Mac users are renowned experts at two things: gushing effusively about all things Apple (Mac OS X, G4s, G5s, PowerBooks, Cubes, iMacs, iPods, iMovie, Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive, iTunes, FireWire over USB, etc); and complaining bitterly about all things Apple, except Woz. Every product has a forum and user group somewhere, in which fans and detractors waste valuable life hours discussing its minutiæ. When they’re not having heated arguments over whether the new product is as “insanely great” as the old ones, they’re gossiping about the next version.
Some Apple-product fan bases don’t have much to gossip about. I’m sure G4 Cubists still hang onto the hope that Apple will introduce a new G5 version of the world’s smallest super-computer. Indeed, Apple never officially canned the gorgeous but grossly over-priced block of silicon and polycarbonate. The Cube was iced, not diced. Even some diehard Newton maniacs – and I assure you they are legion – seriously expect a new MessagePad any time soon. There are more Apple PDA rumours than there are JFK conspiracies.
Strangely, I’ve heard very little clamour for a return to the much-loved bubble-shaped iMac G3, and that was Apple’s single biggest Mac success story. I’m sure that there’s a Strawberry iMac collective and a kennel of Blue Dalmatian lovers out there somewhere, but the giant gasp of surprise at the sight of the chrome-necked iMac G4 appears to have sucked all the oxygen from potential Bondi Blue berserkers.
There was less of a “whoa!” moment of shock when Apple unveiled the new iMac G5 during Apple Expo Paris. In among the cheers and strange European noises that the French are wont to emit there was more of a Gallic shrug than a shock.
We’ve known that a new iMac was coming for months now, and Apple told us that it would boast a G5 processor. In those expectant months it appeared that no one on a Mac rumour site faked anything in Photoshop that didn’t look pretty much exactly like the finished product. No one drank too much on a Friday night, went home, fired up a 3D modeller, and went to town on a pretend new design that out-chrome-necked the iMac G4. Everyone – everyone – took an Apple Cinema Display, made it a bit more chunky, and stuck a keyboard and mouse in front of it.
And that is what the new iMac looks like. When I emerged from the Palais des Congrès de Paris, I was surprised on calling back home to discover that everyone else was singularly unimpressed. It looked just like all the images on the rumour sites. And yet up close and in cold polycarbonate they’re really quite something to behold. Of course they look boringly familiar – we’ve all seen an LCD screen before. And that’s all you really see – albeit one with a funny slab-like expanse of white plastic under the screen.
The real beauty of the new iMac is not the latest Ive-inspired go-get-it gadgetry and moving mechanics – it’s what you don’t see that’s so good looking.
At home I’m lucky enough to have a Power Mac G5 and 20-inch Cinema Display. The G5 sits under my desk, so all I see on top is the subtle aluminium aesthetics of the LCD – oh, and the inkjet, laser, wireless mouse apparatus, iPod dock, iSight and something fluorescent from Griffin Technology that I don’t even know what to do with… So the new iMac looks just like what many of us see on our desks already. Big deal...
But it is a big deal, because now there’s no hulking great computer box under the table waiting to be kicked or taking up the rest of the desktop. When you see an iMac G5 up close and get your head round the fact that, yes, that’s it, then you’ll see the beauty of this latest domestic design classic.
Apple has made a big song and dance about how the iMac comes “From the creators of the iPod”. In its own way this simple piece of marketing blurb is the most astonishing thing of all about the iMac announcement. Apple redefined itself in 1984 when it released the Macintosh. Is it now setting out its stall around the iPod?
Sure, there are similarities between the iPod and the iMac. There’s the same approach to double-shooting plastic with a crystal layer on top. It’s an amazingly simple design, just like the little iPod. Sitting quietly in a PC shop, it’s going to make all the other personal computers look like multi-limbed dinosaurs, just as the iPod makes other MP3 players look like mobile phones from the 1980s.
But it isn’t just about elegance and simplicity. Apple is canny enough to know that the iPod has become a bigger brand than the iMac, Mac and even Apple itself. It isn’t afraid of using that fact to push its latest creation on to a market that now sees Apple in a different light to the niche platform it once was stuck in. And many of these people aren’t yet Apple nuts at all. The iPod really could be the Trojan Horse that enters the public consciousness, and makes buying an Apple seem like the most natural thing in the world.