The following is an excerpt from Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success by Ken Segall (Penguin Portfolio).
The lump on the table was truly mysterious and held everyone’s rapt attention. Hidden under a gray sheet it was impossible to discern any detail from it. We were going to have to wait for the big reveal when the meeting was called to order. This would definitely not be our typical product briefing. Beneath that sheet was the home computer that was going to save Apple.
Not to get overly dramatic about it, but that’s exactly how it was billed by Steve himself. This was the product that Steve had alluded to back when we had first started on the Think Different campaign. He had told us that the first product out the door was going to be a rethinking of the home computer. He had given his engineers and designers the challenge to do something great, and now at long last we were going to see it.
There would be no saving Apple by churning out more beige boxes that failed to distinguish themselves, by looks or function, from the hundreds of PC models out there. Steve wanted this first product to open people’s eyes and serve notice that Apple was back.
IF STEVE REALLY WAS BETTING THE COMPANY ON THIS COMPUTER, IT HAD TO BE BRILLIANT.
It was the spring of 1998, and we’d been summoned up to Cupertino for our first viewing of this new computer, code-named C1. The “C” stood for “consumer.” Apple didn’t use a lot of creative firepower on code names back then. By this time we felt like we were already well along a journey, having developed the Think Different campaign and placed it strategically on TV, billboards, and magazine back covers around the world. That was the brand-building part, and this was the real thing—a product that would prove that our brand campaign wasn’t just a lot of advertising fluff.
Now we were sitting just a few feet from C1, anxious to see the results of all this reimagining. If Steve really was betting the company on this computer, it had to be brilliant. Apple was out of time, and this was the one shot it had to turn things around. The agency delegation numbered five or six, consisting of creative people and account managers. There were two Apple product managers there to guide us. After some introductions and opening remarks, it was time to get down to business.
One product manager reached for the sheet and revealed C1.
There it was—the computer you’d come to know as iMac—looking like it came right out of The Jetsons. The group let out a collective “holy cow” and simply tried to absorb and appreciate what we were seeing—because it shattered every idea of what computers were supposed to look like. It was a colorful one-piece computer that showed off its inner circuitry through a semitransparent shell.
I’d like to believe we were all so smart that within seconds we were convinced that we were witnessing the start of a miracle resurgence. But it wasn’t quite like that. Later, when the agency team was alone and able to share the thoughts we felt at that moment of reveal, we found that we all had pretty much the same feeling. It was part shock, part excitement, and part hope that Steve Jobs really knew what he was doing—because there was a real chance that this revolutionary computer might just be too shocking for its own good.