Where Does the iMac Go From Here?

by James R. Stoup Mar 12, 2007

The original iMac came out in 1998. Four years later, in the first month of 2002, the second version showed up. Two years after that saw the third (and current) design. What started life as a multi-colored egg, morphed into a swiveling lamp and finally settled on a floating window look. All of this is well and good, but it does beg the question: where do you go from here?

I can understand looking at the G3 iMac and thinking that the CRT monitor needed to go. And I can understand looking at the G4 iMac and thinking that there were too many moving parts. But how do you look at the current iMac and realistically make a fundamental improvement? How exactly can you make it dramatically better?

Wait, let me change that. Forget dramatically, let’s just go with “better.” How would you make the iMac better?

Uh. . . make it thinner?

Ok, and?

Uh. . . make it smaller?

Ok. Anything else?

You see the problem? The way I see it, Apple has only three ways of improving this particular product.

  1. Make the case thinner.
  2. Relocate the components that take up the bottom portion of the fixture (I hate that big waste of white space).
  3. Redesign the stand.

Unfortunately, none of these imply groundbreaking redesigns. However, it is possible that, in a few years, Apple might finally achieve the dream of so many Sci Fi writers. They might, and in all likelihood will, release an entire computer that is basically a floating monitor. There will be only one cable, and that will be for power, and everything else will be wireless.

And once we reach that point, the only innovation we can expect is in squeezing more computer into basically the same shape. Now, I’m not exactly saying that if we reached this point, that it would be a bad thing. I really like the iMac in its current incarnation. And I really like the thought of reducing it to the point of a frameless, floating monitor in which all of my input devices interact in a wireless manner. I think that’s great, wonderful, fabulous…but it’s also kind of boring.

In other words, the iMac may soon reach its ideal state. And by that I mean that soon, it will reach the point where (for what it does) it is the most efficient design. In a way, it is kind of like the fork. The fork, as we know it, has been around for more than 1,000 years. And yet, its basic shape hasn’t changed that much. It has 2-4 prongs, a handle, and a slight curve. It can be made of several different materials with various ornamentation, but regardless of these minimal changes you immediately know a fork when you see one. And a thousand years of progress haven’t really changed it. We have put a man on the moon, we can fly faster than the speed of sound, we created the internet, we are working on controlling machines with our minds…and we still eat a steak with the same basic tool the Romans did. Why? Because there really isn’t a better way to do what a fork does than with a fork.

I predict that in 20 years every basic computer (not workstation) is going to resemble today’s iMac. If for no other reason than eventually everyone is going to realize there just isn’t a more efficient way of doing things. How Apple will adapt to this, I have no idea. Maybe by the time this happens they will have moved on to three-dimensional displays. But until then the iMac looks to have reached the end of its redesigns. Like I said before, I don’t think this is a bad thing; however, it may be a sad thing. After all, innovation is always inspiring, and I hate to see it end.


  • Damn, the current iMac design is pretty awesome. I hope it sticks around until I have enough money to buy one. The giant one.

    the parallax view had this to say on Mar 13, 2007 Posts: 25
  • I must be honest and say that when I look at my 20” iMac (and long for the 24” model), I don’t see much of anything to improve.  I’d love for the USB plugs to be a little more accessible, and the side slot is on the wrong side for a dual monitor setup, but those aren’t really big design issues.

    But then one of the reasons I don’t make millions of dollars as a hardware designer is that I just don’t come up with interesting designs that balance practicality, current technology, and innovative looks.

    I think Greg has it right.  We can’t imagine what we can’t imagine (that’s why we can’t imagine it).

    And I think one of the reasons why the current iMac design has lasted as long as it has is because Apple itself is pretty satisfied with it as well.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 13, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Yes. It is a good design.

    Benji had this to say on Mar 13, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Get rid of the chin, make it look more like a Cinema display and add a height adjustable foot so that it can go right down on the foot.

    The speakers may be a bit of a problem though….

    gwschreyer had this to say on Mar 13, 2007 Posts: 23
  • I actually like the flexibility of the iMac I am writing this on right now: a G4 iLamp.  It can be tilted, raised-n-lowered, swung around, and all the cables hang discreetly off the back. Yes, it was a luv-it or hate-it design, but it was very well thought out.

    The one thing that I just intuitively want to do with the current crop of iMacs is ROTATE the screen vertically. (We already have HP flat panel displays on PCs at work that are pivot enabled).

    There could be an axis sensor or something in the iMac that could detect whether the display is horizontally aligned or vertically aligned and adjust the desktop automatically.  This would allow you to view web sites vertically so you don’t have to scroll as much and watch your movies or work in your applications horizontally as well.

    So… for the next iMac:
    1) Re-implement the flexibility of the G4 iLamp
    2) Add the ability to rotate the screen vertically

    heres2u had this to say on Mar 14, 2007 Posts: 6
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