Where’d the Ambition Go?

iMacMy initial thought on Apple’s new iMac, which was announced today at Apple Expo in Paris, is that it’s a nice bit of engineering, but unfortunately it amounts to little more. That the product team seems to have jumped through some nontrivial technical hoops in fitting a G5-based CPU on the back of an LCD screen seems insufficiently impressive to me — I wanted something more groundbreaking. The form factor of the iMac line has, since its inception in 1998, always represented the vanguard of Apple’s consumer thinking; both the net appliance cutesiness of the original and the elegant, sunflower-like articulation of its 2002 successor were new ways of thinking about consumer computing.

Below: the downside of the new iMac. It’s actually quite amazing how much a photo of Apple hardware looks like a Mac OS X icon.

All the Way

This year’s model is not that. Proof of this shortfall can be seen in the lamentably accurate design predictions worked up by fans over the past several weeks. Many of them are dead on, which is a unique event — Apple has always surprised us in the past, and to see it release something that’s nearly a forgone conclusion suggests a worrisome dearth of imagination.

The New iMac’s Ass

What’s frustrating is that Apple seems to have headed down a road that suggests so many possibilities, but they seem unwilling to fully commit to the path. The company’s marketing pitch posits that “the display is the computer,” making its stand nearly superfluous — but the computer is still wedded to the stand, apparently. Making it removable — and easily wall-mountable — would have required a little bit more effort, but even then it would have only been half of a good idea.

The logical next step after cramming a computer inside of an LCD case is to make it truly portable, to give it the qualities of a laptop and/or a tablet computer. I realize that adding this kind of functionality requires not only hardware but software innovation — no mean task — but isn’t this a challenge that Apple seems ideally suited for? The answer to that is ‘yes.’



  1. Generally agreed. It’s the first iMac I’ve looked at seriously, but only because my wife emailed ME to say “Look at the price! Can we get one?!”

    An unheard-of event 😉

    Anyway, to nitpick:

    > Making it removable — and easily wall-mountable — would have required a little bit more effort, but even then it would have only been half of a good idea.

    The mount IS removable and “VESA” compliant: From http://www.apple.com/uk/imac/graphics.html :

    > ** Modern Art Installation

    > The iMac offers the smallest footprint ever, but you can make that zero with an optional VESA mount. Hang it from the wall or swing it around on your desk.

    Small point to clarify. But yes, the design far from breathtaking.

    iMac 2000 = revolutionary
    iMac 2002 = evolutionary
    iMac 2004 = reactionary

    Guess it goes to show that there’s only so much you can reduce before you’re left with only the bare essentials – then everything looks the same…

  2. The stand is removable. With a VESA mount it is wall mountable.

    reference: http://www.apple.com/imac/graphics.html

    As for Apple’s design not meeting anyone else’s ambition: I’ve always thought of Apple being about getting things done. The computer shouldn’t detract from the act of creation. It should be as little noticeable as possible.

    The only way to make the iMac less noticeable now would be a floating holographic image.

  3. I’ll be withholding judgement until I get the chance to play with one. With refinement such as this, a photograph may not tell the whole story.

  4. I stand corrected; I thought it was removable and that’s the way I originally drafted this post. But, between work tasks, I wasn’t able to hunt down the VESA detail easily, so I assumed I was mistaken and quickly redrafted. The perils of blogging from work — and of holding forth on brand new subjects before getting a chance to properly research. Thanks for the correction, Jonathan and Christopher.

  5. As someone who lacks a design background I would like to state for the record that when I first saw this new iMac today, my immediate thought was “I don’t need one but I really want one.”

    12 hours later, that’s still what I’m thinking.

    Seems to be a logical progression towards something like what you’re looking for.

  6. Fair enough. Maybe it’ll grow on me, too. I remember having reservations about the first iMac too, and I grew to like it. Also, none of my comments above were meant to suggest that I myself did not have the immediate thought, “I don’t need one but I really want one.” Because I did!

  7. *Yawn*

    I have to agree…Apple is no longer the only game in town for a serious designer.

    And they don’t hold the corner on innovative industrial design.

    I hope that competition brings their standard back up to what it once was.

  8. I love it. I love the fact that there is no “computer” and by that I mean base. The future is a 28, 36, 48, 62 inch high def, computer for the living room and this is the very first step. At 20″ it’s still stuck in your office, but now I put that slim computer on my wall and holy desk space. Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and I’m drooling in functionality.

    It’s great design the way a televison is designed great because that’s the future for home computing my friends. All signs point to the living room hub. The iSeries is all about hubbing in your living room.

  9. I don’t understand why people are so keen on wall-mounting their computer. Who could be so pinched for desk-space that the new iMac, with it’s tiny footprint, would still be too much?

    When I saw the iPod Mini unveiled at the last expo I practically yawned. Until I held one in my hand. I think that the new iMac is the same idea, the tiny web-casted conference keynote doesn’t do it justice.

    Finally, I’m confused as to why people are so desperate for earth-shaking re-designs. It’s Episode I all over again. Everyone is expecting the new design to change their lives.

    Personally I feel that this design is more elegant than the last. The sunflower design was great, but felt too much like a child’s computer to me. People are lamenting the missing armature, but how much do you need a monitor to move around? You set it once and then work.

  10. Regarding wall-mounting your Mac: the case for this isn’t really all that compelling, or at least it won’t be until we see some accompanying innovations in software and peripheral. Like being able to browse iPhoto libraries via a Bluetooth remote, with the iMac mounted on a wall in the study.

    Regarding moving a monitor around: I do it all the time to share what’s on my screen, both at the office with co-workers sitting a desk or two away, and at home, where my girlfriend is sometimes sitting on the couch and I want her to see something while I’m at my desk. It’s handy.

  11. A thought that occured to me for the working cross-platform designer is this:

    What this iMac gives is the ability to easily have side by side two computers of different platforms to design/code/program on — here, the small unobtrusive footprint is perfect. No need for two desktop machines (though the same argument could be said for previous iMacs, though this seems the smallest/slimmest of the bunch) and it’d be easy to have these two on your desk. Just as easy as those who use two monitors as it is. Add a KVM switch in there and you’d be set.

    Now get yourself an ugly Sony version of the same thing and voila – minimal desk clutter but two machines to easily test against.

    Perfect for those with minimal or cluttered desk space.

    It makes it very appealing to switch – the small foorprint, the price and it looks great stacked against a PC. Also it’d be the dealmaker for those who couldn’t deal with the kitschy Fisher Price like iMac prior.

  12. I can’t be remote and even handed about the pros and cons of the iMac G5, because I’m so happy that hideous Lamp is gone!

    So, Yippee! At long last there is again an iMac.

    With the 3rd gen iPod that makes Two ugly counterproductive designs down, now if we can just get them to replace the eMac with a modular lowend desktop…

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