Growing older as an engineer turns out to be a succession of moments in which technologies and devices which you somehow still imagine to be cool or exciting, reveal themselves in fact to be obsolete, indeed, old. Such a moment comes today, with the25th anniversary of the most iconic of 1990s computers, Apple’s iMac. The translucent all-in-one machine was and remains more than simply yet another shiny Mac, it’s probably the single most influential home computer ever. A bold statement to be sure, but take a look at the computer you’re reading this on, indeed at all your electronic devices here in 2023, before you dismiss it.

Any colour you want, as long as it's beige
Any colour you want, as long as it’s beige. Leon Brooks, Public domain.

Computers in the 1990s were beige and boring. Breathtakingly so, a festival of the generic. If you had a PC it came in the same beige box as every single other PC, the only thing breaking the monotony being one of those LED 7-segment fake-MHz displays. Apple computers took the beige and ran with it, their PowerMac range being merely a smoother-fronted version of all those beige-box PCs. This was the period following the departure of Steve Jobs during which the company famously lost its way, and the Bondi blue Jonny Ive-designed iMac was the signature product of his triumphant return.

That’s enough pretending to have drunk the Apple Kool-Aid for one article, so  why are we marking this anniversary? The answer lies not in the iMac’s hardware, though its 233MHz PowerPC G3 and ATI graphics driving a 15″ CRT were no slouch for the day, nor even in its forsaking of all their previous proprietary interfaces for USB. Instead it’s the design influence of this machine, as it ushered in a new era of technological devices whose ethos lay around how they might be used rather than in simply showering the interface with features. At the time the iMac spawned a brief fashion for translucent blue in everything from peripherals to steam irons, but in the quarter century since your devices have changed immeasurably in its wake. We still don’t like that weird round mouse though.

Header image: Rama, CC BY-SA 4.0.