9 moments that defined Apple’s iconic computer

It’s crazy to think that the iMac has been a thing for a quarter of a century. With the first iMac being released before most of Gen Z were even born, the iMac has been a constant presence through an ever-changing world.

That doesn’t mean that the iMac itself hasn’t changed, however. The current slimline, flat-screen, all-in-one computers are almost unrecognisable from those first iconic, colourful, see-through iMacs, and there have been some significant changes along the way. Let’s take a closer look at some of the significant milestones in iMac history.

History of the iMac

Is the iMac the computer that saved Apple? Arguably so. Only a year prior to the release of the first iMac, Apple was having to do the unthinkable by announcing a partnership with Microsoft. Bill Gates’ company bought $150 million of Apple stock, with the company in financial trouble.

With Steve Jobs back at the helm, however, things changed forever in 1998. The Jonny Ive-designed iMac G3 sold like hot cakes, providing financial stability for Apple, and giving the company the platform to become one of the biggest in the world today.

If you put a modern iMac alongside the original model, they’re as different as chalk and cheese. The clear plastic and three-dimensional shape has been replaced with stylish materials and a flat screen. Show someone from 1998 a modern iMac, and they might wonder where the rest of it is hidden. The iMac didn’t change overnight, however. It’s been a constant evolution over the years. Let’s take a look at some of the key models in iMac history.

imac g3


iMac G3 (1998)

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most iconic designs in the history of computing. In a time when almost every other computer was a beige box, Apple dropped an all-in-one computer that wasn’t just colourful, but you could actually see through it. The transparent Bondi Blue masterpiece was a bold design choice, but one that paid off in spades, selling five million units in less than three years. To put it another way, someone was buying an iMac every two seconds.

The stunning design wasn’t the only innovation on the iMac. It ditched the popular floppy disk drive in favour of CD-ROM drive and was the first computer to have only USB ports, something that still appears on Macs to this day, albeit it in the newer USB-C form. We choose to ignore the hockey puck mouse that was a classic case of form over function.

The iMac G3 ran on a 233MHz G3 processor, and had 32MB of RAM, although this was upgradeable to 256MB. It also packed a 4GB hard drive. In 1999, the iMac got an upgraded 266MHz G3 processor, a whopping 6GB hard drive, and four more colours: Grape, Tangerine, Lime, and Strawberry. The iMac wouldn’t see colour options like this again until the launch of the current Apple Silicon iMac.

imac g4


iMac G4 (2002)

How do you follow up a design classic? By ripping it up and starting again, that’s how. Colour? Gone. Transparency? Gone. Instead, Apple gave us something new. The cumbersome CRT display was replaced with a flat-panel LCD screen. Since there was nowhere to hide the internals in the flat screen, they got moved to the domed base of the iMac G4. Much like it has with Dynamic Island on the iPhone, Apple leant into this potential problem, and made it a key feature, with the LCD display connected to the base via a cantilevered arm that allowed you to reposition the screen. There was nothing else like it at the time, and it wouldn’t be out of place today in the world of standing desks.

The iMac G4 had a 40GB hard drive, ran on a 700MHz PowerPC 7450 (G4) processor and came with 128MB of RAM, but this was split between one factory-installed module, and one slot that was accessible to users. It meant that you could upgrade the RAM of your iMac yourself, or at least some of it. Upgrading RAM was possible with the iMac G3 too, although this was quite a challenge on the first tray-loading models. The ability to add more RAM became a staple of the iMac, all the way up to the current Apple Silicon iMac, which has the RAM built in to the M1 chip, meaning you can’t upgrade it yourself.

imac g5


iMac G5 (2004)

With the design of the iMac G4, Apple was admitting that it couldn’t cram all the necessary components for an all-in-one computer into the housing of a flat-screen LCD display. With the iMac G5, it did exactly that. The iMac G5 introduced a design that’s clearly recognisable even to those who weren’t yet born in 2004: a flat screen on a curved stand, with all the brains squirreled away inside.

The iMac G5 used the same LCD displays from the 17-inch and 20-inch iMac G4, but with the logic board and even an optical drive all mounted directly behind the panel. It looked for all the world like a desktop computer monitor without the desktop computer. It’s a design so effective that it’s been the basic format of the iMac ever since.

The iMac G5 ran on a 1.6GHz PowerPC G5 970FX processor, with 256MB of RAM that was expandable up to 2GB, and an 80GB hard drive. An update in 2005 saw the addition of a built-in iSight webcam at the top of the display, a design feature that’s lived on in all subsequent iMacs.

Polycarbonate Intel iMac (2006)

In 2006, the outside of the iMac didn’t change, with the same white polycarbonate enclosure for the 17-inch or 20-inch widescreen LCD display. The big change came on the inside as Apple ditched the PowerPC processors used in previous models, and along with the MacBook Pro, became the first Apple computers to use Intel processors instead. Apple would stick with Intel inside all the way up to 2022 when the first Apple Silicon iMac was unveiled.

The first Intel iMac rocked a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor, with 512MB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. Later the same year, the processor was upgraded to a 2GHz Intel Core Duo processor, and a 24-inch model was also released.

aluminium imac


Aluminium iMac (2007)

Since the orgy of colour that was the iMac G3, all subsequent iMacs had come in any colour you wanted, as long as it was white. The Aluminium iMac bucked this trend, replacing the white polycarbonate housing with aluminium at the front and a plastic housing at the back. Grey would remain the colour of choice until 2021. The design also featured just one solitary screw at the base that granted access to the memory slots. The 17-inch model was also ditched, with a choice of 20-inch or 24-inch displays.

The first aluminium iMac ran on a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, with 1GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive. In 2008, the processor was upgraded to a 2.4GHz Intel Core Duo and 2GB of RAM. An early 2009 update saw a 2.66GHz Intel Core Duo Processor added, along with the addition of a fourth USB slot. It was also the first version to come with a wired 78-key Apple Keyboard that ditched the numeric keypad.

In another historic first, the 2007 iMac was the very first iMac to be reviewed by Pocket-lint. Good times.

Pocket-lint verdict at the time

As an aspirational product the iMac ticks all the boxes, it’s fast, easy to use and super shiny whether you’re merely surfing the web or using the new iLife suite.

So what’s the catch? Well you’re going to have to pay for that swish cool look. With prices starting at £749 you could get a PC equivalent for half the price, but you’ll end up with something that needs to be hidden rather than put on show.

unibody imacUnibody iMac (2009)

As the name suggests, in 2009, Apple ditched the plastic back of the iMac in favour of a full aluminium housing. The other big change was the aspect ratio, with the 16:10 aspect ratio of the previous models being replaced with a 16:9 aspect ratio in 21.5-inch and 27-inch sizes.

The 2009 iMac ran on a 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, with a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM. The number of RAM slots was also increased to four, with two slots left empty by default, making it possible to upgrade to 16GB of RAM in total.

In 2010, an update to the unibody iMac saw the first i-series processor, with a 3.06GHz 2-core Intel Core i3 in the 21.5-inch version, and a 3.2GHz Intel Core i3 in the 27-inch model.

Pocket-lint verdict at the time

As a desktop computer the iMac is a very nice, very stylish machine that will give you decent performance and get the job done.

If you are expecting this to be an all-powerful home entertainment suite then you’ll need to look elsewhere: the 2009 edition of the iMac is far from that. Yes you can add a TV tuner (from Elgato not Apple) and yes you can watch HD content that you’ve downloaded, but key features missing like Blu-ray, wall mounting, a touchscreen interface and even just a HDMI socket make this miss that all important multimedia experience marker, especially against the HP and Sony offerings.

unibody slim imacSlim Unibody iMac (2012)

In 2012, the iMac got even slimmer, measuring just 5mm wide at some points. In order to make the iMac so slim, we finally had to say goodbye to the SuperDrive. This was the end of an era, with an optical drive appearing in every model of iMac since the very first. A process known as full lamination was also used, laminating the glass and the display together to remove the gap between them.

The first models ran on a 2.7GHz 4-core Intel Core i5 processor, with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. This was the last iMac that would come with a standard hard disk drive, as there was also the option of upgrading to a Fusion Drive that combined a hard disk drive with a solid-state drive, storing the files you access most often in SSD portion for faster access. The ports were also upgraded to include USB 3.0 for the first time.

Pocket-lint verdict at the time

The combination of speed, design, and screen real estate make it a lovely machine to use, even if it’s not a Retina screen. Once bought you won’t be able to tinker with anything much, except for adding in RAM, so the concept of upgrading isn’t just a pain, it’s pretty much off the table unless you’re taking the unit back in to Apple. But that’s part of the beauty of the iMac: this is a simple and unfussy solution that looks great and is a wonderful workhorse for pretty much anything you’d care to throw at it.

retina imacRetina iMac (2014)

The Retina iMac came with a Fusion drive as standard, but this wasn’t the biggest change. As the name suggests, this was the first iMac to feature a Retina display that Apple described as 5K thanks to the 5210 x 2880 resolution. The updated screen was the only real design change, however. Initially only available in a 27-inch model, a 21.5-inch model with a 4096 x 2304 resolution display was introduced in 2015.

The Retina iMac ran on a 3.5GHz 4-core Intel Core i5 processor, with 8GB of RAM upgradeable up to 32GB, and a 1TB Fusion drive. It was the last model of standard iMac to run on an Intel processor.

Pocket-lint verdict at the time

The iMac with Retina 5K display is a great looking and powerful workhorse machine that, thanks to its super-high resolution, aligns itself with current professional practice and makes the desktop all-in-one relevant again. We’re sad to see our review sample go back to Apple’s warehouse – it’s made going back to using the MacBook Pro and Air make us feel like giants.

We do have some small quibbles though: the ports to the rear are a pain to use, some apps won’t make proper use of the available resolution, and buying RAM from Apple is excessively priced. But those points can’t undo the bucket loads of brilliance the 5K iMac brings. Yes it’ll cost around £2,650 in a maxed-out arrangement, but that serious investment delivers an equally serious return.

imac proiMac Pro (2017)

Does it really count as an iMac? Well, it’s got the word iMac in the name, so it probably does. The iMac Pro was Apple’s attempt to take the good parts of the Mac Pro and build them into an all-in-one workstation. It was built in the same housing as the 27-inch Retina iMac, but in a first for the iMac, came in Space Grey.

The biggest differences were under the hood, however, with a 3.2GHz 8-core Intel Xeon W, 32GB of RAM expandable up to 256GB, and a 1TB SSD. It was possible to upgrade the later model to a 2.3GHz 18-core Intel Xeon Processor, with up to 4.3GHz Turbo Boost. All of this came at a considerable price, with the iMac Pro launching at just shy of $5,000. By 2021, the iMac Pro had been discontinued, but another major development was on the horizon.

Pocket-lint verdict at the time

Apple has discontinued the iMac Pro. The desktop was essentially a stopgap as we waited for the latest generation Mac Pro, and it’s become abundantly clear that the standard iMac has become more than powerful enough for most users.

With the upcoming transition of the iMac to Apple Silicon chips and rumours of a new Mac mini Pro, Apple has clearly decided now is the time to finish the iMac Pro line which employed high-end Intel Xeon chips. All build-to-order options for the iMac Pro have been removed from Apple’s website, with only the base-level version left (still a mere $/£5,000).

imac m1Apple Silicon iMac (2021)

The latest model of the iMac can claim a number of firsts. It’s the first iMac to feature a range of colour options since the original iMac G3, with options of Silver, Blue, Green, Pink, Yellow, Orange, and Purple. It’s also the first (proper) iMac to only be available in one size (24-inches) since the original iMac G3. But most significantly of all, it’s the first iMac to use Apple Silicon.

The iMac runs on Apple’s own M1 chip, the first departure from Intel processors since 2006. There’s a 4480 x 2520 resolution display, support for Wi-Fi 6, Thunderbolt 3/USB-C 4.0 ports, and a 6K output if you want to use a Pro Display XDR. It’s also the first iMac to include a 1080p camera, so you can Zoom in high definition. There’s 256GB of SSD storage as standard; you can upgrade to up to 2TB, but you’ll need to make this decision before you purchase.

The Apple Silicon iMac really does feel like a true successor to the original iMac G3; with a range of colour options and Apple’s own processor inside, it’s pure Apple inside and out.

Pocket-lint verdict at the time

In terms of a redesign of its venerable all-in-one desktop, Apple has really pulled it out of the bag in the 2021 iMac.

The super performance is no surprise because of what we already knew about the M1 chip’s capabilities. But it’s the fresh design that’s the real story, stepping things up a level compared to other Intel-based all-in-ones.

The colours and the associated design details are a nice touch, but it’s really about the size reduction and larger 24-inch display over the larger format but smaller-screen 21.5-inch iMac that it replaces.

What’s next for the iMac?

The iMac may have been around for a quarter of a century, but it’s not stopping yet. All the rumours point to a new iMac being just around the corner. If the reports are to be believed, it could be one of the very first products to rock Apple’s new M3 chip. Will it be see-through? Only time can tell…

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button