computer. Happy Birthday iMac.
Happy 10th Birthday, iMac!