Apple pulls plug on original iMac

Five years after debuting the original iMac, Apple Computer stops selling the gumdrop-shaped machine to the public.

Five years after debuting the original iMac, Apple Computer has stopped selling the gumdrop-shaped machine to the public.

The original iMac, which many credit for restoring Apple Computer to fiscal health and profitability, has been on its last legs for some time, though Apple continued to sell it even after debuting the flat-panel iMac in January 2002 and later the eMac.

Built around a 15-inch CRT (cathode-ray tube), the original iMac debuted in 1998 for $1,299. The computer eventually sold for as little as $799, keeping its trademark design virtually unchanged while adding features like FireWire, CD burners and DVD players.

However, on Tuesday, Apple removed the lone CRT-based iMac from Apple's main online store, and a source confirmed that Apple does not plan to keep selling it publicly. The machine is still listed on Apple's online education store and schools have been the main reason Apple has continued to make the device.

Introduced in a shade known as Bondi Blue, the iMac spent its childhood in candy colors like grape and lime and its early adulthood in wild hues like Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power before spending its later years in subtle shades like graphite and snow.

Within hours after its disappearance from the Apple Store, the iMac was being eulogized by the Mac faithful.

At MacWhispers, the site's operator notes that he bought the original iMac in 1998 for his office, later giving the machine to his wife and then to his 12-year-old niece.

"She's still using it to surf the Web and to do her homework in 2003," he said.

IDC analyst Roger Kay praised the iMac for helping keep Apple afloat.

"It was like an all-time home run product, but obviously it had run its course," Kay said, adding that the advent of affordable flat-panel monitors necessitated the demise of the iMac.

Kay said that at the time of the original iMac's introduction, the idea of an all-in-one computer becoming a mainstream success was an odd one, but Apple made it work, selling millions of the machines. From 1998 through 2001, it was the iMac that kept Apple among the leading computer makers.

"It meant that they were able to maintain share instead of stumbling along or going out of business," Kay said. "Without the iMac, they would have gone into a nose dive."

The iMac continued to serve as Apple's product for entry-level computer buyers. With its demise, Apple's cheapest computer for most customers is the $999 eMac, a model styled along the lines of the original iMac but built around a 17-inch monitor.

However, Kay said Apple doesn't necessarily need to introduce a cheaper product. He said Apple doesn't even need to maintain share to stay healthy, as long as its costs are in line with its sales and it is able to offer a product that is perceived as a good value.

"That's OK as long as what you get for that $1,000 is as good or better than what you get" from competitors, Kay said. "I don't think they need to go lower."