Apple's best attempt so far at making the Macintosh affordable. As of this writing, there are four iMac models in production (all prices are in US dollars and are rounded up to better represent reality):

Discontinued iMac models include:

All iMacs feature a 512k backside cache (aka level 2 cache), two USB ports, a prominent monitor with a 13.8" diagonal viewable area (for those of you who buy the hype that everyone peddles about monitor sizes, that's a 15" monitor), a 56k modem, and, through a standard RJ-45 jack, 10/100BaseT Ethernet support.

The iMac has proved to be a smash success; millions have been sold since the first Bondi Blue machines were introduced. The success of the iMac is the biggest reason why Apple made a comeback. For ordinary computer usage, they're really not as bad as they sound, but for serious, strenuous computing and the option of upgradeability, save up for a G4 and monitor.

Contrast iBook.

The iMac is a consumer appliance. Well, not quite, it's a cross between a consumer appliance and a computer. Most technical users will not like the iMac, which is fine since it's not designed for them. Most technical users can't get over the concept that what they need in a computer isn't what everyone else needs, or that there just might be more than one market in the personal computer space. But whatever. The iMac is for the average consumer, like my 87 year old grandmother. The iMac is intended to be an appliance, although it's really a little too pricy and upgradeable to be one. But the idea is simple, a computer doesn't have to be a tool for serious technical work. It can be just another appliance, like a VCR. What do you do when your VCR breaks? You get a new one. Do you upgrade your VCR when newer fancier ones come out? No, you get a new one. Unforutnately Steve Jobs missed the price point to make a consumer appliance, but we'll get there one day. In the meantime, the iMac can still be upgraded, even though it's primary market never will upgrade it. Remember, the folks who buy an iMac want something that works. They don't want something that can have 17 different desktop environments, infinate themes, inconsistent behaviour, limitless upgrade paths with easy open cases, and super fast performance. And the fact that it looks different doesn't hurt either.

What makes the iMac cool, from a technologist's standpoint is not:
  • The pretty colors that are Bondi, Blueberry, Grape, Lime, Strawberry, Ruby, Sage, Snow, and Graphite (although i think Ruby and Bondi are slick)
  • The cute design and small desk footprint
  • The fact that they are cool enough to run without a fan and thus silently
  • The fact that the Macintosh operating system is the leading design in ease of use (even if it is a bitch to code for)
  • Only 20% of all online users are Mac users, but 60% of Mac users are online, thus proving Apple's selling point of an internet plug and go machine.
  • The fact that you can do common family tasks with great ease on the system (email, video editing, etc)
It is none of the above. It is one point alone Apple is pushing:

Legacy-Free Computing

Apple has been pushing legacy-free and forwards-thinking solutions so that people can move away from their dinosaur machines and into new and exciting models. Items such as USB everything (expandable, easy to install, USB2 forthcoming), Firewire (fast, if the drives aren't garish orange), no legacy com ports, or Apple serial. Moving onwards and thinking towards other opportunities so that old hardware will not tie a consumer to his or her machine.

iMacs belong to Apple's 4-way grid of models. There are the portable vs. desktop on one axis, and the business vs consumer on the other axis. Desktop models end with -Mac, while portables end in -Book. Consumer models begin with i-, while Business models begin with Power-

It is the simple trendy design of the iMac that has helped to chip away at the Internet's image as a haven of geeks and freaks, and i think, made it more sheik. Steve Jobs is an incredible marketer, and he has done well to make the iMac Apple's most successful recent endeavor.

People who critisize Apple's technical decisions usually don't use Macs on a day to day basis, or else they'd realize that the decision not to include a floppy drive on newer Mac models is the result of several factors.

First of all, MacOS networking is such that if you have Macs in a networked environment, setting up file sharing is so easy that it would be foolish not to use it in place of less reliable transportation systems - i.e., floppy disks.

Secondly, I think Apple realizes that they can safely eliminate obsolete hardware because they don't have obsolete conventions that they must adhere to. Apple also realizes that we live in an age of cheap networking harder and cheap broadband connections. If your computer is the only one you have, and you never need to put files on any other computer, you don't need a floppy drive to begin with.

If you have more than one Mac in your house, AppleTalk and file sharing are you best bet. Even if you could use floppies for that, why would you want to? Direct file sharing is so much more economical.

If you have Macs and PCs in your house, you are better off using TCP/IP, if it is available, and failing that, using CD-RW media, as it has a larger capacity and both MacOS and Windows use ISO-9660 for CDs, rather than their native filesystem types.

Finally, a hypothetic situation to prove my point. Let's say you have an iMac or G4 at home that you use to type a big English paper on. You go to print it out at 10 pm the night before it's due, only to discover that your printer will absolutely not cooperate. You are left with no choice but to print your paper on the school computers. Unfortunately, your school is all Windows (like mine), with not a Mac in sight. Assuming you even had a floppy drive, you would still need to format it as a Windows floppy, copy your MS Word file onto it, and then carry it to school. It might get damaged on the way, or the computer at school you try to copy it to might have a dysfunctional floppy drive. Basically, it's not the most trustworthy medium for file shuffling. Now, here's a better solution. You grab a copy of the shareware program NetPresenz for your Mac. You get a makeshift FTP server going, and you drop your .doc file into it. At school, you fire up ftp.exe and copy it painless onto your school computer's hard drive, and print it out.

So you see, the reason Apple removed the floppy drives from the NewWorld Macs, is because they knew the FDDs would have a very small number of users, which only continue to decline. Therefore, there is no point in Macs having an FDD when there exist better and more reliable solutions to the problem FDDs originally purported to solve. People who list this as their main reason for badmouthing Macs are, incidentally, way off the mark.

The iMac was generally percepted as an example of good design, while in those days poor design was common for consumer-level computers.

The design team was headed by Jonathan Ive, a bloke that came from the London design firm Tangerine where he spent three years designing bath tubs, washing basins, tooth brushes and the like. He became head of design when Bob Brunner left this position, frustrated as he was with the creative dip that the company was in. Things only started to change when Steve Jobs came back as interim-CEO-for-life.
The problem was not really that there was no creativity at Apple, but more that the nice ideas never made it to the final products. The basic shape of the iMac as well as the color were in design long before steve jobs came back, but the apple board didn't think consumers could handle brightly colored machines (thanks to xunker for this info).

The iMac changed -for a specific part of the market- the criteria on which a computer was evaluated. Coming from grey boxes, that obviously had poor design and only touted their GigaBytes and MHz-en, here was a computer that appealed as a design object. So, Apple was able to sell -and sell well- a less compatible product, that was slower than the competition (although fast enough) and had a unsharp and small screen.

Jobs made it possible that for once the designers could tell the engineers what to do. Usually, it's the other way around.

In designing the iMac, the team faced many problems. In fact, to get the transparency right (and homogenous), they got help from a firm specialised in the coloring of candy.
Another issue was that the transparency revealed the innards of the system. So, the PCBs of the motherboard, mouse etc. had to be engineered both from an electronical and from a design perspective. And then there is the mouse ball, which has two colours so you can see it rolling. That said, the hockey-puck-like mouse of the early iMacs was not their most popular part.

In addition to sheer looks, the team also managed to keep the iMac small, cool, lightweight and silent. The motherboard had more in common with a laptop-motherboard then with that of a plain PC.

A post on Slashdot said something about the iMac being designed by Gingko Design. I don't know whether this is true, but it's a solid fact that John Ive was an Apple employee at the time. The Gingko portfolio shows some nifty designs though, so it could be possible.

UPDATE: the new TFT iMac continues the tradition: it is a small, silent, expensive (and not top-performing) computer, only this time it does have a decent screen. And it is no longer a single fixed unit - the screen is now attached to the base in a flexible way so you can move it in any position you like. This design was apparently inspired by the shape of an angle-poise desk lamp, where the previous iMac is said to be inspired by the shape of a gum drop.

For MacWorld San Francisco 2002, an iMac with a completely rethought design was released... although a flub by Time Canada 'spilled the beans' about it the evening previous to Steve Jobs' announcement keynote on the 7th of January.

Internally, the 2002 iMacs are nothing too revolutionary. All new iMacs now use the G4 processor, use an N'vidia GPU and have the Apple SuperDrive available in some configurations.

No, the obviously most striking part of the new iMac is that it uses a 15 inch TFT display panel mounted on a swinging, tensioned armature to make the display "float" above the rest of the system. The "guts" of the system make the base of the screens' armature and are encased in a hemisphereical enclose which one #everything noder aptly described as a "speedbump". To add user upgrades (which amount to either more RAM or an AirPort card), 4 screws are taken from the underside of the base whereupon the circular bottom plate comes away reveling one SO-DIMM slot (accepts up to 1 gigabyte modules) and the AirPort card receptacle (the AirPort antenna is built into the edges of the display). Like the iMacs before it, the 2002 iMac is convection cooled using trick learned from Apple's brief offering of the G4 Cube some time earlier It turns out that the new iMac does, indeed, have a cooling fan, but it is a very low noise Powerbook-style fan.

But like it or not, you cannot say the new design isn't eye-catching, either for it's good points or bad points. Apple gets points for the the TFT panel and it's useful pivoting arm, use of the G4 CPU but looses points (in my opinion) for using a non-standard power connector and loss of the handle (though, depending on weight, you could simply lift the unit via the screen armature). Updade: Huzzah! Mr. Yerrick informs me that the screen armature is the officially sanctioned carrything!

As for colours, this initial model appears to only be availabe in white, but I don't doubt we'll see other coloured models appearing the next time a speed increase is announced.

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