It is the 20th anniversary of the iMac G3, the original iMac that was designed by Jony Ive and was one of the first computers released by Steve Jobs after he rejoined Apple in 1997. It launched in August 1998.
But before you go and get all misty-eyed over Apple’s cute little computer that could, try taking a minute to remember what was so great about the iMac G3. In the end, what you’ll realise is that the only good thing about Apple’s first iMac was its design, most notably the striking shade of Bondi blue baked into its translucent, plastic body.
I will wholeheartedly admit that in 1998 when pretty much every other desktop was a boring shade of beige, the iMac G3 was a revelation. The thing looked more like a giant piece of candy than a computer. Meanwhile, over in Windows land, the coolest thing at the time was probably the cow-print boxes Gateway computers came in.
I also remember when my high school bought a whole roomful of iMac G3s to complement its existing PC lab, and after seeing the brightly-coloured case and remembering my Dad’s weird and interesting monochrome NeXTSTEP PC, which was also made by some guy named Steve Jobs, I thought: This thing is going to be cool. Oh, how wrong I was.
The iMac G3 featured other innovations, like a hidden cable management compartment, the use of USB ports instead of Apple’s older proprietary connections, and an integrated design that made it a bit easier to set up than a traditional desktop. But those were small bonuses. They weren’t enough to save the iMac from being bad.
But what about that handle, you say? Please. With a listed weight of 17kg, handle or no handle, that iMac wasn’t something you wanted to move around very often. And despite Jobs’ claims that the 233 MHz IBM PowerPC 750 chip in the iMac chip was blazing fast, real-world testing done by PC World and others showed that wasn’t really the case.
And this is before we’ve even talked about the issues inherent to all-in-one computers, such as the increased difficulty of upgrading components post-purchase, the inability to reuse the display, and the general lack of customisation.
But the truly worst thing about the original iMac was its mouse. Seemingly designed purely for looks, Apple’s one-button monstrosity is possibly the least ergonomic peripheral I’ve ever used. It felt like you were trying to move the cursor around by pushing a hockey puck, and even though in hindsight I appreciate Apple’s use of a cord sporting USB, the cable on the iMac G3's mouse was hilariously short, too. After just two years on the market, the Apple USB mouse was unsurprisingly replaced by the still annoying, but much better Apple Pro Mouse.
In later years, Apple expanded on the iMac G3's striking looks by adding even more fruity colours to the line, including lime, strawberry, indigo, and more. Like the original Bondi blue model, those versions looked pretty sweet. I must say, however, that some of the limited-edition iMac flavours like Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power may have gone a bit too far.
In the end, if the legacy of the original iMac is enough to get Apple to spruce up the next batch of iPhones with fun, lively colours, that’s something I can get down with—just so long as we don’t let our emotions prevent us from seeing the iMac G3 as it really was: a sneakily expensive, yet frustrating all-in-one that wasn’t actually all that fast, with an innovative, but not fully polished design, an awful mouse, and a great colour scheme.