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Computers as a Fashion Statement, Part I: The iMac and its Legacy
11/10/00
By Stanislav Kelman

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What is it that so distinguishes the iMac from the rest of the flock?

Ever since the initial release of the first iMac, there hasn't been another computer whose merits were so actively debated. Even two and a half years later, it continuously inspires people to write editorials, such as this one. There is just something about the iMac that draws a lot more attention to it than to the countless models released by all the other top-tier computer manufacturers combined.

Now, before you start bashing me for being an Apple fanatic, I would like to provide some statistics to back up the above statement. And, in fact, I won't even have to go looking for data any further than this very site. Doing a simple search for the word "iMac" right here on osOpinion, returns as many as 249 relevant Web pages. This is more that the 235 entries that you get when looking for any term in the "Compaq, HP, Hewlett, Packard, Dell, Gateway, eMachines" search string. What is even more impressive is that a query for "Apple Macintosh" returns 666 documents, which means that more than one third of the site's contributors were compelled to mention the "evil" machine.

So, what is that something that makes such a huge difference between the iMac and the rest of the flock? I dare to claim that the clue lies in nothing else but the Genuine Sense of Style. Incidentally, this is exactly what John Dvorak, a long-time ZDNet columnist, was pointing out in his recent column entitled "Time to Defend Apple."

Arguably, the nearly pathological lack of taste among geeks is the main reason why replicating the success of "the little computer that could" proved to be so difficult. For people who think of a freebee T-shirt as an ultimate fashion statement, there is nothing more difficult than trying to grasp the bizarre notion of Style. Thanks to them, the iMac copycats, such as Gateway Astro and eMachines eOne, were brought into this world only to vanish quickly and without a trace.

It got so bad that I was starting to suspect that multi-billion companies like Dell still might not have a single professional designer on staff, or else they wouldn't be using the same bland beige boxes for decades. Up to now, the employees of these "high tech" establishments never had much of a reason to be interested in industrial design, or fine art, or anything else that could not be easily quantified with a performance benchmark. But then again, even Dell finally gave into the craze and came up with the new OptiPlex chassis design. Give these guys a few more years and they might even discover the wonderful world of colors beyond the 8 shades of gray!

In any event, while others were playing catch-up, the influence of the iMac on technology in general has been remarkable indeed. Even on the surface, the abundance of translucent products on the shelves of your local electronics store will convince you that it has had effects far beyond the Mac user community, or even the computer industry as a whole. Thanks to Apple, even the traditionally design-agnostic Windows users are starting to realize that the experience of using a computer has next to nothing to do with all those hyped-up technical specs.

However, one thing that became even more painfully obvious than ever is that the herd mentality, that has defined the PC industry for decades, is alive and well. Somehow, the clueless marketing folks all around the globe were fooled into believing that translucent casing is some kind of a magic bullet. The truth of the matter is that the secret to the iMac's success is not just in its colored plastic, but in its general appeal to both the wallet and the senses. What these guys fail to realize is that when you slap a "Barbie" logo onto a cheap generic computer ... you still get a cheap generic computer.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and one of them is Handspring, a company founded by the same people who brought us the original PalmPilot. Although Handspring's awesome gadgets do feature translucent cases, they also offer expansion options beyond those available for regular Palm organizers. Once again, the key here is attractive design, coupled with value-added features, available for a reasonable amount of money.

But whenever I start talking about good-looking exterior designs, the G4 Cube immediately comes to mind. So, please check back next week for a discussion of the influence of the Cube on the direction in which the computer industry might be heading...

Talkback Forum


Author's background:
Stanislav Kelman doesn't own an iMac but "administers" his roommate's original bondi blue machine. And, although he has a couple of his own computers (a Mac and a PC), he still likes playing around with the iMac whenever he gets a chance. He even openly admits that, for reasons beyond his own comprehension, using either one of his beige boxes never seems to come even close to providing the sheer enjoyment of day-to-day computing on the iMac. Stanislav would love to hear your reaction to his opinion columns, so feel free to drop him a line at osOpinion@LetItBe.org.

 

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