30 years on: A closer look at the impact the Apple Mac had on desktop computing

The end of last week marked the thirty year anniversary of Apple releasing the Macintosh – the computer that brought the graphical user interface (GUI) to the masses. Since then, the platform has been through hell and back. The Mac became something of a punchline in the 1990s, and it slowly crawled its way back to relevancy after the return of Steve Jobs in 1997. In recent years, the Mac has had a thriving ecosystem, and continues to set trends for the entire tech field.

Inside and out, the Mac has changed drastically over the last thirty years, but one aspect has remained relatively consistent: The all-in-one form factor. From the get-go, the Macintosh brand has largely been associated with the simplicity of an all-in-one device, and that tradition has carried on with the advent of the iMac. While the laptops, towers, and Mac Minis have provided plenty of diversity for Apple fans, the convenient and affordable nature of the all-in-one models continues to impress.

Given all this, we thought we’d take the time to look back at some of the most notable all-in-one Macs ever released, and consider how they impacted desktop computing.

Macintosh 128K

Released on 24 January 1984, the very first Macintosh computer (pictured above) was an amazing machine for its time. While the Lisa was Apple’s first attempt at a mouse-driven graphical user interface, it was extraordinarily expensive – a whopping $10,000 (£6,000). Just 12 months later, the Macintosh launched at a much more reasonable $2,500 (£1,500).

While this small beige machine doesn’t look like much to modern eyes, this was effectively the world’s introduction to the mouse and the graphical user interface. Without a doubt, this tiny computer was a massive milestone for computing, and it successfully helped moved the entire industry forward.

Macintosh SE

When the Mac SE was released three years after the original Macintosh, it was considered a considerable step forward. Sure, the Mac 512K and the Mac Plus had improved on the Macintosh formula, but the SE was much more substantial. It featured an expansion slot, and introduced the Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) to the compact Mac line, but the bigger improvement was the addition of an extra drive bay. Mac users could either buy a Mac SE with two floppy drives for $2,900 (£1,750) or a model with a floppy drive and a 20MB hard drive for $3,900 (£2,350).

Macintosh Colour Classic

In 1993, Apple decided it was high-time to release an all-in-one Macintosh with a colour display. Largely targeted at the education market, this model’s expansion slot provided substantial flexibility and backwards compatibility at the affordable price of $1,400 (£850). It certainly wasn’t the most powerful machine of its day, but the affordable built-in colour display was definitely something worth writing home about.

Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh

Perhaps the strangest model of them all, the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh was released in 1997 to commemorate Apple’s 20th anniversary. With a unique golden aesthetic, a 12in LCD display, and an oddball vertically-mounted CD-ROM drive, this Mac stands out from every other model Apple has ever made. While this expensive machine (it was $7,500 – £4,500) only lasted a single year, its progressive design and slimline LCD monitor makes this one of the most memorable all-in-one Macs.

iMac G3

When the first iMac was released in 1998, it completely turned the Macintosh brand on its head. With this model, priced at a reasonable $1,300 (£800), Apple dropped the floppy drive in favour of a CD-ROM drive, and dropped ADB in favour of USB. On top of that, the iMac shipped with the famous transparent bondi blue shell. This stark aesthetic was drastically different from every other computer at the time, and it certainly helped the flagging Mac brand return to prominence.

iMac G4

When this iMac hit shelves in 2002, it was a huge departure from previous all-in-ones. The base contained the internals, and the LCD screen was suspended above. Unlike the previous iMac, this model featured the stark modern design that would define Apple for the next decade. In addition, this Mac straddled the transition from OS 9 to OS X, so this massive redesign cleverly mirrored the changes happening on the software side.

iMac G5

With the iMac G5, Apple settled on the design that would carry the iMac forward. The LCD display is mounted on a minimalist stand, and the guts of the computer are stuffed directly behind the screen. As this is the last version of the iMac released with a PowerPC processor, it serves as the last device capable of running OS 9 applications through the “Classic Environment.”

iMac Core Duo

In January of 2006, Apple released the very first iMac running on the x86 platform. On the outside, it looked identical to the previous model, but the internals were drastically different. Apple’s move to Intel definitely offered access to more powerful CPUs, but more importantly, it allowed hardware compatibility with Windows for the very first time. Through the use of Apple’s Bootcamp software, Mac owners could finally run Windows natively in a dual-boot configuration. Weird, right?

iMac (Current Model)

In line with Apple’s modus operandi, the iMac went on a diet in October of 2012. This new slim iMac dropped the internal DVD drive, gained four USB 3.0 ports, and introduced the HDD-SSD hybrid Fusion drives to Apple’s line-up. With its absurdly thin case and futuristic look, this design perfectly illustrates just how far Apple has come in the last 30 years.

30 more years

Despite the ups and downs, Apple has continued to serve as a driving force in the industry. While the company reinvents itself over and over again, the all-in-one model continues to be a staple of the Cupertino company’s product line. Sure, the iPhone and iPad are now Apple’s flagship products, but the Mac isn’t going anywhere. As long as Apple keeps iterating and refining, the all-in-one Mac might just stick around for the next 30 years.

Image Credits: Danamania, Sumally, Matthew Welty, Grm wnr