Defining keynote where Steve Jobs introduced one of Apple’s most iconic and beloved product, the iMac. The cute transparant computer took the industry and consumers by storm and can be credited of changing an industry known for it’s boring and ugly designs. It’s also the first product of the “new” Apple era envisioned by Steve Jobs.
The iMac was a smashing success right from the start. Sales went through the roof, and for some time, iMac was the #1 computer sold in the US.
iMac keynote summary
00:00. Updates on Apple
05:35. Product strategy
08:45. New PowerBook G3
11:25. Showdown demo
15:55. Original iMac
20:07. Say Hello to iMac
22:56. iMac Showdown video
Date: May 6, 1998
Location: Flint Center, Cupertino
Steve was 43 years old.
The birth of the iMac signalled the death of the boring beige boxes and positioned Apple as a trendsetter. Major computer manufacturers like Dell, Compaq and HP took the cues of Apple’s new design and started offering systems in different flavors.
iMac made computers fun, once again.
The story behind the iMac design
For those uninitiated to the intricacies of design theory, a toilet and a computer may seem to have little in common. But for Jonathan Ives, vice president of Apple Computer’s Industrial Design Group and head of the team that designed the futuristic, translucent aqua bubble known as the iMac, there are many similarities.
The personable British designer joined Apple in 1992 after a career in designing everything from bathroom sinks and toilets to consumer electronic products for the Japanese market. He was charged with developing a design for the iMac, Apple’s new consumer Macintosh, that would both bring Apple into the future, and tie it to its past, he said in an interview here.
Just like a toilet, it was important that the function of the iMac as a PC be apparent from its form–people had to know by looking at it that they could type documents, send e-mail, and run applications, Ives said. What people recognize as a computer today is “a beige box,” but this form has nothing to do with a computer’s function. Apple decided to redefine a computer’s form, while making sure people could recognize it as a computer, he said.
“We could make a computer look like a grapefruit,” Ives said. Computer companies have just been afraid to break out of the status quo and make anything that differs too much in form, Ives said. “The computer industry is creatively bankrupt,” he said. The form of computers has never been important, with speed and performance being the only things that mattered,” he said. “We knew that iMac was fast, we didn’t need to make it ugly.”
So does that mean we’ll see a pink balloon-shaped Compaq Presario or a leopard-print laptop from Hewlett-Packard? Probably not, said Ives, since the iMac is as much about what Apple stands for as a company as it is about redefining people’s mindsets about what computers can look like.
“It (the iMac) seems right for Apple, but not for other companies,” said Ives, who calls the iMac the most important design achievement in his life so far. “It feels like things are changing all around me and I feel privileged to be a part of it.”
But some things about the iMac are not so new.
The all-in-one monitor and computer design is an Apple hallmark, going back to the first Macintosh in 1984, Ives said. When interim Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs approached the design team one year ago to talk about building what would become the iMac, he was clear he wanted to build on this historic form while at the same time updating it, Ives said. When Apple was struggling with its product strategy several years ago, the machines were becoming more and more conservative and in line with the “beige box” status quo, which wasn’t Apple’s philosophy, Ives said.
“One thing most people don’t know is that Steve Jobs is an exceptional designer,” he said. Jobs was involved throughout iMac’s entire design life cycle, which Ives called “a vigorous intellectual process.” A small team of designers worked like maniacs for several months to come up with the design, which was largely informed by what consumers wanted, he said.
First, people wanted a smaller PC that was easy to pick up and move; this was especially true in Europe and Asia where living spaces are smaller, Ives said. Ives put a large handle on the back “that invites people to pick it up and touch it,” he said. Second, they wanted ease of use, fewer cables to connect and no complicated documentation to read when setting up the machine.
“We tried to do things in a simple, elegant way,” Ives said. Most computer makers don’t realize how afraid many people are of computers; Apple wanted the iMac to be “approachable,” he said. The idea that the iMac comes in one box, has clear plastic that catches the light and shows its changing nature and has a shape that “looks like it just arrived” all contribute to the overall approachability and appeal of the machine, Ives said.
He is also heading up the design team responsible for the upcoming portable consumer Macintosh due out in mid-1999, but Ives wouldn’t give any hints about how it may look. Because iMac’s design was such a departure from the traditional PC, people are expecting something revolutionary for the portable version as well, he said.
“Expectation is extraordinarily high, it’s a bit scary,” Ives admitted.
Source: CNN interview with Jonathan Ive.
The story behind the name iMac
One day, the TBWA team flew up to Cupertino and were led into a secret room. In the middle of a conference table was a big lump covered by a cloth.
The TBWA team was horrified, but no one dared say so. “We were pretty shocked but we couldn’t be frank,” Segall recalls. “We were guarded. We were being polite, but we were really thinking, ‘Jesus, do they know what they are doing?
It was so radical.”
Jobs said he was betting the company on the machine and so it needed a great name. He suggested one at the meeting, Segall says, but it was terrible. It would “curdle your blood.” Segall declined to say what Jobs wanted to call it.
Jobs said the new computer was a Mac, so the name had to reference the Macintosh brand. The name had to make it clear the machine was designed for the internet. It also had to be applicable to several other upcoming products. And it had to be quick: the packaging needed to be ready in a week.
Segall says he came back with five names. Four were ringers, sacrificial lambs for the name he loved — iMac. “It referenced the Mac, and the “i” meant internet,” Segall says. “But it also meant individual, imaginative and all the other things it came to stand for.” It “i” prefix could also be applied to whatever other internet products Apple was working on.
Jobs rejected them all, including iMac.
Watch Steve Jobs TV interview following iMac’s launch
“He didn’t like iMac when he saw it,” Segall says. “I personally liked it, so I went back again with three or four new names, but I said we still like ‘iMac.”
He said: ‘I don’t hate it this week, but I still don’t like it.’”
Segall didn’t hear any more about the name from Jobs personally, but friends told him that Jobs was silk-screening the name on prototypes of the new computer. He was testing it out to see if it looked good.
“He rejected it twice but then it just appeared on the machine,” Segall says, laughing. “He never formally accepted it.”
While working on the name, Jobs purposely worked in a small, tight-knit group. He didn’t want to have a lot of opinions at the table. He also didn’t do any market research or testing.
“Apple in my entire time never tested a thing in print or on TV,” Segall says. “Everybody else tests everything.”
Segall is delighted that iMac grew on Jobs. “It’s a cool thing. You don’t get to name too many products, and not ones that become so successful. It’s really great. I’m really delighted. It became the nomenclature for so many other products. Millions of people see that work.”
Segall says over the last few years, the debate about dropping the “i” prefix has come up several times at Apple. “They’ve asked: ‘Should the company drop the “i”?’ But there’s a desire to keep it consistent: iMac, iPod, iPhone. It’s not as clean as it should be, but it works.”
- More great Apple inside stories on Ken’s blog – kensegall.com
Watch the original iMac TV ad
Original iMac print ads
Vintage 1998 iMac articles
- MacWorld review, and MacWorld’s Editor initial reaction
- Walt Mossberg’s review – WallStreet Journal
- PC World review
- Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field – ZDnet
- iMac’s ancestors – Cnet
- iMac specification – apple-history.com
I owned the original iMac and truly enjoyed it. It made the room so much friendlier. Gotta love it.