Perhaps you heard. A few weeks ago, Apple released a book called Designed by Apple in California: a $300 hardcover containing 450 photos of Apple products, chronicling almost 20 years of Apple’s industrial design–and specifically, Jony Ive‘s Apple industrial design.
Apple sent me a review copy. My first impression? At almost 12 pounds, Designed by Apple in California is Apple’s heaviest product this side of a 27-inch iMac. Seriously, there are weaponized toilet tank lids that weigh less than this thing.
But I also thought where the book started was interesting: 1998’s candy-colored iMac G3, the first Mac released after Steve Jobs came to Apple. This is an important computer, true. But it’s not the first computer Jony Ive designed for Apple. Nor is it his most forward-looking.
That honor would go to the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, sometimes shortened as the TAM, first released in 1997 at the eye-watering price of $7,499, or about double what a Mac Pro will cost you today. Only 12,000 were ever made, making it a collector’s item to this day.
What’s amazing about the TAM is that it foreshadows a lot of the work Ive would do on the Mac line over the next two decades. Like the current iMac, it’s a slim, flat-screen all-in-one, released during an era when computers were distinctly cube-shaped. Everything’s integrated: the screen, the speakers, the disc drive, and so on. It had an LCD screen, five years before they came to the rest of the Mac line, and weighed half as much as the iMac G3, released the following year.
If Apple under Ive has been defined by its obsessive pursuit of ever thinner, lighter devices, then the TAM was ahead of its time. But it’s interesting to see other future Apple innovations the TAM took a stab at. Consider, for example, the fact that the TAM shipped with a removable trackpad that could be used alongside the keyboard, 13 years before Apple unveiled the Magic Trackpad.
It’s true, the TAM doesn’t share the same material sensibility as later Ive designs. It’s mostly plastic, but that was typical of the era: Apple wouldn’t really switch over to aluminum and glass as its primary materials for another decade. Yet, in this promotional video, a young, skinny, and curiously unshaven Ive delivers a very familiar sounding ode to the care his team put into the TAM’s material process: The die-cast metal foot, for example, or the addition of metallic flaking to the plastic lacquer used in the case, all to give the TAM a premium feel and luster.
In any design retrospective of Ive’s time at Apple, the TAM is an important computer to mention. So why is it missing from Designed by Apple in California?
Speculatively, there are two possible reasons why the TAM didn’t make the cut (Co.Design reached out to Apple to find out more, and will update this post when we receive a response). First of all, Ive designed it before Steve Jobs took back the company; everything else in the book is decidedly post-Jobs. Second, Jobs himself reportedly hated the TAM, and made one of his first acts upon coming back as CEO the product’s discontinuation. (This was also the period during which he briefly considered firing Ive.)
Outside of that, though, I think a big reason why Ive might have decided not to include it in Designed by Apple in California is simply that it doesn’t share the same design language as the rest of the products in the book. It feels like a prototype, while the other products feel fully formed; a compromised iteration of Ive’s grand vision pushed through a corporate culture that wasn’t yet ready to truly let Ive put industrial design first and foremost.
That’s an understandable perspective, but it’s still a shame that it’s missing from Designed by Apple in California. Because as Ive points out with all of his typical, soft-spoken, navel-gazing eloquence in the TAM promotional video above: “While [the TAM] doesn’t have the answers for all the questions it asks, it’s an important product . . . ” It’s the thesis of so much of Ive’s work at Apple to follow.