iMac Turns 20: How the Iconic Computer Changed Apple’s Course

Imac Turns 20

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On Sunday, Apple’s iconic all-in-one computer turned 20. Yes, two decades ago, Steve Jobs stood on a stage and “introduced the world to iMac.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook commemorated the milestone in a tweet on May 6, stating that the iMac set Apple on “a new course and forever changed the way people look at computers.” And while that’s what you’d expect the chief executive of Apple to say, he’s not wrong.

How the iMac Turned Apple Around

Many Apple fans know that the 1990s were not the company’s most sterling years. Throughout the decade, Apple’s products had lost favor with consumers and the firm was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

But in 1997, Steve Jobs returned to the company that he had cofounded in a Cupertino garage. On May 6, 1998, Jobs stood on a stage and unveiled the iMac.

It was a groundbreaking device in style and design when it debuted, and there’s no doubt that it was a game-changer for Apple. In the year after the iMac’s announcement, Apple tripled its quarterly profits, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Apple’s O.G. All-in-One

“This is iMac,” Steve Jobs said at the now signature unveiling. “The whole thing is translucent. You can see into it. It’s so cool.”

The device was revolutionary for its time, introducing a series of industry-firsts. For example, it was the first desktop to include USB, FireWire and fan-less operation. Spec-wise, it featured a PowerPC G3 processor, a 4GB hard drive, and 32MB of RAM (which was expandable to 128MB). It ran on Mac OS 8.1.

Top 5 Most Iconic Apple Products of All Time
Image via Apple

And in now-characteristic Apple fashion, the company decided to kill off legacy features and ports like the floppy drive. Looking back now, that decision obviously pushed the entire industry in a new direction.

But its aesthetic was also groundbreaking. It just looked radically different than any other computer on the market at the time. “The back of this thing looks better than the front of the other guys, by the way,” Jobs quipped during the device’s unveiling.

Notably, it also introduced the “i” naming scheme that was later applied to iTunes, iPod and iPhone — products that undoubtedly helped launch Apple to becoming the most valuable corporation in the U.S.

And, of course, it also helped cement Apple as a prolific marketing brand. The various iMac ads, some featuring actor Jeff Goldblum, contributed to the device’s success.

Twenty Years of iMac

The first iMac looked nothing like today’s all-in-one desktop. The product series has gone through a handful of significant revamps over the last 20 years.

Four years after its debut, Apple overhauled the iMac’s design. The design of the 2002 iMac might be a bit more familiar — it’s a thin display mounted on a base.

2002 Imac
Image via Apple

In 2004, Apple moved the iMac’s internal components behind its display, allowing it to sport a much thinner metal stand. Three years later, Apple replaced the white plastic casing with an aluminum-and-plastic enclosure.

Imac 2004
Image via Apple

By then, the iMac looked much more similar to today’s Apple all-in-one. Over the next ten years, the iMac gained an aluminum unibody design, got slimmed down, and began to feature high-resolution Retina displays.

Last year, of course, the insanely powerful iMac Pro took the iconic device lineup and turned it up to eleven.

But while the iMac Pro might be a radically different animal than its earliest ancestor, the iMac’s legacy — 20 years in the making — lives on.

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