Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: Mac in a box

Since the beginning in 1984, the all-in-one form factor has been synonymous with the Mac.

That very first Macintosh, with its 9-inch, 512 x 342 display in the same 16 pound case as its 8 MHz processor became the template for a whole slew of “compact” Macs that would follow it, ending with the Macintosh Color Classic II (also badged as the Performa 275) in May 1994.

After that, Apple’s all-in-ones got bigger and more bloated. The LC 520 ushered in a new design, built around a 14″ color CRT. This updated case, with its CRT atop a narrower base isn’t nearly as iconic as the compact Macs, but was used throughout the 90s on a whole big mess of Performas.

The Power Macintosh 5000 series continued the trend, using an ever bigger display, and adding more serious horsepower to the AIO than it had seen before.

Throughout this time, Apple was still shipping desktop Macs that sat horizontally on the desk under a CRT as well as both mini and full-sized towers. At some points, the all-in-ones enjoyed equal footing with those other designs, and at others, they were set aside as low-cost or even education-only machines. Notable one-off models like the Macintosh TV or the 20th Anniversary Mac shipped as all-in-ones.

When Steve Jobs came back, the first new computer he introduced was an all-in-one. The iMac G3 was designed to re-capture the hearts of Macintosh customers — and find new ones! — by portraying an approachability and friendliness that had been lost in Apple’s other designs.

Jobs returned to this design for a whole bunch of reasons. all-in-ones are easy to setup and easy to move around. (Jobs praised the handle on the top of the iMac at its introduction.) They offer an appliance-like approach to computing, willing to work without the mess that is normally found with tower-based setups.

This was illustrated perfectly by Apple in 2008, when it introduced the first aluminum iMac:

Today, all you really need to get things going with an iMac is a power cord. The speakers, camera and display are all built-in. With Bluetooth, you don’t need wired snaking to your mouse and keyboard.

Of course, one reason I — and Jason and Dan — love the iMac is that it’s flexible. I can run it without any wires, but I don’t have to. The back is chock-full of ports that make it a perfect hub for any writing, podcast recording or video producing I need to do on a given day. Inside, it’s got a fast CPU, silent, reliable SSD storage and 32 GB of RAM. The front is dominated by an amazing 27-inch, 5K display with wide color gamut support. It’s beefy, but it’s not nerdy. My studio can still look nice and neat, despite the mess of things the iMac is hooked up to.

As we look forward to 2017, the future of the Mac Pro and Mac mini are hard to distill. Will Apple update its two other desktop machines? Will the iMac be the only non-notebook Mac users can buy? I don’t know, but the all-in-one design is ready to take on another decade, without a doubt.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]

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