It's official: we've got a new champion in the "Mac Community Flamebait" category, and that's really saying something. Based purely on voluminous viewer feedback, people seem split roughly fifty-fifty over the design of the new iMac, but it's a pretty polar split-- much like Key Lime or Flower Power, people tend to love it or hate it, without a whole lot of middle ground creeping in there. The good news is that the people who love it really seem to love it a whole heckuva lot, because even our Key Lime diatribe didn't draw half as many death threats and insinuations about the species of our ancestors as yesterday's comment that the new iMac is a tad "blah" for our tastes.
As we reach for the Bactine, we fully acknowledge that death by a million flaming email messages is simply an occupational hazard we face on a daily basis, but we probably should have been clearer when making our point yesterday (or, more accurately, spectacularly failing to do so). While it's true that we aren't crazy about the iMac's new look (and we hope, for our stock's sake, that we're squarely in the minority on that front), that's purely a matter of opinion; the real nub of our gist was not about whether the look is "good" or "bad" at all, but rather that we doubt it's going to be as "catchy" as the original.
When the first iMac was unveiled, its style was almost viral in nature; within about a week, everyone on the planet knew what it was and what it looked like. Before long that blue-green space egg was a pop culture icon. It became a symbol, an archetype that was replicated all over the place. We saw representations of iMacs in comic strips, in jack-o-lanterns, in JELL-O sculptures, in plush collectibles. Don't forget all those iMac knock-offs that flooded the Wintel market. And eventually the iMac style permeated our culture so thoroughly that you don't have to look too hard to find rounded, brightly-colored, translucent vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, and even George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machines.
So all we were trying to say is that the new iMac design isn't likely to be quite as viral-- we're not sure that it's going to glom onto the collective consciousness like the original did. That's not necessarily a bad thing, however; the metric people typically use for success in this business is how many computers one sells, not how many household appliances are modeled after said computer's design. In a year, no one's going to care whether or not there's a four-slot toaster that looks like the new iMac. (Well, we might.) The bottom line is going to be whether or not Apple has sold enough of them to keep the lights on and the cows fed.
And this is the important bit: yes, the original iMac sold very well to non-Apple users due in part to its extremely high-profile and well-known look-- because back in 1998, Apple didn't have a whole lot else to fight with. Sure, the G3 was a fast chip, and yes, the Mac still had its legendary ease of use, but unfortunately that sort of thing didn't really sell computers to average shmoes. Bright colors and translucent plastic, on the other hand, did. Today, though, Apple's got much bigger guns in its arsenal-- Mac OS X, a whole "digital hub" philosophy (and make no mistake, the new iMac's design reflects that-- a hub, with a display on a "spoke"), and a full stable of killer iApps that can sell the iMac on solutions instead of just striking good looks.
So on the one hand, we still aren't crazy about that new look-- at least, not so far. (We'll reserve final judgment until we get to see it up close and personal instead of just in photos; in person, Flower Power was a lot less offensive, and we actually liked Key Lime.) On the other hand, that really doesn't matter much anymore. Because if Apple plays this the way we think it will, it's going to be selling iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and iTools instead of "computers" anyway. And besides, it's well-known that we have atrocious personal taste.