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Apple is often at the forefront of innovation in the tech industry. For example, these days, Macs are all the rage thanks to the powerful Apple silicon, which helps these computers place at the top of the pack, even against the best Windows laptops and gaming PCs. The company's custom silicon changed the industry, but it wasn't the first time Apple made such an impact.

In fact, on Aug. 15, 1998, Apple released the iMac, and it quickly became one of Apple's most popular products. Not only did it bring radically new designs and colors to the generally boring computer space, but it shook up the industry with some great ideas. That was 25 years ago, and we're still feeling the impacts of that release even today.

The iMac had specs that wow'ed

The original iMac — or the iMac G3 — was simply different from anything else available at that time. It was priced at $1,300 and sported a PowerPC G3 233 Mhz CPU, a 15-inch display, 32MB of memory, 4GB of storage, a CD-ROM drive, and even a built-in modem. It also had USB ports and integrated stereo surround speakers. All of this was packed into a stylish translucent case that came in multiple colors with a sleek handle on the top. With the iMac, you had one product to do it all, or as we now know it today, an all-in-one computer.

Those were pretty impressive specifications for the time, but the design was the biggest draw. When CEO Steve Jobs introduced the first iMac at an event just months earlier, he had a few competing products on stage, the popular Compaq Presario 4880 being one of them. He straight up said, "These things are ugly," and it was the truth. The desktop PCs of the time were often gray, had bulky displays, and required you to use a separate tower and speakers, meaning you had a mess of cables at your desk. They were flat-out boring.

It had hardware and features that made other products pale in comparison.

But it wasn't just the design that was different. It had hardware and features that made other products pale in comparison. The Compaq Presario 4880 that Apple brought on stage during its presentation, for example, packed a Pentium II CPU and cost $2,500. (You can see Apple talk about it towards the end of the video above.) Jobs even compared the performance in a live demo to show how "slow" it was against the iMac in rendering and playing a video. Then, he did it again against a $1,000 Presario 4540. You can see how the PC lags behind the iMac, even in that short of a clip. This really showed how powerful the iMac was, which was critical since the iMac was targeted at education users and the everyday consumer.

The iMac G3 in five colors
Source: Stephen Hackett via Wikimedia Commons

Besides being a super popular product — it sold 5 million units by 2001 — it ended up literally changing Apple. In 1985, Jobs was forced out of Apple, and Microsoft even bailed out the company. He ended up returning to the company in 1996 after Apple purchased his company NeXT, and soon after, the company experienced a comeback thanks in part to the iMac. Apple went from losing $878 million in 1997 to making $413 million in 1998. The iMac turned Apple around and regained the trust of the public at a time when the PC industry was in a boom of its own.

The iMac brought so many other changes that are just small thoughts today. It popularized the all-in-one computer, but it also brought features that have since become mainstream throughout the market. It was one of the first to use USB ports, instead of SCSI, for example. Heck, the iMac had a CD drive and no floppy drive. In the years to come, you'd see other PC manufacturers adopt those same technologies more widely.

It might not seem like a big deal now, but one of the biggest features was internet connectivity. Back in 1998, connecting to the internet meant using a modem, but the iMac had one built-in. In fact, that's what the "i" in the name stands for. In a presentation slide in the video above, you see it was an abbreviation for "internet, individual instruct, inform, and inspire." Jobs even highlighted how simple and fast it was to connect to the internet. "This product was born to network," Jobs said.

Finally, it was one of the first products with the "i" badge, which we still have today with iMessage and iMovie. Apple has since become excellent at branding. Not only has the "i" continued to be a recognizable marker of an Apple product — think the iPod, iPhone, iPad — but it has applied that lesson to other devices. It's simple, but it works.

The legacy of the iMac continues

Front view of 24-inch iMac with keyboard, mouse, iPhone, and AirPods

Even today, you'll see lessons from the iMac in current Apple products. The latest iMacs come in colors as a homage to Apple's past. You can find the latest M1-powered iMacs in colors like green, yellow, and pink, which make even the best Windows all-in-ones look boring. The latest MacBooks have even dropped USB-A ports for USB-C, just like Apple dropped SCSI for USB-A when the first iMac launched.

Even on other products, the simplicity of the iMac has continued. Buy the magic keyboard for an iPad, and you can turn your iPad into a full-blown laptop that seamlessly floats at a convenient angle. There are even now features in iOS 17 and third-party accessories that can help you use your iPhone as essentially a smart home hub thanks to StandBy mode, which shows off a clock and for quick information at a glance when at your desk. Apple just continues to innovate in its simplicity, so we only can imagine where Apple takes its products and the iMac next.