Today in Apple history: Steve Jobs shows off the colorful iMac G3

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iMac design: The iMac G3 was a bit fatter than model than today's models.
The iMac G3 looked different from any other computer.
Photo: Apple

May 6: Today in Apple history: iMac G3 arrives to save Apple May 6, 1998: Steve Jobs unveils the iMac G3, the brightly colored, translucent computer that will help save Apple.

Ten months after Jobs’ new management team takes over, the iMac loudly announces that the days of Apple quietly fading into the background are over.

The iMac was a computer from a good planet

It’s difficult to overstate just how different the iMac looked when compared to other computers at the time. Next to the gray or beige boxes built by rivals, it really stood out.

“It looks like it’s from another planet,” Jobs said at the time. “A good planet. A planet with better designers.”

The designer responsible for the iMac G3 was Jony Ive, then just 31 years old. Ive had been at Apple for several years before Jobs’ return, but he was on the verge of quitting. Instead, he found so much in common with Jobs that his planned resignation turned into the pair developing a breakthrough new machine.

The iMac G3 was very much an update of the philosophy that drove the original Macintosh in 1984. At the time, Apple’s most affordable computer cost $2,000, almost twice what a typical Windows PC ran. Jobs initially wanted something stripped-down and affordable, through which users could access the internet.

However, just as happened with the original Mac, the project became more ambitious and morphed into a statement computer. With its translucent sea-blue design (named Bondi Blue after the water at an Australian beach), the iMac G3 looked accessible and easy to use.

Not everyone liked it, though. Some people thought it looked too toylike, especially with its terrible “hockey puck” mouse. But everyone acknowledged its distinctiveness.

iMac G3 specs: A smash hit for Apple

Apple
The “hockey puck” mouse did not find many fans.
Photo: Apple

In terms of specs, the iMac G3 boasted a 233 MHz PowerPC 750 (G3) processor, 32MB of RAM, a 4GB EIDE hard drive, and a choice of either ATI Rage IIc graphics with 2MB of VRAM or ATI Rage Pro Turbo graphics with 6MB of VRAM.

Two other pieces of hardware are also worth mentioning. The iMac came with a built-in telephone modem at a time when most computers included these only as optional extras. It also, notably, didn’t come with a floppy disk drive at a time when this was standard. Like Apple’s elimination of the 3.5mm headphone jack years later, this caused an uproar — until everyone realized Cupertino made the right call.

The iMac went on sale a few months after Jobs’ unveiling of it in August 1998. By this time, the all-in-one computer racked up 150,000 preorders. The high level of interest drove Apple’s stock price to more than $40. This marked its highest point in three years.

The iMac kicked off a new Apple era

The iMac’s colorful design later made its way to the iBook laptop, which also proved immensely popular. In addition, Apple released a series of iMac G3 models in alternative colors, including oddball patterns like Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian.

Ultimately, Apple moved away from the ultra-colorful look a couple of years later, beginning with the distinctive white iPod. Today, the look most associated with the modern iMac is a single thin slab of aluminum. For a while, though, this was the coolest computer around.

Did you own the iMac G3? What did you think of it when you first saw it? Let us know in the comments below.