Dediu: What the iMac wrought (the big picture)

The candy-colored iMac was a turning point in the history of computing, says Horace Dediu, and it came just in time.

From a note to Asymco subscribers on the 20th anniversary of the iMac:

Desktops evolved into laptops and personal computing evolved into pocket computing. Becoming more personal means more intimacy and this is leading to wearable computing. There is more beyond that to be sure.

But the iMac is a historically significant machine. It allowed Apple to start on a new trajectory. It did this by first offering a financial lifeline. Sales of Macs, which were at the time the only source of revenues for Apple, increased from 2.7 million to 3.8 million a year. This at a time when Windows PCs were shipping about 100 million units. That was enough to ensure survival. Today Mac units are five times higher while Windows PCs are about 2.5 times higher. The following graph shows the impact of iMac on the Mac’s trajectory. 

iMac saved Apple

Click to enlarge. 

Dediu continues:

To me the incredible aspect of the iMac’s entry is its uncanny timing. It came not only just in time to save Apple but exactly half-way between the first two ages of computing. In the following graph showing “share of computing” you can see it as launching precisely at “peak Windows”.

what imac wrought

Click to enlarge.

In retrospect you have to wonder if Apple, with the iMac, was lucky to survive into this next era or if that era would have ever happened without the iMac. It’s a question of causality which quickly devolves into an un-winnable argument about stochastic vs. deterministic existence.

Regardless, the result was felt more than seen. The computing industry was pivoting. The results are seen also in the graphs above.

My take: Only Dediu could squeeze the history of personal computing into two charts: one shaped like a giraffe, the other like a mountain of peach ice cream. Highly recommended: Just in time.


  1. George Row said:
    On the issue of causality … the skater arriving at where the puck is going to be is not causality but it does give his team the shot at goal that determines where the game goes next.

    For the team lead by Jobs and Ives the luck of that move let them win that game, survive into the next season, move up the divisions and ultimately dominate their sport.
    To stick with sports metaphors, Arnold Palmer said of holes-in-one “the more I practice the luckier I get”.
    Jobs came back to Apple, treating it like a giant startup, but he he was no longer the 20-year-old college dropout. He brought 25 years of practice with him, along with the team that had grown around him at NeXT.

    May 8, 2018
  2. Fred Stein said:
    Brilliant perspective of 4 decades

    The Apple Watch, nearly invisible, hints at the future devices, wearables and others. Apple invests heavily in smaller smart devices. Those investments include not only the chips but also the AI software so that voice recognition plus ambient data provide the user input rather than fingers. Apple has always led the way in UI.

    See you all in a decade.

    May 8, 2018

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