|Release date||August 15, 1998|
|Lifespan||August 15, 1998 – March 2003 (4 years and 7 months)|
The iMac G3, which was originally released as the iMac, is a series of Macintosh personal computers Apple Computer sold from 1998 to 2003. The first iMac was Apple's first major product release under its CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs, who returned to the financially troubled company in 1996 after eleven years away. Jobs reorganized the company and simplified the product line; the iMac was designed as Apple's new consumer desktop product, an inexpensive, consumer-oriented computer that would easily connect to the Internet.
The iMac's all-in-one design is based around a cathode ray tube (CRT) display; it was fitted with a G3 processor, components, and connectivity included in a single enclosure. For the iMac G3, Apple's head of design Jony Ive and his team developed a teardrop-shaped, translucent, plastic case that was a radical departure from the look of the company's previous personal computers. The company developed new working methods to quickly finish the computer, and created new workflows they used for designing future products. The iMac G3 eschewed legacy technologies like serial ports and floppy disk drives in favor of CD-ROMs and USB ports.
Critical response to the iMac was mixed; journalists said the machine would be good for new users but bemoaned the lack of legacy technology, and said the mouse and keyboard were uncomfortable. The iMac was an immediate commercial success, selling more than 5 million units in its lifetime and becoming Apple's fastest-selling computer. The original model was revised several times, improving the processor speed, the amount of random access memory (RAM), hard drive space, and other capabilities. The iMac is credited with saving Apple from financial ruin, and for turning computers from niche, technical products to mass-consumer fashion. Other computers and consumer products appropriated the translucent plastic look, leading to legal action from Apple. The G3-based series of iMac models was replaced by a G4-powered successor, and the iMac G3's role in education markets was replaced by the eMac.
See also: Apple Inc. history, 1990–1997
In the late 1990s, Apple Computer was experiencing severe financial difficulties. At the end of 1997, the company was selling 1.8 million Macs per year, in comparison with 4.5 million two years earlier. Apple's sales were compromised by licensed Mac systems that undercut and out-performed Apple's own products; being unable to compete in the sector and to quickly distribute its products, Apple entirely pulled out of the low-cost computer market.
In December 1996, Apple purchased the computer maker NeXT, whose founder Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company he had co-founded and then was ousted from. Apple also acquired NeXT's operating system NeXTSTEP, which would become the foundation for Apple's next-generation operating system Mac OS X. Jobs returned to Apple as an advisor but the company's board of directors dismissed CEO Gil Amelio on July 9, 1997, and Jobs replaced him as interim CEO.
Upon his return to Apple, Jobs streamlined the company, returning Apple to profitability by cost-cutting but the company still needed new hit products. Jobs planned to reduce Apple's computer offerings, which were confusing and extensive, to four products: a laptop and desktop model each for professionals and consumers. The planned consumer-oriented desktop computer became the iMac; it would be inexpensive and would prioritize easy Internet connectivity. The engineering and design teams had less than a year to deliver a saleable product.
In 1996, Apple's industrial design director Robert Brunner left the company, and was replaced by 29-year-old Jony Ive, who inherited the financially troubled company's award-winning design team. Ive was dispirited with Apple's leadership and soon started thinking of leaving the company. At a meeting announcing Jobs' appointment as Apple's CEO, Jobs told staff Apple's problems stemmed from its poor products. Ive noted Jobs' focus on making industrial design a core part of Apple's comeback strategy. Ive and Jobs quickly developed a rapport, and Jobs decided to retain Apple's industrial design team under Ive.
Initially, Jobs wanted the new consumer desktop to be a "network computer"—a cheap, low-powered terminal without disk drives that would connect to remote servers via the Internet. Ive's team was given Jobs' specifications for the new product in September 1997: it should be a distinctive, all-in-one computer with a selling price of around US$1,200, much lower than the $2,000 ($3,325 adjusted for inflation) Apple was charging for its entry-level models. The design team tried to discern the computer's target demographic, and what objects conveyed the emotions they wanted the new product to evoke. They collaboratively developed sketches; designer Doug Satzger drew an ovoid drawing that was based on his earlier work on Thomson televisions. Ive and the rest of the team decided to focus on the ovoid design, although Jobs rejected the look. Ive defended the design as playful and fun, and eventually persuaded Jobs to accept the idea. Jobs began carrying a foamcore model of the computer around the Apple campus to show it off.
When discussing the idea of a machine that inspired positive emotions, the designers mentioned colorful candy dispensers. Materials tests with solid plastics looked cheap so they made the case translucent. Translucent hardware design was not new to Apple's products; the Power Macintosh 8600 and 9600 tower computers had translucent green latches. The LaserWriter 8500, eMate 300, and Studio Display made more extensive use of translucent colored plastics. Former Apple senior designer Thomas Meyerhoffer described the eMate's use of plastics as a way to make the product accessible and distinctive. To Ive, the translucency "came across as cheeky" but it meant the internal components would also have to be designed for aesthetics. Inspiration came from translucent items the designers took to their office; one item was a piece of greenish-blue beach glass. This "Bondi blue" object provided the color Jobs selected for the first iMac.
Apple's design team radically overhauled its processes to meet the tight deadline. In the past, they had sent two-dimensional blueprints or hand-drawn sketches to toolmakers to create molds, a laborious process that could take months. Instead, Apple relied on computer-aided design (CAD) using the three-dimensional (3D) modeling program Alias Wavefront to sculpt models and CNC milling machines and primitive 3D printers used to create physical mockups. Apple's product designers wrote software to allow the Wavefront 3D models to be brought into Unigraphics, a program that was used in aerospace design. This process allowed the engineers to compare 3D models of the computer's components with the casing, speeding up the process of finding a workable combination of external and internal elements.
Jobs began to reject the network computer concept because similar products struggled in the market; he was persuaded to recalibrate the project as a full-featured computer with optical and disk drives. The finalized iMac enclosed its components and a 15-inch (38 cm) cathode ray tube (CRT) display within a plastic shell. The computer featured translucency from the small foot used to raise the computer to the power cord, which was designed to look like condensation on glass. Port labels and regulatory markings used holographic stickers. The design team added a recessed handle to the back of the computer to make it more personal and approachable for new computer users. The cost of the casing was more than three times that of a typical computer but Ive credited Jobs with intuitively understanding the design aims and not demanding justification for the increased costs. The keyboard and mouse were redesigned with matching translucent plastics and trim for the iMac. Ive was especially proud of the round mouse, which showed the complicated internal components that were partially hidden behind the Apple logo.
Jobs wanted the new computer to be a departure from old and proprietary technology to a modern, "legacy-free" computer; Apple's engineers adapted work done on the abandoned Common Hardware Reference Platform specification to speed up development of the computer. These concepts included using standard SO-DIMM RAM that was used for Microsoft-Windows-based PCs, and an OpenFirmware read-only memory (ROM). Previous Macintosh computers used complex, machine-specific ROMs while the new computer's instructions were loaded from memory, shortening production time. The iMac also had no serial ports, Apple Desktop Bus, or floppy disk drive. To replace the removed ports, the iMac used Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports, which were faster and cheaper than Apple Desktop Bus and serial ports but were very new—the standard was not finalized until after the iMac's release—and USB was unsupported by any third-party Mac peripheral. Jobs wagered USB would solve the problem of accessory makers abandoning the increasingly small Mac market with its special connectors. The iMac did not officially have an expansion slot but early versions of the machine had a "mezzanine slot"; the slot was intended only for internal use but a few third-party expansion cards, such as video card upgrades and SCSI ports, were released for it. Early models also had an IrDA infrared port that allowed personal digital assistants and other devices to wirelessly transmit information to the computer. Jobs was furious the initial iMac model came with a tray-loading CD-ROM drive rather than a more-modern slot-loading drive, and nearly canceled the product launch over it. According to Jon Rubinstein, Jobs had always known about the CD tray. Jobs continued with the launch after he was assured subsequent models would include a slot-loading CD-ROM drive as soon as possible.
In early 1998, representatives from the advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day were shown the iMac, which at that point was code-named "C1". Creative director Ken Segall said the agency's first impression was that the product might be too shocking to be successful. Jobs was proud to show off Apple's work, saying; "the back of our computer looks better than the front of [our competitors'] computers". The product did not have a final name; Jobs informed Segall the internal name was "MacMan"—a name Apple's marketing executive Phil Schiller contributed—and to see if they could find a better name. Apple stipulated the name must contain "Mac", it must evoke the product's focus on easy Internet connectivity, and it should not sound portable or toy-like. TBWA spent a week developing other names; Segall's pick was "iMac"; it was short, it said the product was a Macintosh computer, and the i prefix suggested the internet.  Jobs disliked all of the suggested names and gave the agency another week to generate more possibilities. At the next presentation, Segall once again ended with "iMac"; Jobs said he no longer hated the name but still preferred "MacMan". Segall thought he had failed but the next day, he learned Jobs had suggested the name to other employees and gotten a positive response. The product was thus named "iMac".
Steve Jobs unveiled the iMac G3 on May 6, 1998. The product launch echoed that of the original Macintosh 128K in 1984. It was staged in the same location, the Flint Center for the Performing Arts at De Anza College. Jobs invited Apple founding members Steve Wozniak, Mike Markkula, and Michael Scott, as well as members of the original Macintosh team. After demonstrating the look of traditional computers, Jobs revealed the iMac from under a tablecloth. The computer displayed "Hello (again)" on its screen, hearkening back to the Macintosh's whimsical "Hello" introduction.
Apple began shipping the iMac G3 on August 15, 1998. The computer was supported by a $100 million advertising campaign that stressed the iMac's ease of use, internet connectivity, and striking contrast from competitors' products. Actor Jeff Goldblum narrated television advertisements that rhetorically asked if computer companies had been in "thinking jail" for making only beige products. Other promotions included radio giveaways, midnight launch events, and "golden tickets" hidden in select iMacs that could be redeemed for a tour of an Apple factory.
The first release of the iMac G3 had a 233 MHz PowerPC G3 processor, ATI Rage IIc graphics, 4 GB hard drive, a tray-loading CD-ROM drive, two USB ports, networking, an infrared port, built-in stereo speakers, and headphone ports. Its casing was Bondi blue and it shipped with MacOS 8.1. On October 17, the iMac was updated with faster ATI Rage Pro Turbo graphics options and MacOS 8.5. A more substantial revision to the iMac lineup came in 1999; these new models came in five colors: blueberry, strawberry, tangerine, grape, and lime. They had a 266 MHz processor and a 6GB hard drive. The IrDA port and mezzanine slot were removed.
On October 5, 1999, Apple released a new series of iMacs. Whereas the original iMac models focused on connecting consumers to the internet, the new iMac line focused on the emerging digital video (DV) market. The new models were similar in appearance to the previous models but had a slightly smaller enclosure; the steel casing shrouding many of the components in the previous model was removed, and the colors were lighter and the plastics clearer. The tray-loading CD-ROM drive was replaced with a slot-loading drive; a rear door was fitted so users could easily add additional RAM; and a slot for an AirPort wireless networking card was added. Apple partnered with Harman Kardon to design the iMac's new internal speakers; Harman Kardon also produced a separate subwoofer, the iSub, which was powered by USB. The new iMacs had no fan; the components were cooled via convection—hot air was exhausted through vents around the computer's top handle. Three new models were offered, and some colors and features were restricted to certain models. The cheapest model, now at US$999, was available in only one color. It shipped with a 350 MHz processor, 64 MB of RAM, a better graphics chipset, and a more-capacious hard drive. The iMac DV came in five colors and shipped with the video-editing software iMovie. It also had a 400 MHz processor, two FireWire ports, a more-capacious hard drive, and DVD-ROM optical drive. The iMac DV Special Edition came in a new color named graphite, and shipped with more RAM and a 13 GB hard drive—the largest capacity in the line-up. The iMac DV models also included a VGA video-out port for mirroring the iMac's display on another monitor.
On July 19, 2000, Apple released a new iMac line-up with four configurations in five colors. The least-expensive base model had no FireWire port or video-out socket, and came in an indigo casing, and retailed for US$799. It had the same 350 MHz processor and 64 MB RAM as the original iMac but had a more-capacious hard drive. The iMac DV and DV+ models had a 400 MHz and 450 MHz processor, respectively, and more-capacious hard drives; and the DV+ model had a DVD-ROM drive. The most-expensive model was the iMac DV Special Edition, which had a 500 MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, a more-capacious hard drive, and an exclusive-color casing called snow.
Apple's next line-up was released on February 22, 2001. The new machines came with CD-RW drives and iTunes software as Apple shifted to digital music consumption. The iMac and iMac Special Edition shipped with 400 MHz, 500–MHz, and 600 MHz processors and FireWire became standard alongside a faster graphics chipset and more-capacious hard drives. In addition to the previous indigo (iMac) and graphite (iMac Special Edition) colors, Apple created two new patterns—"Flower Power" and "Blue Dalmatian", which were intended as visual representation of music.
A final revision in July 2001 returned to more sedate colors—indigo, graphite, and snow. These models shipped with Mac OS X, a 500 MHz, 600 MHz, or 700 MHz processor, up to 256 MB of RAM and a 60 GB hard drive on the Special Edition. Following the introduction of the iMac G4 in January 2002, Apple continued selling some G3-based iMac models, with 500 MHz and 600 MHz models in indigo, snow, and graphite. The indigo and graphite models were discontinued first, and the snow model was discontinued in March 2003.
The iMac G3 received mixed reviews on release. Tech reviewers were often negative about the machine. Macworld's Andrew Gore said the iMac G3 might be as important as the original Macintosh in shifting the computing paradigm, and that Apple's "Think different" marketing campaign was not just empty talk. Reporters including Newsweek's Barbara Kantrowitz and the San Francisco Chronicle's David Einstein considered it the first promising step in Apple's possible resurgence. Hiawatha Bray said the iMac was doomed and a severe misstep from Jobs.
The look of the iMac was generally praised. Many reviewers compared its curved look to the recently-released Volkswagen New Beetle, while journalist Rob Morse likened it to a "huggable", futuristic machine like R2-D2 or a toy from The Jetsons. Less-positive reviews compared the iMac to an AMC Gremlin.
Positive reviews highlighted the computer's ease of use for setup and operation; According to Morse, the iMac felt "almost human" and approachable for a non-tech consumer. While publications including CNN and PC Week considered the iMac's performance fast, others felt the machine was underpowered, and PC World's testing showed that the machine generally performed poorer than Windows PC competitors. While reviews noted that general consumers and new computer buyers would be well-served by the machine, reviews were less sure that it could fit into an office environment, especially if it was not networked.
Criticism focused on the iMac's lack of legacy ports. Gore considered the loss of the floppy drive acceptable but he wished the CD-ROM module, which was identical to that of the PowerBook notebook, could be swapped. He also said the lack of expansion slots limited the computer's future potential. The Washington Post's John Breeden highlighted the lack of SCSI for making the iMac unsuitable for office work. Other reviewers bemoaned the high cost of external replacements for the internal floppy disk drive, low amount of installed memory, and its tinny speakers.
Another major complaint with the iMac was its original mouse and keyboard, which reviewers said were small and difficult to use comfortably, calling it an example of style over substance. The shape and ease of use of the mouse was derisively compared to a hockey puck, and its cable was frequently considered too short. The mouse's round shape made it difficult for users to discern its correct orientation. The mouse and keyboard were later replaced with the Apple Pro Mouse and Apple Pro Keyboard for the 2000-revision iMacs. Other complaints included the lack of software and USB accessories, incompatibility with Microsoft Windows, and price. Later iMac G3 models addressed some of the product's perceived shortcomings. As the product line aged, reviews noted the new models offered few advancements over previous versions.
The iMac won numerous design competitions and awards, including Gold at the 1999 D&AD Design Awards in the UK, and "Object of the Year" by The Face. Imac G3 models are held in the collections of museums including The Henry Ford, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Powerhouse Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.
The iMac G3 was an immediate hit with consumers, selling 278,000 units in its first six weeks, and 800,000 units after 20 weeks. It was the top-selling desktop computer in US stores for its first three months. Nearly half of iMac sales were to first-time computer buyers, while nearly 20 percent were Microsoft Windows users who had switched to the Mac. The quarter the iMac shipped, Macintosh computer sales grew year-on-year for the first time since late 1995, and saw the Mac grow its worldwide market share from 3 percent to 5 percent. Apple went from losing $878 million in 1997 to making its first profit in three years in 1998. The iMac continued to be a strong seller for Apple as it returned to profitability. It sold 3.7 million units by July 2000, and shipped its five-millionth iMac in April 2001.
Further information: Notable litigation of Apple Inc.#Apple v. eMachines, #appleimac.com and iMac M1
The iMac G3 became a computing icon; Paul Atkinson wrote while the original Macintosh made a huge impact on computing, it had not affected the look of computers, and for decades, personal computers were defined by unimaginative, beige boxes. The iMac, in contrast, did not affect the way consumers used computers but its design changed the idea of the appearance of computers. Apple defined itself in opposition to its competitors, who rushed to produce computers that followed the iMac's design language, adding similar translucent or colored plastic to their designs. The iMac mirrored contemporary design trends in its use of streamlining and curves; one designer said the focus on rounding helped make objects more approachable and personal.
Apple protected the distinctive iMac design with legal action against competing computer makers who attempted to imitate the iMac, such as eMachines' eOne. The iMac made computers fashionable rather than utilitarian, and helped popularize USB and hasten the demise of the floppy disk. Following Apple's lead, other computer makers focused on "legacy-free" personal computers.
The iMac's massive success helped buoy Apple while it released a modern operating system and refreshed the rest of the Mac lineup, and maintained Apple's position as a leader of the emerging digital audio and video sector. It also established a formula of quickly polishing a new Apple product through rapid iterative updates. Macworld noted the iMac saved Apple financially and proved Apple could still produce exciting, innovative products. The iMac also served as the public's introduction to Jony Ive, making him one of the world's most-celebrated designers. The product's name influenced many of Apple's later products, such as the iPod, the iLife, and the iPhone, and for a time defined Apple's consumer-focused product lines. Apple's consumer laptop the iBook followed the iMac's lead in a lack of legacy technology and use of colorful, translucent plastic. The iMac was so successful in the education market Apple created a G4-powered successor named the eMac.
The design influence of the iMac G3 was not limited to personal computers; by the early 2000s, multicolored, translucent plastic designs had become common among consumer designs, including microwave ovens and George Foreman grills. USA Today called the translucence trend "electronics voyeurism". Apple would not continue the look; it followed the bulbous, candy-colored iMac G3 with the flat-panel, white iMac G4 in 2002. Apple's desktop lineup remained relatively monochrome in the following years; the 2021 release of Apple silicon-based iMacs were sold in seven colors and were considered to hearken back to the iMac's colorful roots.
|Model||iMac (233 MHz)||iMac (266 MHz)||iMac (333 MHz)|
|Released date||August 15, 1998||October 26, 1998||January 5, 1999||April 15, 1999|
|Discontinued date||January 5, 1999||April 14, 1999||October 5, 1999|
|Color(s)||Bondi Blue||Blueberry Grape Tangerine Lime Strawberry|
|Model number; ID||M4984 iMac,1|
|Order number||M6709/A "Rev. A"||M6709/B "Rev. B"||M7345||M7440|
|Processor||PowerPC 750 (G3)|
|Clock speed||233 MHz||266 MHz||333 MHz|
|Cache||32 KB L1 Cache and 512 KB L2 backside cache|
|Memory||Two SO-DIMM slots: 32 MB PC100 SDRAM Expandable to 256 MB|
|Graphics||ATI Rage IIc with 2 MB SGRAM||ATI Rage Pro Turbo with 6 MB SGRAM|
|Hard drive||4 GB||6 GB|
|Optical drive||24x CD-ROM Tray-loading|
|Connectivity||10/100 BASE-T Ethernet|
|4 Mbit/s IrDA||—|
Audio input/output jacks
Built-in stereo speakers
|Original Operating System||Mac OS 8.1 (initial release) or Mac OS 8.5||Mac OS 8.5.1|
|Weight||40 lb (17.25 kg)|
|Dimensions||15.8 x 15.2 x 17.6 inch (40.1 x 38.6 x 44.7 cm)|
|Model||iMac (Slot Loading)||iMac (Summer 2000)||iMac (Early 2001)||iMac (Summer 2001)|
|Release date||October 5, 1999||July 19, 2000||February 22, 2001||July 18, 2001|
|Discontinued date||July 19, 2000||February 22, 2001||July 18, 2001||March 18, 2003||January 7, 2002|
|Colors||Blueberry||Grape Tangerine Lime Strawberry||Graphite||Indigo Ruby Sage Graphite Snow||Indigo Graphite||• Blue Dalmatian ✿ Flower Power||Indigo Snow Graphite|
|Processor||PowerPC 750 (G3)||PowerPC 750CX (G3)||PowerPC 750CXe (G3)|
|Clock speed||350 MHz||400 MHz||350 MHz||400 MHz||450 MHz||500 MHz||400 MHz||500 MHz||600 MHz||500 MHz||600 MHz||700 MHz|
|Cache||512 KB L2 Cache||256 KB L2 Cache|
|Memory||Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
|Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
|Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
|Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
|Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
|Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
|Two slots of PC100 SDRAM
64 MB or 128 MB
|Two slots of PC100 SDRAM|
|Graphics||ATI Rage 128 VR with 8 MB SDRAM||ATI Rage 128 Pro with 8 MB SDRAM||ATI Rage 128 Pro with 8 MB SDRAM
ATI Rage 128 Ultra with 16 MB SDRAM
|ATI Rage 128 Ultra with 16 MB SDRAM|
|Hard drive||6 GB||10 GB||13 GB||7 GB||10 GB||20 GB||30 GB||10 GB||20 GB||40 GB||20 GB||40 GB||60 GB|
|24x CD-ROM||4x DVD-ROM||24x CD-ROM||4x DVD-ROM||24x CD-ROM||4x DVD-ROM||24x CD-ROM||4x DVD-ROM|
|Connectivity||10/100 BASE-T Ethernet|
56k V.90 modem
2x FireWire (except 350 MHz models)
Audio input/output jacks
Built-in stereo speakers
|Original Operating System||Mac OS 8.6||Mac OS 9.0.4||Mac OS 9.1||Mac OS 9.1 and Mac OS X 10.0.4|
|Weight||34.7 lb (15.7 kg)|
|Dimensions||15.0 x 15.0 x 17.1 inch (38.1 x 38.1 x 43.5 cm)|
Victoria and Albert: Jony Ive (c. 1999). iMac G3 (artifact; 38 cm x 37.5 cm x 44 cm). Victoria and Albert Museum. 158296. Retrieved December 9, 2022. Powerhouse Museum: Jony Ive (c. 1999). iMac G3 'Ruby Red' computer (artifact; 14 in x 14.75 in x 16.25 in). Powerhouse Museum. 2021/100/1. Retrieved December 9, 2022.MoMA: Apple Industrial Design Group (c. 1998). iMac Desktop Computer (artifact; 15 in x 15 in x 17 in). Museum of Modern Art. 1396.2001. Retrieved December 9, 2022.; Atkinson 2020, pp. 147–149