The iMac G4—my all time favorite iMac model (at least so far) and one of Apple’s most innovative and brilliant desktop computer designs ever—is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
The iMac G4 revolutionarily dispensed with the heavy, bulky CRT display that had been the dominant characteristic of previous iMacs, replacing it with a thin, laptop-like flat panel LCD display mounted on a floating, cantilevered “swing arm,” infinitely adjustable within its range of movement and engineered to to maintain the display at an orientation parallel to its original viewing angle when it was moved up, down, left, right or diagonally. The arm was anchored to a white 10.6-inch diameter hemispherical dome base inside of which was packed the computer’s works: logic board, RAM, hard and optical drives, power supply, and so forth. A small, relatively quiet fan drew in cooling air from the bottom of the housing, expelling it upward through vents in the top. A white keyboard and mouse completed the motif, a break with the mostly colourful themes of previous iMacs (there had been a “Snow” iMac G3 in the preceding “Earth Tones” series).
An interesting trivia note is that the “New iPad” nomenclature motif used this year by Apple for its third-generation iPad was actually pioneered a decade ago with the iMac G4 when it was introduced at Macworld Expo on January 7, 2002, initially as “The New iMac,” the existing teardrop-shaped iMac renamed “iMac G3″ for the few months remaining as inventory was sold off. The “iMac G4″ name was retroactively applied only after iMac G3 sales ended and the G4-powered iMac succeeded by the slab-on-a-stand shaped iMac G5.
A great introductory video to the iMac G4—complete with designer Jonathan Ive, Apple worldwide product marketing vice-president Phil Schiller, photographer Annie Liebovitz, recording artist Seal, and film director Francis Ford Coppola individually riffing with their thoughts and impressions on the New iMac—can be seen below.
However, as has often been the case with Apple computer models (especially ones cumbered with Apple’s sometimes arcane official naming conventions), the New iMac/iMac G4 was given a nickname by the Mac fan community after Apple advertised its articulated display mounting arm as having the flexibility of a desk lamp like “Luxo Jr.,” an Anglepoise desk lamp character that had been featured in 1986 in the first film produced by Pixar Animation Studios, which of course was founded by Steve Jobs.
Luxo Jr. was also channelled in a famous Apple commercial depicting an iMac in a storefront window “reacting” monkey-see-monkey-do to gestures made by a passer-by on the street. When the man sticks out his tongue, the iMac responds by opening its tray-loading optical drive. The iMac G4 came to be known as the “iLamp”, the “Luxo Jr. iMac,” or just the “Luxo” for short amongst Mac-heads.
Produced for only a relatively brief interval from January 2002 to August 2004 in 15-inch, 17-inch, and and eventually 20-inch display variants, the Luxo iMac wasn’t quite able to exert enough pull on me at the time to overcome my affinity to the freedom, flexibility, and self-containedness of laptops, but it came closer to roping me in than any other desktop Mac since the Cube, or perhaps for the Mac mini, which has also tempted me on occasion.
The Luxo iMac was originally available with a 700 or 800 MHz G4 CPU and a 15-inch LCD. Seven months later, an 800 MHz model with a 17-inch panel was added, and in February 2003 a new 17-inch LCD 1.0 GHz model with AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth became the flagship. In September of that year, the 15-inch and 17-inch models were upgraded to a 1.0 GHz and 1.25 GHz G4 processors, respectively, with all models getting USB 2.0 and DDR memory, AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth. The last revision was in November, 2003 when a 20-inch screen model with a 1.25 GHz G4 processor was added.
Anyway, by my lights, the Luxo is the most elegantly stylish Mac desktop ever, beating out even the original compact Macintosh and the Cube. I regret not having picked up a 1.25 GHz 20-incher when they were still cheap and plentiful in the mid-’00s. I still have two G4 upgraded Pismo PowerBooks in active service, so by that measure I could still be getting useful work out of the much more powerful Luxo iMac, although the curtain is now definitely lowering on G4 Macs as practical production systems for even the sort of second-tier relatively light duty use I put my Pismos to.
Macworld’s Benj Edwards observes that with its innovative form factor, the then-new and advanced OS X 10.1 operating system, and a comprehensive suite of bundled software, the iMac G4 spearheaded a new generation of consumer-grade Apple desktops that contributed to the company’s newfound financial security during a time of transition during which the iPod was establishing its market dominance.
The iMac G4 brought G4 Altivec power to the consumer desktop for the first time (the Cube was a Pro model), providing a substantial performance boost over the older G3 iMacs, and introduced built-in DVD burning to the consumer desktop for the first time as well.
Regrettably, the iMac G4′s form factor was one of the shortest-tenured Apple desktop designs of the Jobs II era, too soon replaced by a relatively unimaginative iMac form factor that is still with us, having undergone many revisions over the years, but remaining not nearly as appealing as the Luxo iMac, in my opinion. I would like to think Apple might someday decide to build another iMac with a “Luxo” type display mount, but alas, it’s not a very optimistic hope.