The Last Time Apple Sold an Obscenely Overpriced Gadget

By Adam Clark Estes on at

Now that the collective eye roll around Apple's £8k+ watches has turned into a blank stare, it's time for a little bit of nostalgia. Apple is not new to this game of selling seemingly everyday gadgets for ridiculous amounts. The Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh (TAM) wrote the rules nearly 20 years ago.

The TAM was designed for rich people, there's no doubt about that. In fact, a young Jony Ive was on the team at Apple that created this $7,500 computer (£6,800 in today's money) with an innovative form factor, extra special green-gold metallic paint job and custom-made Bose sound system, including a fabric-covered jewel speakers and a trash can-shaped subwoofer. The whole unit was designed to take up as little space on the desk as possible and blend into its surroundings – probably an executive's spacious office.

It was originally supposed to come with a personalised "concierge service" that basically involved a human – perhaps wearing a tuxedo – setting up the machine for you. Here's Ive himself describing the term in a promo video, including those now-familiar crossfades, close-up product shots, and that very, very Jony Ive tone:

But wait, there's more. The TAM's PowerPC 603e CPU was speedy at 250MHz and its 12.1-inch active matrix LCD display could display 16-bit colour thanks to two megabytes of VRAM. It also came with a TV tuner, an FM tuner and a roomy two-gigabyte hard drive. The TAM included a vertically oriented, 4x CD-ROM drive and high-density floppy Superdrive. Then, there were all sorts of ports for things like a specially designed keyboard with leather palm rests and a built-in trackpad.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the TAM was a total flop. After Apple's purchase of NeXT in late 1996, Steve Jobs returned to the firm in late 1997 as TAM sales floundered. The price was dropped heavily and the machine quietly went out of production – though it will live forever in episodes of Seinfeld and The Real World. The similarly all-in-one iMac was announced five months later in the summer of 1998, and Apple's metamorphosis hit a tipping point. Jony Ive designed that machine, too, by the way.

When the iMac hit the market for a sixth of the cost, it must've seemed like a miracle to the Apple fanboys and girls that lusted after the luxury TAM. It certainly changed the way the world bought computers.

Who knows what the Apple Watch will do. It's expensive regardless of which model you buy, though there is a sane person version for £299. There's also an insane person's version made out of some insane superhard "Apple Gold" for £8,000 and rising.

The people who buy that watch probably can't tell the difference between £299 and £8k, as the latter is firmly in the money-is-no-object territory. That's exactly the market that Apple targeted with the TAM. The main difference? Apple has a lot more practice this time around.