I recently suggested that Blue was Apple’s favourite colour – Happy Mac, original iMac, System 7 – but readers wanted to beat me Black and Blue. Blue? Blue?! “Surely Apple is all about White”.
And I have to admit that both Black and White are colours that Apple is more than a little obsessed with. See: Apple A-Z
To begin with Apple was a little colour crazy. We’ll ignore Apple’s overblown Issac-Newton-sitting-under-a-tree-with-an-apple-about-to-drop-on-his-wigged-head-with-the-whole-thing-wrapped-in-a-Harry-Potter-scarf logo. For the first apple silhouete logo Steve Jobs demanded it be filled with colours despite nervous accountants weeping over the cost implications of sticking multicoloured badges on every thing that Apple sold.
PC manufacturers other than Apple are accused with making all computers boringly beige, but Apple is as much to blame as IBM, Compaq, et al.
The Apple II was beige, and so was the original Macintosh and plenty of Macs after that. To be precise the first Macs were Pantone 453, but beige is a fine description. This Apple beige was part of the company’s Snow White design language – so named after a bunch of dwarf-based code names rather than the elusive colour White.
The Apple beige was known as ‘Fog’ – atmospheric, yes, but also a rather dirty, choking metaphor that was perfect for Apple in the years when Steve Jobs languished in exile.
In 1987 Apple switched to a greyer colour optimistically called Platinum, but in reality this was just light beige.
With the exception of two oddities in 1993’s bachelor-pad black Macintosh TV and 1996’s all-black Performa 5420, it wasn’t until Steve returned from NeXT (home of the all-black Cube) that things began to change. After all the fun with Bondi Blue and the other rainbow of G3 iMac colours Steve must have bumped his head or Jonathan Ive reached puberty, or something… because all the colour suddenly drained out of the company and its products around the new millennium. Dan Brown could write a conspiracy mystery on the reasons why.
Maybe all that acid Jobs took in the 1970s finally ran out of his system. In 1999 Apple went with a Graphite colour theme for its Power Mac G4, and 2000’s iMac DV SE showed up in Graphite and Snow – a misty white.
This was followed by the vomit iMacs (Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power) that escaped the Apple Labs only because Ive was too busy at work creating 2002’s crazy but cool iMac G4, otherwise known as the Anglepoise iMac, which was white and white only.
That year Ive also designed the eMac, again just in white. And then we got 2004’s iMac G5, a slightly boxy but very white new Apple all-in-one.
The new millennium sucked all that old fun colour out of Apple. 2000’s iBook SE went White and Graphite only, and a year later the iBook lost its funny shape and looked like most other laptops, except for its pure white casing.
The new century also saw a new Apple mouse replace the hated Hockey Puck. The Apple Pro Mouse came in, you guessed it, Black and White.
Apple’s AirPort, Time Machine, Hi-Fi, cables, plugs and other products all stuck with white, but the biggest jolt to Apple’s colour palette was 2001’s iPod – a product, like the original G3 iMac, defined as much by its colouras its function.
The piece of white polycarbonate cool didn’t stay pure white forever – far from it – but those white earbuds remain a true icon of our times.
Apple followed up on the success of the iPod with the iPhone, which started in black but soon had the masses clamouring for a white version.
While Macs went aluminium Apple’s mobile line up has stuck with Black and White through iPhone and iPad mini. Where beige once ruled the PC Apple’s choice of monochrome colours now defines the new mobile order.
White is now the most popular exterior car colour for American buyers. Sandy McGill, BMW’s lead designer, attributes the popularity of white cars to Apple: “Prior to Apple, white was associated with things like refrigerators or the tiles in your bathroom. Apple made white valuable.”
And white made Apple valuable.
Until Tim Cook and Jony Ive find Steve’s hidden stash of LSD simple white and black minimalism will be keeping Apple and its products in the money for years to come.