An iMac Birthday Story

How the iMac Recaptured "Mindshare" for Apple

by David Lang (Posted: 8/16/01)

It's been three years since Apple first began selling that translucent, gum-drop shaped, floppyless, all-in-one computer known as the iMac, and so much has happened since then that we Mac users tend to forget how revolutionary an event it was. After all, we've seen iMacs in different colors and (briefly) different patterns. We've seen clamshell-shaped (or toilet-seat-shaped, depending on your point of view) iBooks in the unfortunate choice of orange and blue (all you Florida State Seminoles out there know what I'm talking about!). We've seen the undeniably cool Cube which ejects CDs like a toaster. And we've seen Cinema Displays, optical mice, mega-wide TiBooks, and mega-hip "iceBooks." Hey, I haven't even begun to mention Mac OS X or the various iSoftware products Apple has released! With this parade of cool new stuff confronting us every January and June, is it any wonder that we've gotten a little jaded?

Lest we forget the significance of the now venerable--and, hopefully, soon to be new and improved--iMac, allow me to reminisce about the dark days just before its release, and the almost overnight transformation which it seemed to have brought about. This story is told not just from the perspective of a Mac fan who was tired of hearing about how Apple was going out of business, but from the perspective of a Mac-only software developer who was literally saved from slipping over to the "dark side."

Flirting with the Dark Side
For more than seven years now, I've worked for OakTree Software, a small company which develops a Mac-only Bible Study program known as Accordance. Ever since I've been with the company, we have continually had to deal with the question of why we only develop for the Mac, and our answers are always the same. Besides the unspoken answer that Roy Brown, the company's owner and only programmer, would sooner quit than start developing for Windows, we usually cite things like the higher support and development costs associated with developing for Windows, and explain that our goal is not to get rich or reach the widest possible market, but to develop the best Bible software available anywhere.

Yet in the days immediately before the unveiling of the iMac, these arguments were beginning to sound increasingly hollow, even to our own ears. Apple truly did appear to be dying. Every quarter we'd hear about more staggering losses, more layoffs, and more boardroom politics. Where it had once been common for people to buy Macs just to use our software, it now seemed foolish to buy a Mac for any reason. Worst of all, many of our own customers started begging us to port to Windows, simply because they felt they would soon have no choice but to buy a Wintel PC.

So in the Spring of 1998, we reluctantly began looking into the possibility of porting to Windows. That may not sound like such a big deal to many of you, but for us, it was tantamount to an admission of defeat. We knew that developing for Windows would require us to compromise the standards of excellence we had come to pride ourselves on, and that it would take much of the fun out of what we do. (And like I said, we're not doing this to get rich, so "fun" is a big reason why we keep doing it!)

Out of Darkness, Light!
But then, Apple unveiled the iMac, and the computing world was turned on its ear. Almost overnight, Apple went from not being able to buy good press to getting rave review after rave review. Heck, even the controversial exclusion of a floppy drive meant more press for the iMac, and while PC journalists were shaking their heads over such a damning omission, their readers were seeing the photos of the iMac and thinking, "Wow! That looks cool!"

Then came the reports of preorders approaching a hundred thousand, of schools suddenly reconsidering Apple as a viable alternative, and so on, and so on. By the time the iMac was released, it had already become the most recognizable and well-known computer on the market. Best of all, Apple seemed to have rediscovered its corporate identity. It was no longer an anachronism which produced incompatible PCs; it was now the computer company that "Thinks Different." And that difference was obvious to anyone who merely looked at an iMac.

Shortly after the iMac was released, we at OakTree Software decided that there was now no need to port to Windows, since the iMac was once again winning new converts to the Mac. It was if we all breathed a collective sigh of relief, and went back to doing what we loved doing: developing Bible software for the Mac.

When I think back on how quickly after the iMac's debut we abandoned our porting plans, it's clear that we were looking for any reason to avoid going to Windows. Nevertheless, the fact that we had so compelling a reason so soon after the iMac appeared speaks volumes about how much that one computer did to recapture mindshare for Apple.

Changes in Attitudes. . .
This meteoric rise in mindshare was made even clearer to me in November of that same year. Every year at that time, we exhibit our software at AAR/SBL, an annual conference for Bible scholars and religious scholars of every conceivable stripe.

Every time we exhibit at that conference, we are asked the inevitable question about Windows compatibility, and every year up until 1998, people would look at us like we were insane whenever we responded that our software is only available for the Mac. "Don't you realize," they would sneer, "That Apple is going out of business?" "How can you ignore 95% of the people who could benefit from your software?" they would ask incredulously. And they would take almost personal offense when we would say that there are just some things that are easier to do on a Mac than on a PC.

But that year, just a few short months after the iMac was introduced, people's attitudes toward the Mac changed dramatically. All of a sudden, when I would tell people that Macs could do things that PCs couldn't, they would nod their heads knowingly in agreement! The iMac was so different and so desirable on an almost visceral level, that people could tell just by looking at it that Macs had something unique to offer. With the introduction of the iMac, we were no longer perceived as Macintosh diehards who couldn't see that it was time to jump ship. On the contrary, we were now being perceived as forward-thinking developers who were catering to the most dynamic segment of the personal computing world! It was an amazing turnaround, and one that left me more than a little dumbfounded.

They Say It's Your Birthday!
So to the see-through computer that has now reached the ripe old age of three, I say a heartfelt happy birthday. Not only did it make an enormous contribution to Apple's sagging bottom-line; it changed the way Mac users were perceived by the rest of the computing world. What's more, it enabled one small software developer to remain proudly Mac-only, and to keep on having fun.

David Lang is CMUG's Content Editor. David works as a developer of Accordance Bible Software, and lives in Maitland, Florida with his wife and four children.