Why the iMac is the Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century

There are faster computers. There are more powerful computers. But they're extras, not movie stars like the Apple iMac. Here's why Rich Trenholm thinks it's the Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
3 min read

I had an Apple iMac G4. It was gorgeous -- and yet still incredibly practical. As if the iMac couldn't get any more lust-inspiring, Apple streamlined the next-generation version to look even more like something out of a sci-fi movie. Certainly, there are faster, more powerful computers, but they're character actors -- the iMac is a bona fide movie star. And that's why it's the Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century.

It's a commonplace argument that you pay a premium for style, not substance, when it comes to Apple products. In response to that argument I say, y'know, sometimes style is substance. Dagnabbit, it is our right as consumers to own stuff that's cooler than Johnny Depp in shades and sexier than Kate Moss strolling into your bedroom wearing nowt but your favourite T-shirt.

Before the iMac, computers were beige. Beige. That might have been fine in the early '80s, but so were corduroy trousers and sandals with socks and you wouldn't want to see them in your living room now. And that's what's important about the iMac: it's the machine that made the world at large realise you can have a computer and not have to hide it. It was -- and still is -- the only computer that's genuinely sexy.

If you don't believe me, just look at all the slender iMacs gracing trendy offices, modish apartments and blue-lit command centres in films and television shows. iMacs are literally movie stars. Like the good doctor Emmett Brown never said, "If you're going to build a computer that's going to sit on your desk where everyone can see it, why not do it with some style?"

If you're reading this, you're probably pretty tech-savvy -- and rather handsome to boot, you saucy thing -- so you could probably reel off a bunch of faster, more powerful computers that predated the iMac. But to paraphrase another film, "If you guys were the inventors of a computer that the public lusted after, you'd have invented the iMac."

It was never going to be power or speed that put a computer on every desk -- for something to become truly mainstream, it has to be stylish and simple. To win the public's hearts and minds, a device has to, to coin a phrase, 'just work'. That's what the iMac did, and still does. No cables, no drivers, no complicated setup procedure -- just a watertight integration of hardware and software. The iPod did the same thing for digital music, and we'd argue the iPhone did it again for apps and smart phones. Admittedly, the iMac has never sold in the kind of numbers that make for a true mainstream success, but that's the point of a premium product.

Remember this isn't about the early adopters. I'm talking about how Apple took something that tech-savvy souls already understood and repackaged it with an extra helping of style -- and made it desirable to the average consumer. The Internet has seen the computer replace the TV as a hub for the home, but that simply couldn't have happened with the brown or grey monstrosities that predated the iMac. Computers had to get sexy, and Apple made the iMac sexier than anything else.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the iMac. Movie star. Rock star. Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century. You deserve beautiful technology. Vote in style.