Microsoft is updating its radical new-look Windows 8 operating system with something called Windows Blue. Copy cats! 25 years ago Apple planned to upgrade its OS with something known as Blue.
In 1988 technical managers met and sketched ideas for the new OS on index cards. Simple, short-term features went on blue cards; longer-term goals on pinks cards; and crazy, way-out ideas on red. Pink and red faded away while Blue became the incredibly successful System 7 in 1991. Go blues!
Blue, or cyan as designers like to call it, is a funny old colour. In medieval art blue was more valuable than gold as you needed expensive lapis lazuli from Afghanistan to make the best pigment. That’s why the Virgin Mary is clothed in blue while lesser holy figures merely wear gilded haloes.
There aren’t many blue animals – exotic fish and poison dart frogs aside – and blue food is often shunned. There was even a rumour that blue Smarties (or rather their E133 colouring) trigger hyperactivity in children – ironic as blue is meant to be a calming colour. See: Apple A-Z
Apple has always had a soft spot for blue. It’s the most popular desktop wallpaper hue (since System 7) and is the natural skin tone of the Happy Mac logo. Indeed it was the base strip in the old multicoloured Apple logo.
A very blue (sad) decade after Apple re-revolutionized the home computer with 1998’s bubble-shaped iMac. It chose Bondi Blue as the original iMac translucent case colour – named after the water at Sydney, Australia’s Bondi Beach. Bondi Blue was really a blue-green, but later iMacs came in Blueberry and Indigo, as well as the freaky Blue Dalmatian case.
The iMac was the first Mac to incorporate the wireless Bluetooth technology – named after King Harald I of Denmark. The Bluetooth logo is a bind rune merging Harald’s initals.
Apple’s love of blue is strange as at the start of its life the company defined itself by its aggressively snarky opposition to tech colossus IBM, nicknamed Big Blue. Relations with Big Blue thawed later when it partnered with IBM on several projects (Taligent, PowerPC) and switched over to its processors.
The iMac wasn’t the only Apple product to be blue. The first clamshell iBooks included a Blueberry model, later, like the iMac, darkened to Indigo. The Power Mac G3 was the first professional Mac to use colour polycarbonate, and was even dubbed the “Blue & White” Power Mac. Various iPod models have also sported various blue tints. See: Apple towers of power - a history of pro Macs
It’s a little known fact that Apple once considered sponsoring Chelsea Football Club (“The Blues”) but the price of printing its then-multicoloured logo on team and replica shirts would have made even Roman Abramovich flinch. Ironically Chelsea are now sponsored by Apple's arch rivals Samsung.
On his return to Apple in 1997 co-founder Steve Jobs wore to work a uniform of mid-blue Levi 501 jeans – buttoned but never belted – and trademark Issey Miyake black turtleneck. He nearly always wore this casual outfit when launching products at keynotes – usually against a giant dark blue screen. At such events he would unveil Apple’s latest innovative products – the results of his Think Different approach where blue-sky thinking was the Apple mantra. Here we see Apple's current CEO Tim Cook also sporting the blue jeans look, except with a proper shirt with buttons for that extra corporate touch.
Steve would dream up these fantastic products with a small team of confidants, including British designer Jony Ive. Ive was rewarded for his Apple designs with a 2012 knighthood from the Queen, and more impressively a coveted 2013 Blue Peter badge from the popular BBC kids’ TV show. His Blue Peter badge was sadly gold – a colour not much in favour at Apple or, I presume, in the Ive Pantone swatch book. These days Ive prefers silver grey metals.
One silver grey metal that has bumped into Apple is cobalt, used a blue pigment in paint and glass. Cobalt is also used in the flat batteries that power iPads and iPhones, and the popularity of these Apple devices has affected the price of cobalt according to chemistry professors.
So perhaps we can blame the premium prices we pay for Apple devices on Apple’s love affair with all things blue – maybe that’s why Microsoft is now getting in on the act… Let's see if Windows Blue has caught up with System 7 yet.