EDITORIAL: 06.22.20 – With Apple expected to announce a move to its own chips at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) this year, the switch from Intel to ARM-based processors is the right time to change, finally, the name of its all-in-one desktop computer from iMac to: the “Mac.”
Close to a decade and a half ago back in 2006 — when Apple made the switch to the Intel processor from the PowerPC chip — the Cupertino, California-based company’s desktop and notebook computers as we knew it would go through a major change, not only internally but by name as well, after then Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, rebranded the four product lines to reflect the new era in personal computing on a Mac. As a result of the rebranding, gone were the iBook, PowerBook, and Power Mac brands but one sole holdover survived the shuffle: the iMac. Since that time, Jobs’s logic has eluded me and I’ve always felt something was missing, like a huge empty void (a black hole of sorts), from the tech giant’s computer lineup.
While we have a Mac mini and a Mac Pro — of course an iMac as well (there’s even an iMac Pro too) — where’s the “Mac”? It’s a mystery that I’ve pondered for the past 14 years.
The product rebranding strategy by the late co-founder and former Apple CEO can be illustrated with a simple analogy. If at the onset iMac is to iBook as Power Mac is to PowerBook, then, logic would dictate that the result would become “Mac” is to MacBook as Mac Pro is to MacBook Pro. It’s quite straightforward if you follow conventional wisdom but the way that Jobs approached it in the end does not compute.
If Spock, the Vulcan science officer on the USS Enterprise from the 1960s sci-fi television series Star Trek, was asked to comment, he would have said one word: “Illogical.” Or, to quote the old lady in the 1984 commercial for fast food chain Wendy’s, “Where’s the beef?” (the catch phrase an apropos metaphor for the “Mac” that’s missing in the equation).
You might be saying to yourself, but wait, don’t we already call every Apple computer a Mac? To which I would say, touché (ouch!). The term is so widely used in the generic sense to refer to all of Apple’s computers (the company uses it as its primary brand and a product category for its desktops and notebooks as well) that people are oblivious to the fact that an actual machine with the name in question does not exist, which, is the bone of contention (so to speak) here, my, beef (pun intended), if you will.
Yes, there was the Macintosh in 1984 — the original all-in-one desktop computer created by Jobs and his team — that later on would be succeeded by multiple models with variations of the same name (e.g., Macintosh Performa and Power Macintosh, just to name a few). Upon his return to the company in 1997, after his ouster by the board years earlier, the co-founder would shorten it to the Mac which also would serve to represent the entire product lineup (before Apple started to sell electronic devices such as the iPod, iPhone, etc.), and, under his watch as Apple CEO, the company’s flagship model would become Jobs’s new creation: the iMac (as it has remained to this very day ever since its debut in 1998).
An explanation of why this particular all-in-one desktop computer wasn’t rebranded with the switch to the Intel processor was given to me by Dan Knight, the publisher of the website Low End Mac, who responded to an email I sent to him back in 2007 where I commented on his feature piece on the rebranding of all Macs. In my message (aside from lamenting over the loss of the PowerBook brand), I told Knight that I liked how Jobs made all of the company’s computers universal by name but pointed out that the article did beg one question which was whether iMac should turn into just “Mac” — suggesting a return to Apple’s origins when they had a machine called the Mac (the Macintosh).
“iMac was Jobs’ first new brand after returning to Apple, so I doubt he’ll ever rename the iMac. It’s a solid, well known brand. Of course, we can call all of our [Apple computers] Macs if we want to…,” wrote the Low End Mac publisher.
Originally, the “i” in the iMac name stood for — as Jobs himself explained during a presentation of the all-in-one desktop computer at an Apple event in 1998 — the number one thing consumers were telling the company that they wanted to use their computers for: the internet. The then Apple CEO said that the machine was targeted towards getting on the web, in his own words, simply and fast.
“iMac comes from the marriage of the excitement of the Internet with the simplicity of Macintosh,” said the then Apple CEO at the time.
According to Kellen Beck, an entertainment reporter for the website Mashable, since that time, the “i” has come to represent the Apple brand with nearly every device having some form of Internet connectivity built in (e.g., one of the three key features of the iPhone) although he did point out that Jobs probably didn’t have the web in mind when the former Apple CEO named the iPod. Beck posited that as the company continues to grow into other markets, including smartwatches and TV streaming devices, this kind of branding, in his own words, seems to be falling to the wayside. Instead of “iWatch” or “iTV” it’s Apple Watch and Apple TV and he gave a reason for the current shift away from the lowercase letter scheme concocted by its late co-founder.
… we no longer need to know our devices connect to the Internet: it’s something we’ve come to expect,” wrote the Mashable entertainment reporter.
In my humble opinion (IMHO), Jobs sort of got a bit carried away with the use of the whole “i” branding scheme. It was a clever move at first, unique to the iMac and later, the iBook — used to differentiate the computer product line for consumers from the more powerful machines (hence, the Power Mac and PowerBook brands) designed for professional users — but when other products followed suit that were branded the same way (e.g., the iLife application suite with iMovie, etc. or the iSight webcam), it felt like more of a gimmick at that point. In recent years, current Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has moved away from its usage and shifted to the use of “Apple” as a brand (e.g., Apple Pencil and Apple Watch), although, it initially was used by his former boss for the Apple TV (the device inadvertently would be called an “iTV” during Jobs’s keynote address at the Macworld Conference & Expo in 2007).
As of late, Apple seems to be cleaning up house and a particular lowercase letter is slowly being placed onto the chopping block (so to speak) with some “i”-labeled products getting rebranded. MacOS applications and iOS apps like iPhoto and iBooks have become Photos and Apple Books, respectively. Last year at WWDC 2019, we saw iTunes for the Mac broken up into three separate functions for (and correspondingly named) Music, TV, and Podcasts (although the name still lives on with the iTunes Store which has survived but who knows if it too will suffer the same fate).
Could Jobs’s baby be next in line to receive this treatment? If that was to happen, it would allow Apple to complete a process originally started by its late co-founder almost a decade and a half ago, a job that was left unfinished when all of the company’s computers, except for the iMac, were rebranded during the switch to the Intel processor.
As if a shift two The company’s own ARM-based processors wasn’t already enough to justify its reboot as the “Mac”? Rumor has it that, in addition to the announcement in regard to the big switch at WWDC 2020, a redesigned iMac will be unveiled at the event, one which (according to the leak) will take its design cues from both the iPad Pro and Pro Display XDR. Previous reports have suggested that a refreshed version of the all-in-one desktop computer with a larger 23-inch screen and thinner bezels (effectively having the same display footprint as the current 21.5-inch model) is due out sometime towards the end of this year. Whether or not it would be the first Mac to sport an Apple-designed chip inside remains to be seen.
The iMac hasn’t seen an update to its design since the aluminum unibody form factor debuted more than a decade ago back in 2009. Although it has seen a few tweaks along the way, the all-in-one desktop computer pretty much has remained stagnant in appearance. The problem as I see it isn’t so much with its looks — despite the fact that a major overhaul is long overdue — rather, it’s more about what’s in its name. This is a chance (the perfect excuse) for Apple to drop, finally, the “i” once and for all, which, at the same time, could serve as an opportunity for it to return to its roots.
“Say hello again. Introducing the new Mac.” How about that for a tagline? It’s the Macintosh redux of my dreams, the one that I’ve waited and longed for all of these years…
Contrary to popular belief (mine), however, Apple doesn’t necessarily have to kill off the name of its all-in-one desktop computer altogether. It’s no secret that the tech giant has applied and subsequently been granted patents for a touchscreen-based Mac and also a MacBook with a touchscreen display. The company feasibly could market the two as a rebranded iMac and (get this) iBook — the latter an idea I had back in 2018 (as a former writer for Low End Mac where I wrote the column, “Leo And Mac“) when it was first revealed that ARM-based processors would be going into Macs — which finally would put to rest any rumors that those products have been quietly in the works behind the scenes down in Cupertino for the past few years.
In addition, conversely, the “i” branding scheme doesn’t have to be put out to pasture (so to speak) either and could evolve into a new brand and product category of hardware and devices that are recognized by a common bond that they share with touchscreen displays, ARM-based processors at the core, and Apple’s mobile operating system rounding out the package (which would adhere to the prevalent theory that the latter of those three elements is what would be installed on the first Macs to have Apple-designed chips inside). A reimagined iMac and iBook with touchscreens would fit nicely into the picture alongside the iPhone and iPad plus the iPod touch too (at least, for as long as the MP3 player continues to be offered). The catch, a caveat, is that this class of Mac desktop and notebook computers would have to run a hybrid form of MacOS and iOS (or maybe even a professional version, a la Windows, of iPadOS?) in order for the two products to work because otherwise, all that you would have in the end is, in essence, a pair of souped up iPad Pro models: one which is a big screen tablet computer mounted onto a stand that sits on a desk while the other a version that’s permanently attached to a keyboard and folds up.
Wait a minute! If the redesigned iMac is rumored to take its design cues from an iPad Pro, what would be the possibility that this new all-in-one desktop computer also sported a touchscreen display…? Okay, I digress (or, is it, “iDigress”?).
The dawn of another new era in personal computing on a Mac is on the horizon and the imminent transition to the company’s own ARM-based processors — coupled with a much needed update to the design of its all-in-one desktop computer — makes now the right time for Apple to let go of a certain lowercase letter from the name of the iMac (one that has been technically in use for the last four decades: the late 1990s, the 2000s, the 2010s, and the early 2020s), and, Rebranding its flagship product as the “Mac” would allow the tech giant to move forward into the future while simultaneously honoring its past with the original that started it all: the Macintosh (a.k.a., the Mac).