Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The iMac at 25

Jason Snell (MacRumors, Hacker News):

Essentially, Jobs went back to his playbook for the original “computer for the rest of us,” the Mac, to sell simplicity. The Mac’s mouse-driven graphical interface may have changed the course of the PC world, but its all-in-one design just hadn’t clicked. Jobs decided it was time to try again.

The iMac contradicted every rule of the PC industry of the mid-’90s. Instead of being modular, it was a self-contained unit (with a built-in handle!). Beige was out, and translucent blue-green plastic was in. The iMac looked like nothing else in the computer industry.

But the iMac wasn’t just a rule-breaker when it came to looks. Jobs made a series of decisions that were surprising at the time, though he’d keep repeating them throughout his tenure at Apple. The iMac gave no consideration to compatibility or continuity and embraced promising new technology when the staid PC industry refused.


The iMac gets remembered for a lot of things, and rightly so, but it doesn’t get enough credit for essentially kick-starting the USB revolution.

USB on the original iMac was so incredibly slow compared with the I/O that previous Macs had had. If you wanted to connect an external hard drive, the iMac was the wrong Mac to buy. But many people didn’t need external storage, and USB was good enough for adding removable storage for occasional use. One peripheral I saw a lot was the Imation SuperDisk. It could read and write regular floppy disks (at increased speed) and also supported its own 120 MB disks (20% larger than the Zip disks of the time).

Stephen Hackett:

Back in 2016, I set out to collect every model of iMac G3 that was produced over the machine’s six generations. The result of that was one of my favorite projects to ever grace the pages of 512 Pixels. That page has links to all of my iMac G3 coverage, including my look back at the original’s announcement[…]

Monica Chin:

From 2002 to 2009, the iMac was consistently updated every couple of years. The gaps then began to grow: there was a span of over three years between the 2009 “unibody” iMac and the 2012 “slim” iMac and another three years before the Retina iMac in 2015. We then got the iMac Pro, but that was kind of its own thing; the real successor to the 2015 product didn’t arrive until 2021, almost six years later. That was the iMac in which Apple’s Silicon would debut.

Since then, we’ve gotten a refresh of the M1 Mac Mini, two generations of theMac Studio, and a somewhat inexplicable refresh of the 2019 Mac Pro. There’s been a new MacBook Air and a bigger MacBook Air and a whole cadre of MacBookPros. At this point, almost all of Apple’s lineup has been updated to the M2 (or M2 Pro, or M2 Max, or M2 Ultra) chip. But not the iMac.

In fact, as of this writing, Apple hasn’t updated the iMac in well over 800 days — which is the longest gap in recent memory and double the average gap between updates over its history.

Nick Heer:

New iMacs are expected in October, according to Mark Gurman, as part of the debut of the M3 lineup.

I think everyone assumed that, with Apple making its own processors for Macs, it would update them like clockwork as it did for iPhone. Then we saw that the chips themselves were on a slower cadence. And now it looks like Apple is skipping processor generations. I don’t think it’s a huge deal in this case, since the M1 is still quite fast, though it has a lower RAM ceiling.

Jim Luther:

The iMac was also Apple’s first “ROM in RAM” Macintosh where the “ROM”image containing much of the OS was on the boot disk, read into RAM, and then executed. That made updates to that code much easier.

Craig Grannell:

A whistle-stop tour through the best – and worst – moments from the iMac’s evolution.


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The biggest problem with USB 1 was trying to use then-brand-new CD burners. It was fast enough, but only barely. If another application on the Classic Mac OS ever caused a hiccup, the blank CD would be ruined. That is worse and more expensive than being impatient for r/w to a magnetic drive.

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