The Rumor Mill

The Incredible Scalable iMac

- 2001.04.25

Steve Jobs has something up his sleeves for May 1, 2001. The rumor sites and even some of the mainline Mac Web sites are making the expected guesses: a smaller iBook and maybe another revision to the iMac line. But we've got the inside story - and you won't believe how different Apple is thinking this time!

If you've ever read the Avengers comic book, you're probably familiar with Henry "Hank" Pym, alternately known as Ant-Man for his ability to shrink to insect size and Giant-Man or Goliath for his ability to scale to monstrous proportions. The key to these changes are Pym Particles, which have been government classified secrets for decades. (Don't believe it? Remember the "zappy things" from MIB - that's why you think comic books are fiction.)

In exchange for the right to continue showing Apple computers in Marvel comic books, not to mention a great deal of money changing hands, Steve Jobs has negotiated the rights to incorporate Pym Particles in future Apple computers.

You know that 17" iMac you've been hearing rumors about for the past three years? Some were 17" designs, but a lot of them have been resized 15" iMacs.

Apple's been having a real time of it, because certain parts of a computer (the USB and FireWire ports, the power plug, the CD or DVD drive) have to remain constant while other parts are allowed to scale. It's a far greater technical challenge than simply shrinking or enlarging a human.

Jonathan Ive, the iMac's designer, has been working with Pym, Henry McCoy of the X-Men, and Anthony Stark to address these issues. Over the past two years they have devised a specially doped plastic that is resistant to the Pym effect. This means the USB port and CD drive won't scale with the rest of the iMac.

That was almost easy compared with redesigning the iMac to contain both scalable and fixed-size parts. Pym Particles make it all possible, but there are limits to how big or small the iMac can become thanks to the CD-RW mechanism.

On the low end, the iMac can be reduced by 20%, making it just 12" wide with a 12" display. The speakers shrink somewhat more than that to leave room for the slot-loading CD-RW drive.

On the top end, the iMac can grow by one-third, resulting in a 20" monitor inside a 20" wide case. Any more than this and the fixed-size components come loose within the growing case.

It's a very clever solution that required incorporating Pym particles in the iMac's case and even includes OS control over iMac size. The new Scaling control panel lets you make the iMac 10% or 20% smaller - or 13, 25, or 33% larger, providing 17", nearly 19", and 20" displays.

One unfortunate side-effect of Pym Particles is that mass doesn't remain constant. (If it did, Goliath would blow away in a stiff wind at large sizes.) Although this seemingly defies the laws of physics, by tapping into an extradimensional source, the new 32 pound iMac drops to 18 pounds when shrunk to 12" and grows to over 70 pounds in the 20" format. (Remember, some components, notably the CD-RW drive, retain their size and weight.)

Our source indicates we may also see iBooks and PowerBooks that incorporate Pym Particles and allow much greater size reduction of the entire computer. However, while this will simplify transportation (imagine having a TiBook in your shirt pocket), they will have to be expanded to full size before you can use them.

Finally, Apple has created a new division, Pym Packaging, which makes special shipping boxes for all current Macintosh models and larger peripherals. These contain a new type of Pym Particle that can even shrink components resistant to the original Pym Particle, allowing Apple to shrink and ship any computer or peripheral in a 3 pound package. Expect Apple to earn more money from the Pym Packaging division than from the entire computer operation within the next two years - rumors are they have an exclusive contract with GM for car-sized boxes.

- Anne Onymus

The Avengers, Goliath, Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Henry Pym, Henry McCoy, the X-Men, and Anthony Stark are trademarks of Marvel Comics.

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