By Mark Ward
BBC News online technology correspondent
The computer that came in different hues and revolutionised the home computing market - not to mention Apple's fortune - is finally being phased out.
It changed the look of computers
Consider the desktop computer. For years these instruments of social change could not have looked less revolutionary if their designers had tried.
Instead of anonymous beige boxes, users yearned for something less like an oversized box and more like an implement fit for the 21st Century.
Something like the Apple iMac, for instance. When the company first unveiled its new, blue model in 1998, the iMac was an instant hit.
It was a crowd-puller that instantly looked more "computery" than almost anything that had been built since the first desktop computers appeared in 1981.
"It became iconic very quickly," says Neil Smith, head of the design for industry course at Northumbria University (formerly Newcastle Polytechnic, where iMac creator Jonathan Ive was a student).
ARMANI OF APPLE
Briton Jonathan Ive (left) is Apple's chief designer
He worked as a bathroom designer in London before setting up his own business
Apple so liked his work, it lured him to Silicon Valley in 1992
But this futuristic-looking trendsetter is about to disappear. Apple has decided to stop selling the iMac to the public, though it is still likely to be available to schools.
In some ways, this is a strange decision for Apple to take, largely because the iMac is widely credited with saving the company from a long and miserable demise.
The iMac pumped much needed cash, cachet and credibility back into Apple at a time when it sorely needed it.
Outside the box
Apple had always been known for its smart technology and its idiosyncratic way of doing business.
One of Apple's mottos has long been "Think Different", says Mr Smith, but prior to the launch of the iMac it was getting harder and harder for non-Mac owners to work out just where this difference crept in.
With the release of the iMac it suddenly became very obvious.
Computer or lunchbox? You decide
Mr Smith says Apple worked very hard on every aspect of the iMac - its looks, its hardware and software - to make it easy to use.
"They found a way to humanise the PC and to take it out of the grey anonymous box. It was a sympathetic bit of form making, and it became a symbol of a very different approach."
The classic iMac has since been superseded by the eMac and the flat screen, angle poise iMac.
For Clive Grinyer, former head of the Design Council and co-founder of the Tangerine design consultancy with Jonathan Ive, the debut of the iMac was a hugely liberating moment.
"It had an amazing impact in design circles," he says. "It did what everyone had been talking about for a long time."
What it did was make explicit how Apple was thinking differently. The radical styling and ease of use made concrete the company's claim to be not just another box-shifter.
"It made a brand become visible through the product and the thing itself," says Mr Grinyer.
The new look of Apple's computers
While many companies try to manipulate the public's perception through advertising and marketing, rather than through the appearance of what they make, Apple's iMac was a notable exception to this trend. It tried, and to a large extent succeeded, in embodying the company's philosophy.
"The classic iMac was so simple and so self-contained," says Mr Grinyer. "It does it all and says it all and completely conveys the message about what the product is in the product's shape. It did what a computer always should have done."
For Mr Grinyer, only a design-led company such as Apple could have taken the risk and produced the original iMac.
"That's the stuff that you cannot copy, it is in the company's heart."
Send us your comments:
The first computer-as-fashion-accessory - you wanted to show it off on your desk, not hidden under it. Though it's only now with the new iMac and OSX operating system that they've got the design, usability AND power right.
Phil H, London, UK
The iMac's design was hopelessly overrated. It was as bulky as most other computers, with a sloping top that made it harder to balance a coffee cup on or stack journals. When I think of the iMac I think of APS film, designed to squeeze more money out of people not technically-minded enough to load a camera. At the time the computer market was crying out for something really progressive, like today's flat screens. Instead it got Hal in a blue tutu.
Martin Newman, London, UK
The iMac, and its availability in a range of "flavours", directly influenced most desktop products. Never before would you consider buying a strawberry stapler or a blueberry bin. Isn't it strange that the new Apple products have developed as simplified versions of the original iMac and iBook, as if the range has matured into "proper computers". But won't all the new pure white Macs age and eventually fade to resemble the beige counterparts they originally rebelled against?
Toby Bradbury, UK
The design of the iMac went beyond just its aesthetics. It was the first desktop and home computer I'm aware of to be built without a floppy disk drive. This leap of faith into a world where the internet is your computer's connection to the outside world may prove to be as significant a step forward as its outward appearance.
Richard Butler, UK
An under-powered and over-priced pretty box - mine crashed more than any PC I have ever had, I gave it away in the end.
There are two distinct populations in the world, Mac people and PC people. The iMac almost converted me from an avid PC user. My working environment forces me to remain in PC land, though I yearn for the plug and play world of the Mac. The new design coupled with the new operating system and unbeatable graphics capabilities may not be as colorful as its predecessor, but if you have seen and used the new model, Mac's innovation is still alive and kicking.
Charlotte Nicholson, US
As computer-users go, I guess I'm pretty computer-illiterate. But, for age 69, I don't do badly with e-mail, reading & downloading news items, ordering on-line, etc. Fortunately, my wise son uses (& teaches youngsters from) nothing but Macs. And my four-year-old strawberry iMac (which he ordered & set up for me) makes me feel so competent. I even do an organization's newsletter, without all the cut-&-paste I did with my Smith-Corona. Little risk of viruses, too.
Magdalene Iglar, El Paso, US
The 'i' in iMac stands for internet - bin the floppy drive, include USB (another new concept at the time), make it simple to use and ABOVE ALL easy to connect to and use the web. Of the many millions sold worldwide, 90% were connected to the net within 10 minutes of turning on for the first time, including mine. It introduced the net to millions.
The iMac saved Apple from a downward spiral in the 90s when IBM, Intel and Microsoft had managed to capture the majority of the computer market. With further innovations like MacOS X and the iPod, Apple has placed itself back in a market which it lost to the 386 processor and Windows 3.1.
Apple found a niche with the original iMac. They targeted the untechnical computer-user with a cheap all-in-one machine. It had its limitations, but these generally went unnoticed by the majority of its users. The new iMac will not be as successful due to one rather large problem - the price! It's no longer a budget system.
Now it's OS X that could be the saving of Apple rather than the aethestics. I never cared much for the iMac design, but it was a stepping stone to the idea of the computer as an integrated part of the home. Apple are continuing along these lines with their iLife software suite. When you buy a Mac, you buy a whole package and Jonathan Ives should get great credit for seeing that.
Gary Ross, Japan
Probably the only computer that people want to stroke - bizarre and brilliant. I'll never part with my 3 cats nor my Bondi iMac.
Perhaps Apple started it, but it's now easy to get cheaper and more versatile PCs with a range of pretty cases. Mine's a rather fetching shade of purple. The lack of floppy drives on iMacs has made my life difficult on a number of occasions, and the silly round mice they come with are just plain irritating. The iMac may have been a revolution 5 years ago, but it's time for new and better things.
Love them or hate them, people never ignore the products of Apple. The iMac was a budget computer designed in high style, pioneering the new consumer era of personalised personal computers. "Think different" is more than a corporate motto, it has become a seductive philosophical credence to all those who own a Mac.
Any machine that could temp my very elderly mother away from her manual typewriter has to be very special indeed. It has liberated her from her lounge and set her loose in the byways of e-mail and the internet. She calls it "Bluebottle" as it reminds her of the Goon Show.
Amanda, New Zealand
Whenever anyone asks what kind of computer I have, not only do I tell them it's an iMac, I also proudly tell them it's 'Indigo'. Maybe it's just a colour to most people, but to my wife it was the perfect co-ordinated accessory for our spare room. Which is the only reason I was allowed to buy one. Unless Apple starts doing the new iMac in funky colours, I fear I will never have a new computer ever again. RIP iMac, you will be sorely missed.
Chris Townsend, Herts, UK
Apple Macs have always been crippled by only having one mouse button. No-one who has got used to the "right-click" context-based pop-up action menus on the later versions of Windows can tolerate the inefficiency of the Mac interface.
Ron, why would anyone need to right click in an operating system where everything is only one click away (remember we're not talking about Windows here)?
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