In 1976 Apple ignited the personal computer revolution. In 1996 Apple Computer turned twenty years old. To commemorate the occasion, the company released a limited edition Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh – affectionately known as the TAM among Apple collectors and aficionados.
The TAM represented Apple’s design vision for the future. It included a flat panel screen with a vertical orientation, the computer was incorporated into the monitor. While this is the standard form factor of the iMac line today, in the 1990s this design was very groundbreaking. Advanced capabilities included a TV tuner, FM radio, a custom designed Bose sound system (with subwoofer), and a removable trackpad in place of a mouse.
Unlike the beige Macs of the day, the TAM was colored a brown-grey hue similar to the PowerBook. It was also priced at $7500. Initial units were individually hand-delivered to customers and setup by a tech-in-a-tux! I’ll bet they even came with a jar of Grey Poupon.
However while visually striking, the TAM wasn’t a hit among buyers. The CPU was a middle-of-the-road 250MHz PowerPC 603, the computer didn’t include ethernet, had limited expansion capability, and was unaffordable to all but the most affluent of buyers. Sales languished and Apple lowered the price several times. It finally dropped to as low as $1995 before the company pulled the plug a year later. Personally I remember scoffing at the TAM as an overpriced, underpowered status symbol when it was released, and didn’t feel it was worthy of ownership nor inclusion in the Vintage Mac Museum.
Fast forward two decades, and the TAM appears quite differently. In retrospect this computer is clearly the ancestor of the flat-panel iMac. Starting with the iMac G5 and continuing to the present day, the design of Apple’s desktop-for-the-masses harkens directly back to the TAM. It is also an early Jony Ive influenced product, one championed by former Director of Industrial Design Robert Brunner before Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997.
Today the TAM has become a coveted collector’s item, and sells for $1000 (or more) on eBay if in good condition with original packaging. With age and wisdom I began to feel that it was indeed a model which should be included in the collection. Recently through a series of good circumstances and a few mutual favors, I’ve finally managed to acquire one.
My TAM came with it’s original packaging, a large outer box with four inner cartons numbered in the order they should be opened. After wrestling the quite sizable shipping carton home in my small hatchback, I did the whole unboxing thing in numerical order and hooked everything up.
It’s quite rare that I sit down in front of a vintage Mac I’ve never used before. This one feels like using a primordial iMac, made from a rearranged pre-G3 PowerBook. The curved stand and bracket which holds the computer allows it to be pivoted forward or backward to nearly any angle desired, and it does sound quite nice. The 12-inch active-matrix display screen is bright and crisp.
The TAM has a unique startup sound. I’m not sure this really works, the Mac’s standard startup chime through that audio system would be quite impressive. But reflecting the decade in which it was designed, a huge multipin connector links the computer to the subwoofer, which also serves as the power supply. Apple would never do that now, the subwoofer would just be connected via Bluetooth.
Wait, what am I saying? There wouldn’t be a subwoofer at all, but rather enhanced low frequency output from incredibly small speakers in the computer itself using Apple’s proprietary iFeel™ technology…
I’m very happy to finally have a TAM in the VMM family. The PowerPC Beige Collection page has been updated appropriately. A big thanks to Hap and Matt for their help to make this acquisition possible!