To be sure, Steve Jobs and his priests presented many other Apple-branded Macintosh items. This is all nice, but the iMac clearly remained the raison d'être of the keynote. He celebrated the iMac's complete package: its software, internal redesign, and it's new outward redesign. Consequently, the focus will be on its outward redesign.
In evaluating its design, a good place to begin is at the very end of Job's keynote where the iMac was left to bask triumphantly at the center of a wide proscenium stage, away from other objects that might compete with it the viewer's adoration. It rested on the top of a bottom-lit museum display case, and was gloriously illuminated from above by keenly placed ceiling floods that dropped a wide, diffused shaft of light down on it to dramatically highlight its precious presence. The resulting ambiance is something that would make a Gucci store proud.
Interestingly, it had an exalted quality that is reserved only for priceless art objects in the finest gallery or the most venerated icon in a church apse. One might even say that the iMac took on an other-worldly iridescent glow. Jonathon Ive, vice president of industrial design at Apple and the computer's principal designer, even refers to the LCD's surrounding frame as a halo; it evoked a feeling of otherworldly splendor.
While a new look was expected by nearly everyone, no one expected what they saw and no prognosticators foresaw it. Only Time magazine-which mistakenly, it seems, pre-disclosed it one day early-reported the iMac correctly, but this was only by special arrangement with Steve Jobs who allowed its effigy to be placed on Time's front cover. If the Society of Jesus had been brought back from the Middle Ages when their militant power was at a peak, then not even they could have orchestrated such a focused and extensive propaganda win for the company.
Viewers were dazzled, profoundly mesmerized by the iMac's beguiling elegance and unique functional design. Perhaps this is why devotees gazed at it in rapturous wonderment. Silent minutes passed before the audience awakened to realize that the object being presented was not an object of veneration per se; instead it was just a computer.
In the process of renovation, the iMac managed to shed approximately 12 lbs of its former 35 lbs, scaling the unit down to 21 lbs, much of if from the elimination of its former jellybean-like exoskeleton.
Technically, this iMac's configuration is still considered to be an "all-in-one"; but it is no longer the all-in-one of old, that is within a single unifying enclosure. It is, however, a hybrid, composed of three clearly discernible units combined into one inseparable object, with a head, neck, and body. Its sum is more than three distinct parts; perhaps it is a trinity.
The body has a startlingly reductive shape, a hemispherical base approximately the size of a soccer ball sliced in half at 10.5 inches in diameter. The white polycarbonate body is a little porcelain-like,evoking a bathroom fixture aesthetic. Amusingly, if one were to turn the hemisphere over on its head, one could easily imagine it to be the lower funnel of a wash basin guiding water into the drain pipe. This is not surprising since Ive honed his design skills as a designer of bathroom fixtures. The hemispherical body is at once a base, a plinth, and a stabilizer, consisting of a thorax at the very top of the hemisphere, a belly in the middle, and a ring-that part that actually touches the table-at the very bottom. Appropriately, the thorax's slight milky white translucency gives the upper part of the body a lighter visual weight, while the base ring is completely opaque, and, therefore, it appears visually heavier.
The ring at the very bottom consists of a one inch high band-like encirclement that surrounds the exterior of the body. This forms the true base whose crenelated patterning is somewhat reminiscent of the jagged sole of a shoe. These characteristics gives an impression of equilibrium and stability as if resembling a well-placed foot adorned with bleached white spats firmly planted on the ground.
Liquid Crystal Display
As the eye anticipates what resides above, one sees the wide, delicate, ornate-looking, ultrathin 15-inch LCD flat-panel screen. In a sense, the screen seems detached, floating above like a plate balanced on top of a circus performer's stick. When viewed from the right angle, the screen sparkles like a fine piece of etched glass glistening from reflected light, reminiscent of Gothic stained glass found in the windows of the awesome Chartres cathedral in Paris, France.
Running counter to the prevailing impetus of reductivist industrial design where parts get smaller, the LCD panel is surrounded by a surprisingly wide framing device, a border that serves as a handle. Ive observed during the prototype stage when the border was still thin, that the fingers of many test users could not avoid touching the liquid crystal display. Their touch produced undulating rings of color that expanded across it, hence interfering with viewing the image. The widened frame seemed to offer the user enough of a handle to grasp the LCD panel without endangering the screen.
With the screen is tilted downward, the whole unit reminded one of a sunflower plant like the head of a mature flower, drooping heavily with seeds late in season-which in fact inspired Ive during a visit to Jobs's private garden. Mark Murford (sfgate.com) immoderately compares it to "a big vanity mirror stuck atop a large scoop of white rice". A psychologist revealingly added that Murford's "mirror" has the qualities of a fresh face that has the affront to persistently stare back at the viewer.
Rotating the iMac to the side, one sees the neck. The neck's properties are unique enough to be regarded as a third and distinct part of the all-in-one design. In a sense, it could even be considered to be the replacement of the former enclosure. It's a sturdy-looking, shiny, stainless steel, bar-like mechanism with a joint at each end. The lower joint emerges from the body's thorax while the upper protrudes from the rear of the screen.
A less recognized feature of the neck is that it also serves as a handle; hence, there is no formal handle, thus, obviating the need for a handle to be forced into the design of the portable computer. It is difficult to arrive at a visual image or a metaphor for how it might be grasped, except to be reminded of a weight lifter picking up barbell or a farmer picking up a dead chicken by the neck.
The neck's function is three-fold: it serves to connect the screen to the pudgy body, it acts as support for the LCD screen, and it provides the swivel function which is one of the more innovative and, indeed, key design features of the iMac.
The neck's swiveling movement allows the LCD screen to be rotated 180 degrees. The LCD screen can be elevated approximately six inches in inclination and six inches in declination; it can be pushed away and pulled nearer by about 10 inches, and it can be tilted up to 35 degrees to accommodate the user's ergonomical needs. The movement is smooth and nearly effortless. Once the desired position is reached, the counterbalancing mechanism of the neck has the effect of smoothly "locking" the LCD screen (perhaps by friction) into place by default.
This feature is unique to the iMac personal computer. The elegance of this solution is a testimony to the assiduous attention to originality in function and the problem-solving ability of the award-winning Apple Industrial Design team.
On the first MacWorld High Holy Day, at the close of the keynote ceremony, the new iMac remained center stage, basking in its glory as a tune of Apple church music played. Its three parts unified in one, it had an outward appearance that was far removed from the confusing tangle of parts seen in a PC troika; it was closer to the exalted trinity. The enthralled IT and consumer devotees cheered.
Capitalist Note: The new LCD iMacs (containing the G4 chip) can be purchased on the main floor of the Apple boutique, the CompUSA chapel, or any Apple dealer for $1,299, $1,499 and $1,799, while CRT iMacs (containing the G3 chip and less capable hardware) can be purchased for the lesser $799 and $999 at the discount counter. Feature for feature, the prices for the old and new iMacs are financially in line with what a comparably-equipped off-brand (Gateway, Dell, Compaq, HP) personal computer that runs Windows sells for.
Religious Note: The back of the iMac's hoof is pierced by many stigmatas into which one can connect a host of divine devices such as other Macs, the iPod, as well as a scanner, printer, etc. with plug-&-play ease.
Geek Note: The main electronic components have been meticulously rearranged to snugly conform to the new, round (blue instead of green) motherboard, inside the circular base. µ
John Dingler used to teach university level digital imaging and geeky computer technology classes until the department closed down. He now designs e-commerce web sites, makes art, and writes. Affectionate replies can be sent to this . John retains his copyright.
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