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Early Mac status icons

Steve Jobs has an uncanny sense for imagining products that carry a powerful and unique emotional payload by tapping into whimsy, nostalgia, even ego. Here, the five Apple products that most successfully harness our emotions--and how they do it. Agree? Disagree? Click over to the accompanying blog and tell us.

Early Mac status icons

The 1984 Mac said, "I have feelings. Like you."

The original Mac didn't display flashing lights or cryptic boot messages on startup. It made a happy face. If you didn't have the necessary floppy installed, it displayed a floppy disk icon with a question mark: a simple quizzical character that equaled a shoulder shrug. We got it.

The 1984 Mac--more than the Apple II, IBM PC, or any other product of the day--was a "he" and not an "it." Because people don't tend to bond with unfeeling, inanimate things. For that, we require an emotional indicator, even if just a smile or a frown. Apple got that.

Updated:Caption:Photo:<a href="">MacWorld</a>
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1998 'Bondi Blue' iMac G3

The 1998 "Bondi Blue" iMac

The 1998 iMac was the car you learned to drive in. This was Apple's nostalgia play.

Steve Jobs banished beige once and for all with this Mac line. The bright translucent shell (in other fruity colors as well), the round VW Bug shape said, "Come hang out with me, kick back, and let's be mellow. We'll write some poetry. If you have to work, that's fine, too. Whatever, I'm yours." This Mac was your best buddy. The colorful and rounded 1999 iBooks extended on this design.

Updated:Caption:Photo:<a href="">Masashige MOTOE</a> via Wikipedia
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2002 iMac G4, aka the 'Pixar iMac'

The 2002 iMac G4, aka the "Pixar iMac"

This was the Mac you played with.

A reference to Luxo Jr., the springing animated lamp that appears at the beginning of every Pixar film, the iMac G4 with the articulated screen wasn't just flexible and cute, but strong enough to be grabbed by its neck, the way a teddy bear can be swung around by its arm when carried by a child. You can't break it (well, you can, but it's stronger than it looks). It's for the child in you. Go ahead. Give it a cute name and treat it like a toy.

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iOS on the iPad

iOS on the iPad

No other operating system has made the virtual world so physical. In iOS, not only is the touch interface (for the most part) intuitive, but lists of items have physics: Scrolling lists get momentum, and items at the end of a list are anchored with electronic rubber bands. Your higher brain knows that these fake physical properties make no sense, but your kinesthetic mind works in the real world, where objects in motion tend to stay in motion. We're hard-wired to know that and react to it.

The iPhone also has kinetics, but at iPad size, the effect becomes much more powerful. This is a user interface that apes a part of the real world, and manages to do it successfully.

Updated:Caption:Photo:James Martin/CNET
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MacBook Air

The MacBook Air

Vanity, thy name is Mac.

Yes, I can be this thin. Yes, I can be as smart as I am beautiful. The Air is the impossible laptop: Thin, like other ultralights, but hugely capable. It makes you feel like you can do it all and look gorgeous doing it.

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