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Promotional image of the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Image: Apple/mac-history.de

Apple’s Most Futuristic-Looking Computer Came Out 20 Years Ago

Ernie Smith

The Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh foreshadowed the sleek design sensibilities of Jony Ive that now dominate Apple's product line.

Promotional image of the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Image: Apple/mac-history.de

This story appeared in the April issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe. 

Apple officially turns 41 years old this month. But along with that milestone comes a stranger one that the world's wealthiest tech company is unlikely to publicize: the 20th anniversary of the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh (TAM).

In 1996, Apple had reached two decades of existence without commemorating the event with new technology, but in January 1997, which marked the 20th anniversary of the company's incorporation, it announced TAM. In many ways, this gorgeous, mostly forgotten piece of computing hardware set the stage for the ultra sleek, chic Apple of 2017. 

Released on March 20, the TAM was essentially the computing version of a concept car, an innovation showcase. It compared to a car in another way: it was expensive, costing $7,499 upon its release. After its launch event, The New York Times called the ambitious effort a "Ferrari-on-a-desktop."

The problem was—like the similar gambit of the G4 Cube a few years later—it had the body of a Ferrari, without a matching engine. With a 12-inch screen and a trackpad, it looks like a desktop designed in a laptop mold. And it had an odd focus on multimedia, despite marketing aimed at the executive suite: It had a built-in TV tuner and FM radio, and its Bose speaker system was so integral to its design that the power supply was integrated into the subwoofer.

The device was so expensive that, initially, a limo driver in a tuxedo delivered it to buyers (really). And unless you're a hardcore Apple nerd, you've likely only ever seen one in a movie (2006's Children of Men). But despite its failure, it was an important preview as to where Apple was going as a company, as it suggested the budding influence of an inventive industrial designer.

"I think more significant, more exciting, is the indication, is the signal that Apple takes design very seriously, that Apple is prepared to innovate, maybe ask more questions than provide answers for, but that we're pushing design extremely aggressively as we close the millennium," said Apple's then shaggier Jonathan Ive, in a promotional video

A year and a half later, Apple released the iMac, a machine designed by Ive, and Steve Jobs raised the profile of the budding designer within the company after he returned as CEO. The iMac remains an industry-leading computer to this day, even if the Twentieth Anniversary Mac is mostly a footnote.

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