Apple Inc., USA. 1998. 14 1/2 x 19 x 24 in. (36 7/8 x 48 x 61 cm).

From the Exhibition:

The Interface Experience: Forty Years of Personal Computing



In 1997 Apple Computer, Inc., was steadily losing money and market share after a series of failed product launches, including its unpopular portable digital assistant device, the Apple Newton MessagePad.1 Experts predicted that it was not a question of if but rather when Apple would go out of business.2 These predictions seemed destined to come true until the introduction of the iMac on May 6, 1998.3 The release of the iMac would precipitate a reversal of fortunes for the company, which, under the direction of co-founder Steve Jobs, would once again begin to see positive growth.4 Jobs found himself in the unlikely position of leading the company for the second time in his career—he had been unceremoniously forced out of the company in 1985—when NeXT, a company he had helped start in the 1980s, was acquired by Apple at the end of 1996.5 It was an auspicious return in many respects. Although Apple had long distinguished itself with superior graphics performance and a devoted following, by the late 1990s it was, like many computer companies, producing beige box devices that looked like every other PC on the market.6 In these beige boxes, Jobs saw an opportunity to reinvent the notion of personal computing and, possibly, save the company from collapse. Having been at the forefront of the rise of widespread personal computing in the late 1970s, Jobs arrived back at the company at the beginning of the next significant innovation in consumer-oriented computing technology: the Internet. Aware of its potential power, Jobs and his team devised a device that integrated Internet-ready technology with high-quality graphics performance and a futuristic all-in-one shell.7 The iMac (the “i” initially stood for “Internet”) was developed under the direction of Jonathan Ive—then a young Apple staff designer—and quickly became synonymous with sleek, sophisticated, and forward-thinking design. The idea was simple: the components of the central processing unit (CPU) were integrated into one cohesive unit (harkening back to early all-in-one Apple devices such as the Macintosh (http://interface-experience.org/objects/apple-macintosh-plus/), which was wrapped in a translucent white and aqua (famously called Bondi blue) shell. The iMac was out-of-the-box ready; it could be plugged into the wall to be used immediately and required no peripheral parts or connections, other than a mouse shaped like a hockey puck, a matching keyboard and an Internet cable. Despite a mixed critical reception and unremarkable sales numbers, the iMac was a certifiable design success and set the course of a new aesthetic in personal computing—including the rise of translucent and colored plastics in the early 2000s—that is still recognizable today.8

1.Craig Haggit, “How the Apple iMac Works,” August 8, 2011. HowStuffWorks.com. http://computer.howstuffworks.com/macs/imac.htm

2.Ibid.

3.http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/496/Apple-iMac-G3-(Tray-Loading)/

4.Bill Moggridge, Designing Interactions (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), 77.

5.http://news.cnet.com/Apple-acquires-Next,-Jobs/2100-1001_3-256914.html

6.Haggit, “How the Apple iMac Works.”

7.Ibid.

8.Haggit, “How the Apple iMac Works,”and http://lowendmac.com/musings/08mm/imac-g3-legacy.html.