Small Typo Sets Back Apple Design More than a Decade
April 1, 2019 — by Per Christensson
One small letter can make a big difference.
On March 19th, Apple announced the first update to its iMac line in almost two years. While Mac users were happy to see updated iMacs, even the most loyal Apple customers were left wondering — will there ever be a new design?
The "computer-on-a-stand" design has remained relatively unchanged since Apple released the iMac G5 in 2004. Despite growing complaints from Apple users, Apple has not strayed from the iPod-inspired design of the early 2000s. Finally, after more than a decade, information has surfaced as to why the company has been so reticent to update the design.
It turns out Apple accidentally ordered too many aluminum iMac stands — 999,000,000 to be exact. The employee who was tasked with placing the 2004 order for aluminum iMac stands accidentally typed "one billion" instead of "one million." (macOS now corrects the common misspellings to "million" instead of "billion.") Somehow no one caught the error before the order was processed by the Chinese aluminum company.
"It was a pretty big problem. There was no way out of the purchase agreement once the order was placed," said a former Apple who worked in the iMac division. "We didn't even realize the error until several million stands were delivered to the factory. That's when we got concerned."
According to an unnamed source, Apple's management team held an emergency meeting to find a solution. They built a 10-year roadmap of iMacs that would all use the same aluminum stand. They also designed new monitors that would incorporate the L-shaped stands. While it was a creative solution, Apple still only used about four million stands per year. After two and a half years, Apple still had 990,000,000 stands left.
Instead of letting the stands go to waste, Apple decided to "recycle" the unused stands, melting them down and turning them PowerBooks and Power Macs, and eventually MacBooks and Mac Pros. But after three years, Apple had still used less than 5% of the aluminum stands they had ordered. In 2007, Apple built aluminum into the original iPhone and made the entire iMac aluminum, as well as the keyboard and mouse.
Yet even as Mac sales increased, the problem remained. Ten years later, Apple still had not used up even half of the aluminum stands. Therefore, instead of releasing a new Mac Pro in 2017, Apple decided to make an "iMac Pro" that would use more aluminum. The company built another version of the iMac and just painted it black. As of April 1, 2019, it has been 1,929 days since Apple last updated the Mac Pro.
"It was really unfortunate," said another unnamed source at Apple's iMac division. "We used to be the leader in hardware design. But then we ordered all those dang aluminum stands..." While Apple's operations division approved melting down the aluminum for other products, they have remained firm in using the existing stands for iMacs. The result is that that iMac design has remained unchanged for 15 years despite numerous complaints. A few examples include:
- The components overheat since they are so close to the screen.
- The internal fans spin up too often.
- There is not sufficient room for a high-end graphics card.
- It is almost completely non-upgradable.
- It is difficult to repair or service.
- The ports in the back are difficult to reach.
- The height of the display is not adjustable.
A recent poll revealed more than 90% of iMac users have a book or some type of shoebox underneath their iMac.
The good news is that, 15 years after the fateful typo, Apple has now used roughly half of the iMac stands they ordered. The bad news is that, with 500 million stands still in the warehouse, Apple's hardware design may stall for another decade.