Opinion: The top 10 standout Macs of the past 25 years

Not all of them were home runs, but they all made a big splash

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Though it has been updated with an aluminum shell, the basic all-in-one styling of that flat-panel iMac still remains the standard for Apple's competitors.

Side note: The iMac wasn't the only Intel-based Mac to arrive at Macworld '06. Jobs also unveiled the 15-in. MacBook Pro. Mac fans loved the laptop, hated the name and bought it in droves.

The MacBook Air (2008)

During last year's Macworld Expo, Apple finally ventured into ultraportable territory -- its first foray into the niche since the discontinuation of the 12-in. PowerBook G4 in 2006 -- with the MacBook Air. (By contrast, the old 12-in. model looks more like a brick.)

The original Air lacked a built-in optical drive, had no expansion card slots, included no FireWire ports, and had only a single USB port. But what the Air lacked in features, it made up in technological prowess for such a thin design. The Air was the first Mac to feature an optional solid-state hard drive, and its processor -- whether you bought the 1.6-GHz or 1.8-GHz model -- was a special Intel design that reduced the chip's packaging size by 60% while still offering decent performance.

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air (photo copyright © Apple Inc.)

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The Air's enclosure contained a 13-in. screen, which gave Apple room to use a full-size keyboard so that typing ease wasn't sacrificed for the sake of form. Adding to the distinctive styling was a new, larger track pad that also supported multi-touch capabilities.

The Air's most remarkable feature was the new technological advances in the use of aluminum that led to its remarkably thin but sturdy enclosure. By crafting the Air's body from a single block of aluminum, Apple created the first "unibody" laptop.

The new design process also led to less material waste during construction, and the Air features materials that are easier to recycle than previous models. That same process design is now being used on all of Apple's laptops, including the latest model, the 17-in. MacBook Pro. Announced on Jan. 6, it's due to hit store shelves by the end of the month.

The iPhone/iPod Touch (2007)

While not technically a Mac, Apple's ultra-ultraportables run stripped-down versions of Mac OS X, making them de facto Macs small enough to fit in your pocket. As computing hardware becomes smaller and more power-efficient, the mobile version of OS X will become a bigger part of Apple's product road map.

original iPhone

The original iPhone (photo copyright © Apple Inc.)

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Announced at Macworld Expo in 2007, the first iPhone went on to take the mobile world by storm when it was released almost six months later. Featuring technologies not initially available on the desktop version of Mac OS X, such as Core Animation, the iPhone's user interface did to the mobile industry what the original Macintosh did to the computer industry.

And with each successive iPhone software update, the iPhone and its cousin the iPod Touch gained even more features and stability, finally embracing its calling as a true platform with the introduction last summer of the App Store and thousands of available applications.

Like that first Macintosh of 1984, the iPhone has reset the bar for the competition and raised expectations for consumers. With its integration with PCs and Macs, built-in wireless networking, software capabilities and ground-up rethinking of software interface, the iPhone/iPod Touch platform is the epitome of 25 years of Apple design.

Michael DeAgonia is a Neal Award-winning writer, computer consultant and technologist who has been using Macs and working on them professionally since 1993. His tech-support background includes tenures with Computerworld, colleges, the biopharmaceutical industry, the graphics industry, Apple and as a Macintosh administrator at several companies.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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