I Want iMacTV

1998.09: It was the first “gotta have it for looks alone” Macintosh since the first Mac shipped in 1984: Mac TV.

Macitosh TVIf you’ve ever seen a 500-series Macintosh (they were mostly found in schools), you know the shape. But unlike any desktop Mac before or since, it was black. The case, the keyboard, the mouse, the remote control – all black.

A computer Disaster Area could love!

Alas, Mac TV didn’t live up to its looks. The 32 MHz 68030 sounded fast, but it sat on a 16-bit data bus, which made it slower than the 25 MHz LC 520, which had a 32-but data bus. It had 16-bit video, but only for TV – Mac software ran in 8-bit mode. Lack of an FPU wasn’t a big deal, but there was no expansion slot. Worse, maximum memory was 8 MB.

What’s Mac TV Got to Do with the iMac?

Today Apple has its third Mac with killer looks, the iMac. But we’re living in a very different era. TV cards aren’t that uncommon. Computers are starting to ship with DVD drives. Graphics are 24-bit whenever possible.

And there’s only one standout computer in the looks department: iMac.

Last week I proposed Apple create a monitor free iMac (see A Compact iMac?) as an upgrade machine for current Mac and Windows users. This week I’m proposing iMacTV, a family information appliance.

What Is iMacTV?

Take the basic compact iMac concept, which should fit comfortably atop your TV set. Add video circuitry to drive today’s analog TVs and tomorrow’s digital TVs in addition to the traditional computer monitor. With a 56k modem and ethernet for faster connections (ADSL or cable modems), you’ve just taken on WebTV.

Create a wireless infrared keyboard with a trackpad so you can control iMacTV from across the room. Leave room on the keyboard for a few extra buttons, which we’ll get to in a moment.

At this point, you’ve just got WebTV with the Mac OS. Cool, but not killer.

Then pull the CD-ROM player and drop in DVD, along with a DVD decoder in the mezzanine slot. With a few extra buttons on the keyboard, you can compute, surf the internet, or watch DVD movies.

Since the only consumer electronics hotter than the iMac today is the DVD player, the combination would provide a great computer, a great game machine, and a great way to watch digitally recorded movies.

If Apple could package this for $999, every Mac using videophile would crave it – and a lot of Wintel users would probably lust after it as well. Those who don’t already own a computer would see this as a way to get a computer, a game machine, and a DVD player in one package.

It could be the first Mac successfully positioned in the consumer electronics field, not just the computing realm.

I want iMacTV!

Update: In October 1999, Apple introduced a new iMac design with a slot-loading optical drive and a slightly sharper CRT display. The entry-level $999 version had a 350 MHz CPU, 64 MB of system memory, and a 24x CD-ROM drive; it came in blueberry. The 400 MHz iMac DV and DV SE models included a 4x DVD-ROM drive and were the first iMacs with built-in FireWire. The iMac DV came in all five “fruity” iMac flavors, the DV SE in graphite gray. All three models support up to 1 GB of RAM. Not headless, but otherwise somewhat similar to the iMacTV concept.

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