Today in Apple history: Apple introduces its biggest iMac G4 yet

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Apple's 20-inch iMac G4 in all its glory.
Apple's 20-inch iMac G4 in all its glory.
Photo: Wikipedia CC

November 18: Today in Apple history: Apple introduces 20-inch iMac G4 November 18, 2003: Apple debuts its 20-inch iMac G4, the company’s biggest flat-panel all-in-one computer ever.

The introduction makes an already superb Mac even better. Somehow, though, the additional screen real estate makes the new Mac weigh twice as much as the 17-inch model.

The iMac G4 first shipped in early 2002, making the 20-incher a relatively late addition to the product line. (Apple discontinued the G4 line the following August.) Because of this, the main difference with the 20-inch model was the screen size rather than fundamental hardware changes.

That massive LCD screen proved a joy to behold. It offered an impressive 1680-by-1050 resolution. Still, it’s amusing to reflect on a time when Apple’s biggest regular Mac display was smaller than either of today’s two iMac screen sizes.

The 20-inch flat-panel once again confirmed Apple as the company for video editors and graphics professionals. The iMac also boasted two FireWire 400 ports and three high-speed USB 2.0 ports. It supported 54Mbps AirPort Extreme 802.11g wireless networking and optional built-in Bluetooth for wireless connectivity. It retailed for $2,199.

The changing face of iMacs

No other Apple product has changed as much, and certainly not as quickly, as the iMac. The first-generation iPhone looks bulkier and smaller than the iPhone X, but it’s still obviously part of the same family.

Look at the bulbous, colorful iMac G3, on the other hand, and compare it with today’s ultra-thin, aluminum-and-glass iMac. You would be hard-pressed to see any similarity beyond the big Apple logo.

At the risk of getting pretentious about it, the iMac G4 was a transition piece. It moved Apple away from the eye-catching, cutesy design that characterized the iMac G3 and the iBook and toward Apple’s now-longstanding love of austere minimalism.

iMacG4
Apple’s three sizes of iMac G4.
Photo: Apple

It was also a computer that tied back to Apple’s hippy, nature-inspired roots.

Like the geodesic dome of Buckminster Fuller, the “back to nature” Whole Earth Catalog that Steve Jobs spoke about in his Stanford commencement address, or even the natural-sounding “Apple” name itself, the G4 borrowed from the natural world with its sunflower design.

In Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, he told the story of Jobs and Ive struggling to come up with a new design for their next-gen iMac. Jobs and Ive wound up in the former’s garden, where they came up with the idea of a computer with a movable head that could be angled like a sunflower reaching for the sun.

This was achieved using a cantilevered, fully posable metal arm, which supported the screen — and, contrary to some fears at the time, did it without risking the whole thing falling over.

iMac G4: A personal favorite

The iMac G4 was a spectacular piece of kit, which I remember being blown away by when I saw it for the first time. Again, it was an example of Apple choosing the perfect time to jump on a new technology at the point at which it was market-ready.

The 20-inch iMac G4 was particularly special, even if the aforementioned weight gain came with some disadvantages. As last-gasp upgrades go, this was a great machine.

Did you own an iMac G4? What is your favorite iMac model in history? Leave your comments below.

  • LEK56

    Lucky enough to be at the keynote when Jobs presented it. I was about 20 rows back. Still have it in my collection. LOVE the Mac. Still hols up well design-wise.

  • ducktails

    This was such a pretty Mac. I had a 17″ 1GHz iMac G4. Even though the arm idea may not have been the best in the end, it was still a very cool looking iMac. I still love the design today.

  • bIg hIlL

    The one in the photo is running Leopard 10.5 which didn’t come out until 2007, 4 years after the G4.