1999: The Year in Review

What better way to end the year than to look back at the successes of 1999 – especially Apple’s.

January: Power Macintosh G3

Apple unveiled the Blue and White Power Mac G3 at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, promising immediate availability.

Blue and White Power Mac G3The new appearance was a stunning departure from any earlier PC, whether from Apple or the Wintel side of things. The breakthrough feature: the motherboard is attached to a door on the right side – and it opens like a drawbridge for instant access. (Apple learned that can be dangerous. Rumors are they lost a lot of computer memory at Macworld San Francisco.)

The iMac-inspired color took some getting used to, but the color is not generally objectionable.

Apple’s only mistake: Failing to come up with a new name. This Power Mac G3 shares its name with the earlier models, which came in beige desktop and minitower cases.

Initially available at speeds of 300, 350, and 400 MHz, the Blue G3 was bumped to 450 MHz and the 300 MHz model dropped in June.

January: Fruit Flavored iMacs

Fruit colored iMacsIt’s hard to imagine it was less than a year ago that the iMac shed it’s Bondi blue shell when the company named for a fruit named the new iMac colors for fruits: blueberry, grape, tangerine, lime, and strawberry.

At the same time, Apple increased CPU speed to 266 MHz and included a larger hard drive. All this at US$100 less than the Bondi blue iMac.

The question of the day: What flavor do you want?

April: iMac Speed Bump

Apple took the winning iMac design and jumped speed to 333 MHz on April 14. The Rev. D looked just like the C – and sold just as well as earlier iMacs.

Lombard PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard)May: Lombard, the Latest PowerBook

Suffering from a real lack of creativity in the product naming department, Apple introduced the third or fourth (depending on how you count) PowerBook G3 on May 10. Sporting 333 and 400 MHz clock speeds, a 20% thinner design, and two pounds less weight, the Lombard is a clear winner.

Lombard bronze keyboardTo differentiate this PowerBook G3 from other ones, Apple calls it the “bronze keyboard” model in honor of it’s brown keyboard.

Like the iMac and Blue G3, the Lombard uses USB for expansion, although it also has an expansion bay that accepts a CD-ROM, DVD, second battery, or several third-party accessories. At seven months old, this is the oldest model in Apple’s line.

May: ROM Version 1.1 for Blue and White G3

Apple’s first PR fiasco of the year had its roots in an update to the Blue and White G3. Along with resolving a few issues, it prevented the use of G4 upgrades.

At the time, this wasn’t a big deal – nobody had G4 upgrades. But by late August, the glitch in the firmware update was well-known. Apple’s response was to stonewall, noting they never claimed any upgrade path for the Blue and White G3.

In the end, Apple left the G4 block in place, leaving vendors of G4 upgrades to create their own patches. (More detains in Why the G4 Uproar?)

July: iBook Announced
September: iBook Ships

blueberry iBookIt was a long wait for the consumer portable, the model that would fill the empty quadrant in Steve Jobs’s product matrix. When the iBook was announced, it was quite a surprise.

The surprise wasn’t that it was announced, which was broadly expected, but what it was. The iBook was bigger, heavier, and more expensive than a lot of us had hoped.

Then we compared it to Wintel laptops and saw it wasn’t really overpriced.

On the other hand, it was on the large, heavy, and brightly colored side. By the time it finally arrived in late September, we had reconciled ourselves to the iBook, which went on to become the best selling laptop of late 1999.

The iBook’s revolutionary new feature is AirPort, a new high speed wireless networking protocol that shipped a bit later than the computer itself. At this point, AirPort is a standard feature on all Macs except the seven-month-old PowerBook G3.

August: Power Macintosh G4

Power Mac G4 AGP SawtoothSince 1987, Apple has promoted the G3 as “up to twice as fast as the Pentium II” – and the G4 blew right past those claims.

A lot of us were surprised that Apple was ready to announce the Power Mac G4, since Motorola was still having production problems, but Apple went ahead and unveiled it on August 31, calling it a supercomputer.

Apple Tanks adThere’s been a lot of debate about that claim, but according to U.S. government export policies, any computer capable of 1 GFLOPS (one billion floating point operations per second) is a supercomputer. Apple really played that up in its “Tanks” ad.

The first graphite Mac, the G4 shipped as two different computers with the same case. The Yikes! version used a modified Yosemite (Blue and White G3) motherboard, while the Sawtooth incorporates a new motherboard designed for the G4’s faster memory access mode – and AGP video.

Apple initially announced the G4 in a Yikes! version at 400 MHz, with Sawtooth versions available immediately at 450 MHz and “soon” at 500 MHz.

Apple trumped the Power Mac G4 by announcing a new 22″ flat panel digital Cinema Display, which would only be available with the purchase of a 500 MHz Power Mac G4. (Apple has since dropped that requirement. They will now sell the Cinema Display with any Power Mac G4.)

October: Three new iMacs

new iMac colors, late 1999On October 5, after many Mac rumor sites had already published pictures of it (and been contacted by Apple’s legal department, thereby dispelling any question as to their authenticity), Steve Jobs showed off the new iMacs: a US$999 base CD-ROM model, the iMac DV, and the iMac DV Special Edition.

The base edition runs a 350 MHz processor, which is barely faster than the 333 MHz G3 in the iMac Rev. D. However, it added a new sound system with Harman/Kardon Odyssey speakers, ATI RAGE 128 graphics, and enough memory (64 MB) so the user didn’t have to buy an upgrade immediately.

Not only is the new iMac a bit more than the old one, it is also a bit less: about 1″ smaller in each dimension and 3 pounds lighter.

Other changes included a 100 MHz system bus (up from 66 MHz) and a slot-loading CD-ROM drive. All this for $200 less than the previous iMac. This was the first Mac with a retail price under US$999 since the floppy-only Mac Classic of 1990!

The iMac DV is the next step up, coming in five “flavors”. Specs include a 400 MHz G3 processor, a DVD-ROM drive, video out with a standard VGA port, and two FireWire ports, allowing easy connection to digital video cameras. The iMac DV sells for the same price as the first iMac, US$1,299.

graphite iMac DV Special EditionAt the top of the iMac line stands the iMac DV Special Edition, the first iMac available in graphite – and a gorgeous complement to the graphite Power Mac G4. At a $200 premium over the iMac DV, the larger hard drive and extra memory (not to mention the stunning appearance) make it the most desirable iMac yet.

October: The G4 Fiasco

Except for its inability to come up with new product names, which is a relatively minor thing, and its inability to produce iBooks in sufficient quantity (a problem many computer makers would love to have), Apple did pretty well in 1999.

However, they shot themselves in the foot in October. Motorola couldn’t make 500 MHz G4 chips in quantity, so Apple moved release of the 500 MHz Power Mac G4 back to January. Yet Apple still couldn’t get the chips it needed for the other machines it had announced in August.

Realizing Motorola was producing 350 MHz and 400 MHz G4s in quantity, Apple decided to introduce two new models: a 350 MHz Yikes! and a 400 MHz Sawtooth.

Good move. Clever move. Brilliant move. This would eliminate the bottleneck and allow people to buy G4s.

Bad move. Really, really, really bad move – Apple decided to sell the newer, slower models at the same price as the previously announced faster ones. Worse yet, Apple tried to cancel all back orders and force buyers to order the slower models – or pay more for the speed they originally ordered.

It took about a week for everything to settle down. In the end, Apple retained the price increases, pending orders were honored at the original price and speed, and there was a bit of a seller’s market for G4s in the channel.

December 1999: Power Macintosh G4

In the end, about the time Apple’s black eye was heal, it quietly discontinued the Yikes! model and replaced it with a 350 MHz Sawtooth at exactly the same price. Better yet, the new 350 MHz model comes with DVD-ROM instead of CD-ROM and AGP video instead of PCI, making it a very good value.

Still better, you can get a build-to-order 350 MHz G4 from the Apple Store for US$1,499 (if you don’t need the internal 56k modem), making it possible to buy the new model for a bit less than the previous one.


Apple ended the year with three versions of the iMac, all far faster than the 233 MHz 1998 iMac. Apple broke the US$1,000 price barrier for the first time since 1990, made editing digital video easy, and kept the iMac as the best selling desktop computer through most of the year.

The Power Mac saw three different incarnations – G3, Yikes!, and Sawtooth – and ended the year with three Sawtooth models at 350, 400, and 450 MHz. Apple’s fastest desktop in 1998 was the rare 366 MHz Beige G3, so between faster clock speed, the AltiVec “velocity engine” in the G4, the improved video card, and the new motherboard, Apple significantly improved performance of the Power Mac line.

The PowerBook G3 remains in the line at 333 and 400 MHz, but a year ago Apple’s fastest laptop was a 300 MHz model that weighed 2 pounds more.

New this year is the iBook, which really is a price breakthrough for a portable Macintosh.

Overall, Apple has four models available in a total of nine configurations (ignoring iMac DV colors) covering a price range from US$999 up to over $4,000 and offering power from a 300 MHz G3 to a 450 MHz G4.

Apple remains a long way from winning the OS war, but it has been steadily growing market share in the US and abroad. Latest figures show Apple is the #2 brand in Japan and somewhere around 10% on the home front.

It’s been an incredible year – and 2000 promises even more.