The five weirdest Macs of all time

In its 36 years in business, Apple has produced hundreds of computer models in a dizzying array of sizes, styles, and capabilities. All along the way, fans and critics alike have lauded Apple for its unique and distinctive design sense—even in the awkward years before Steve Jobs rejoined the company, believe it or not.

However, if a company produces hundreds of computer models, chances are that a few might come out looking a little too distinctive, little too unique, or little too weird. Here are the five weirdest Macs ever released by Apple.

5. Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian iMacs (2001)

About three years into the iMac G3’s lifespan, Apple ran out of colors. It had manufactured iMacs that were Bondi Blue, Blueberry, Strawberry, Lime, Tangerine, Grape, Graphite, Indigo, Ruby, Sage, and Snow.

That left the computer maker in a bit of a conundrum. Apple led the industry in computer colors since 1998, but the amazing pace of their innovation had left them with very few colors to choose from. Where could they go from there?

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In February 2001, Apple found the answer: It debuted iMacs with multicolor patterns named Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power that came molded into the case plastic. One style referenced a dog breed that is, in fact, never blue, while the other winked at the 1960s hippie movement, which was apropos to absolutely nothing computer-related in the year 2001.

Some thought the new patterns were ugly, while others just secretly barfed. I still have not encountered a believable report of someone fawning over the bombastic designs.

Beneath their tacky exteriors, they were solid, dependable iMacs, of course. But outside, they were both really weird, so they share a tie for the number five position on this list.

4. Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh (1997)

If one were asked to name the most indulgent, over-engineered personal computer ever created, one might casually mention the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Then duck.

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Apple released the $7499-computer to celebrate its 20th anniversary in business—almost a year after that anniversary had passed. The machine cost more money than most individuals had in their bank accounts at the time, and its resulting scarcity bred a cult-like following that persists to this day.

After watching this promotional video from 1997, it becomes evident that Apple’s Jonathan Ive had a hand in the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh’s design. (If you don’t have the time to watch, I’ll summarize the video: foldout, pop-in, touchpad, flat screen, metal stand, leather.)

This prompts the question: Is this computer what happens when Apple’s star designer is left to his own devices? Or is it just what happens when he’s under bad management? Whichever it was, it made him speak in gibberish, which I quote from the video:

“So if you imagine an object that’s a television, that’s a radio, that’s a computer—whatever computer means. If you imagine an object that has an incredible sound system. If you imagine all of those functionalities, all those technologies, if you imagine them converging into one object, what should that object be? What on earth should it look like?”

The answer, if you hadn’t guessed, is the fourth weirdest Mac on our list.

3. Power Macintosh G4 Cube (2000)

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Just after Steve Jobs announced the Power Mac G4 Cube in 2000, Apple fans immediately remembered the cube-shaped NeXT Computer from 1988 and began to sense a pattern emerging.

Aside from those two computers, that theory has never really been put to a good test. Perhaps some day Apple will release a hoard of cube-shaped iPod prototypes (with cube-shaped earbuds—ouch!). Until then, I’ll admit that the only two notable cube-shaped PCs released in the United States arrived under the purview of Jobs. So yes, he probably liked cubes. Too much, in fact.

During the G4 Cube’s introduction, Jobs spent what seemed like a minor eternity going over the fact that the machine was a perfect 8-inch cube suspended in a crystal-clear acrylic enclosure, as if that were its chief selling point. That might be why the machine didn’t sell very well—and it also might be why it’s the third weirdest Mac ever released.

2. Macintosh XL (1985)

You’re looking at the original Hackintosh. That’s what folks called the Macintosh XL back in the mid-1980s, because the product featured the body of an Apple Lisa 2/10 and the brain of a Mac.

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The Lisa debuted in 1983 (predating the Macintosh by one year) with the exorbitant price of $9995 (mistake number 1). Understandably, sales were slow. Apple attempted to revitalize the Lisa line with the release of the Lisa 2, which launched alongside the first Macintosh in January 1984 (mistake number 2). Macs outsold Lisas by a huge margin, and Apple knew the Lisa platform was doomed.

Seeking to clear out existing Lisa 2 inventory, Apple bundled the unit with Macintosh emulation software and re-branded it as the Macintosh XL. It launched in January 1985 as part of the Macintosh Office system.

To Apple’s surprise, high-end consumers snapped up the $3995 Macintosh XL in dramatic fashion, buying up Apple’s entire supply within five months of its release.

With 2MB of RAM and a 10MB internal hard drive (at a time when the most powerful “regular” Mac included a non-upgradeable 512KB of RAM and no hard drive), the Mac XL seemed a bargain for users who wanted a Mac with enough memory to actually be useful. It even sported a higher display resolution than its smaller Mac cousin (608 by 431 versus 512 by 342 on the original Mac).

Analysts, who had no idea of Apple’s original inventory-clearing plans for the XL, openly voiced their confusion about why Apple killed its most popular new product. But Apple had no intention of building any more Macintosh XLs, and this weird machine bit the dust in June 1985.

1. Power Macintosh G3 All-In-One (1998)

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Pop quiz: Name the first partly translucent all-in-one Macintosh. If you said “iMac,” you’d be horribly, terribly mistaken. But we’d all forgive you for thinking that.

No, that honor goes to the Power Macintosh G3 All-In-One, announced in March 1998—a mere two months before the iMac. Amazingly, this 59-pound beast of a machine slipped in under Steve Jobs’s watch, although you can be assured that this molar-shaped monstrosity traces its origins to a time before he took charge.

With a 233 or 266 MHz PowerPC G3 CPU, a 15-inch monitor, 4GB hard drive, and 24X CD-ROM drive, you’d be excused for thinking this machine is an iMac on paper. After all, the two machines shared similar baseline specs.

But you’d be wrong, again. The iMac ditched the twin floppy drives, the internal PCI slots, and the grotesque, tooth-like appearance that tips the scales to make the G3 All-In-One the weirdest Mac of all time.

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