Colourful MacBook Airs and iMacs are the playful PCs we need right now

Remember when computers were fun? We do, and Apple’s bringing them back

Apple iMac 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

What do you think of the iMac 24-inch (M1, 2021) and the rumoured candy-coloured MacBook Air (2021)? It’s safe to say that the online reaction hasn’t been entirely positive. Too colourful! Too playful! Too girly!

Guys. Guys! That’s why they’re brilliant!

I’m writing this on a M1 MacBook Pro, and while I love its insides I don’t love its outsides. Not like I loved my clamshell iBook G3. That made me smile every time I saw it, because while it was a beautifully engineered computer (with one of the best laptop keyboards ever), it was also visibly, beautifully fun. 

Just like the new iMacs and the rumoured new MacBook Air, the iBook came in the option of a boring shade of grey, but also in a range of eye-popping colours – including tangerine orange, lime green, turquoise and blue, in the G3's case. If you think today’s pastel iMacs are too girly, you’d have hated my iBook: it looked like a Teletubby’s handbag. 

And that’s one of the reasons it made me grin. The iBook and iMac of the late 1990s were an explosion of joy in a world of dull beige boxes. And joy’s something I think Apple lost for a while, so I’m delighted to see it’s back.

Putting the fun into function

The original iMac and iBook were copied so widely they’ve long since become design clichés, but at the time they were revolutionary. Admittedly the floral iMac looked like someone had just been sick in it, but the rest of the range looked gorgeous and delivered a powerful message: these were not your bosses’ PCs. These were for your free time, for faffing around, for fun. I absolutely loved them.

And then Steve Jobs died.

Steve Jobs’ death wasn’t the only reason Apple’s design changed: possibly in reaction to everybody ripping him off, design head Jonathan Ive had already moved to a more zen-like, function-decides-form approach. But I think the death of Jobs contributed to a cautiousness in Apple design. 

The iMacs from 1998 to 2007 changed dramatically, going through four distinct forms, but the 2007 iMac stayed largely untouched until 2021. The MacBook Air hasn’t really changed much since 2008. And there’s an argument that the iPhone stopped being fun after the iPhone 4S.

The Apple I fell in love with made two kinds of computers: sleek, stylish and serious ones for the pros, and bold, bright and brilliant ones for your home. The big iMacs and the MacBook Pro are for the former; the colourful iMacs and Airs are for the rest of us. 

So to me the new iMacs aren’t just lazy retro styling. Like the iMacs of the late ’90s, they’re sending a message: it’s time to have some fun.