Interim Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs had nothing new to sell in the way of technology, but he repackaged existing ingredients-the aging but revered Mac OS software and a year-old G3 chip-in a sleek translucent case.
Backed with Mr. Jobs' bravado and punchy, witty ads from TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., Apple last August made a gusty and glitzy return to the consumer PC market.
The proof is in the sales: Apple's retail PC market share leaped from a nadir of 1.3% in January 1998 to 6.7% last August, according to market tracker ZD InfoBeads. Apple's share has hovered north and south of 6% since then. That put Apple in sixth place in the retail market this spring.
If the bad news is that iMac, since its strong launch, has maintained rather than extended its share, the good news is that iMac is holding a healthy position long after early adopter Mac fanatics bought their machines last fall.
Mr. Jobs, 44, chose to sell iMac at $1,299 (since cut to $1,199), helping keep Apple profitable at a time when rivals have been duking it out with low- or no-margin PCs well below $1,000. InfoBeads Senior Analyst Matt Sargent contends iMac's price, while not lowest in the market, still is the single biggest factor in the success.
Mr. Jobs and Apple followed the first bondi blue iMac with updated models in January. The big draw? Choice of five fruity flavors-strawberry, lime, blueberry, tangerine and grape.
"For most consumers, color is much more important than the megahertz, gigabytes and other gibberish associated with buying a typical PC," Apple's co-founder explained in launching his palette of PCs.
Mr. Jobs, who returned in 1997 to rescue Apple from oblivion, acted both as CEO and Apple's chief marketing officer in bringing iMac to market. "What Steve did was a superb example of what can happen when a CEO has a simple, focused vision and gets the whole company to focus on and implement that vision," says Allen Olivo, Apple's top ad executive at iMac's launch and now VP-marketing at Amazon.com. "He got everyone on the same page, at the same time and for the same goal."