It came on midnight, August 1, 1998, but we need to go back.
From computing’s early days–the first Altair, introduced to the world in Popular Mechanics in 1974–we called a computer a “box.” It seemed fitting. Everything was straight lines and sharp edges.
When Apple entered the computer market in July 1976, it created boxes, too. Even when it set out to revolutionize computing, with its heavily-promoted 1984 introduction of the Macintosh, these innovators still chose a box, with an almost square screen and a rectangular mouse. Even the Mac icon that greeted you–literally in the first print ads, with the word “Hello”–resembled a square version of a smiley face, set inside a rectangular box.
The tyranny of the box was complete when Apple’s future masters of design introduced their next breakthrough. The name they chose not have been more fitting:
They called it The Cube.
But 13 years later, Steve Jobs and his Macintosh team were ready with something new: a computer so different that computing purists became even louder in dismissing Apples as computers “for the rest of them,” by which these early adopter/whizzes meant “people without the bandwidth to operate a ‘real’ computer.” Apple announced that it would reveal its masterstroke at exactly midnight, August 1, 1998.
They called it the IMac.
The first IMac came in Bondi Blue, the color of California swim pools. Seeing the success of this color, Apple then introduced Grape, Tangerine, Lime, Strawberry and Blueberry IMacs, making it possible for you to own a contradiction: A Blueberry Apple. mBut while the color startled people, the shape surprised them more.
The IMac was shaped more like a large half-egg, with the curved screen flowing to a rounded rear end. The ovoid was born and the sharp edge was gone. Every IMac team knew what they had made. It was a near-clone of what many men consider the sexiest butt on earth: the rear end of a Porsche 911.
This curvy product changed the industry; computer companies rushed to copy it. But they’d stuck with the box too long, oblivious to what Jobs knew: We even make our hand axes beautiful, and we create art even when we are struggling to find food. We crave aesthetics, particularly in an object as large as a computer. It takes up eye space in every room; if it’s beautiful, it takes it up well, pleases us, and says something about us.
The IMac beautifully incorporated almost everything we talk about in great design: It is smooth, curved, symmetric, and famously easyto use, the product of the company that invented the phrase “user-friendly.”
One might argue that its design looked unfamiliar, yet it was only unfamiliar as a computer; it was an egg and that booty of a Porsche, all in colors that took us back to childhood and our love of play. To make the colors even more familiar to us, Apple chose the names of the fruits we’ve eaten since childhood, like tangerines and grapes.
The Mac reflected Jobs’ obsession with design. As a famous example of it, Jobs once insisted on changing all the hinges for the front door of Apple’s award-winning New York Apple stores. He said, “They don’t look quite right.”
Some will say, “Design is fine, but show us the money. What did Jobs’ meticulous attention to design accomplish?” Being among the large percentage of Americans who don’t own a Mac, these doubters probably assume that Macs make up not more than 15 percent of the market. Actually, its market share is lower: around 10 percent, But this misses the point. Macs dominate the high-margin end of the computer market; of ever dollar spent on computers costing over $1000, 74 spents are spent on Macs.
Plus the Mac merely acted as Apple’s Trojan Horse. It stalked in and brought Apple’s “digital lifestyle” products along behind it: the IPod, ITunes, and the IPhone, each obsessively designed, and each integrated with the Mac, which makes the Mac even more attractive.
What did Jobs’ meticulous attention to design accomplish? A year after introducing the Bondi Blue IMac, Apple was worth around $5 billion. Today it is worth $171 billion–more that Google, Cisco, Sun, and every other company in the Silicon Valley. And yesterday, Steve Jobs was worth what Apple was just months after introducing Bondi Blue: Over $5 billion.
On November 23, 2009, Fortune magazine named its CEO of the Decade: It was Jobs. Later, it would name his company the Company of the Year for the third consecutive year. In that issue’s articles saluting him, the word “design” and words related to it like “aesthetics” appear 15 times. His company suggested to the rest of the world–one should say shouted0-the direction of this new century: It is in the direction of our eyes. We think with our eyes.
Steve Jobs was the CEO of the Decade, and it is accurate to say this: he got there by design.
Bless you, Steve. We saw only a crescent; you saw the whole of the moon.