The Mac’s slow descent into boredom shows how little fun Apple is having
All the news, rumors, and tips you missed last week.
By David Price, Editor, MacworldMAY 8, 2023 3:30 am PDT
Welcome to our weekly Apple Breakfast column, which includes all the Apple news you missed last week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a Monday morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.
‘The back of this thing looks better than the front of the other guys’
The iMac celebrated its 25th birthday this weekend, and it was hard not to compare that joyous launch with the state of the Mac today. The very first iMac felt like a cultural event, and its appearance in colleges and home offices across the world was an inflection point in the development of consumer technology. Nowadays Apple struggles to generate anything like the same excitement for a Mac launch, and it’s hardly surprising that sales numbers are starting to flag.
Maybe it’s inevitable that a market sector will become commoditized, and lose some of its hype, as the years go by. Or maybe the way Apple approaches the market has changed. For example, look at Steve Jobs’ famous quadrant, which occupied a prominent place in that 1998 keynote: there were just four squares covering the flagship products it intended to make at the intersections of consumer and pro, and desktop and portable. Imagine trying to fit the 2023 Mac range–Mac Studio, outdated Mac Pro, and all–into a simple grid, and then trying to fit that grid into a presentation slide. It’s much easier to get excited about a product when you understand how it fits into a range, and who it’s aimed at.
But the key to getting excited and inspired by a product is a recognition that it’s different from everything you’ve seen before. The iMac was groundbreaking and innovative, surpassing contemporary PCs with its more user-friendly interface and simple method of connecting to the internet. Somewhat controversially, it was the first Mac to drop the floppy drive, but its USB port meant it was better equipped than previous machines to accommodate a wide range of hardware.
Above all, it was groundbreaking aesthetically. The G3 iMac was arguably Jonny Ive’s finest hour, with a cute, colorful, translucent look that was like nothing we’d seen before but would go on to influence tech design for years to come. In a landscape of beige boxes, the iMac was eccentric and tactile, and a little silly. It was risky and different and certainly not perfect–that mouse, my goodness–but it was fun.
Compare that to the Mac range Apple is selling right now. Where’s the weirdness? Where’s the fun? The MacBook Air comes, not in Bondi Blue, Lime, and Tangerine, but in bluish-black, gray, silver, and the most muted gold in the world. The Mac mini is a sensible gray box. And the G3 iMac’s direct descendant, the 24-inch iMac, has replaced the bulbous blob shape with a rectangle and doesn’t even have the courage of its colors, hiding their full vibrancy around the back so the actual user sees only a faded facsimile.
It’s not easy to keep being surprising and odd over a long period of time, and it was probably inevitable that the Mac would be less interesting a quarter-century later. So the next question is this: Can Apple generate the same excitement and affection in a different sphere? At WWDC, we may have our answer. Or not.
Video of the week
A quarter of a century ago, Steve Jobs introduced the iMac to the world. It really was a different time.
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