When Apple shocked the world by introducing the Bondi Blue iMac in 1998, the PC market was caught with its figurative pants down. The collective thought was that PCs were supposed to be a neutral beige, with laptops being black. It was that way because the IBMs, Dells, Compaqs and HPs of the world said so. All Apple had to do to “Think Different” was to move away from beige. No longer was an Apple product indistinguishable from the raft of PC products out there, but it was instead easily distinguishable from every other machine in the room. It was shaped different, it operated differently, and the color was striking.
As the iMac took off in sales, despite being somewhat underpowered with a 233 MHz G3 chip, 32 MB of RAM and a paltry 4 Gigabyte hard drive, Microsoft’s then-CEO Bill Gates sniped that one place Apple was leading was in colors. While Apple continued to innovate, branching out to new colors with the “fruity” iMacs in lime, strawberry, tangerine, grape and blueberry, it was all PC vendors like eMachines could do to catch up with the previous generation – delivering a iMac wannabe with the eOne. It too was blue. It too was no longer a beige box. But it was just begging for an Apple lawsuit, and got one almost immediately.
Later, we saw the introductions of color patterns on the iMacs, with the Dalmatian and Flower Power models, and both blueberry and tangerine iBook consumer laptops.
Flash forward almost a decade into Apple’s resurgence, and where are we? Apple’s desktop and laptop lines have are now nearly color-free, with Apple being content to dote color solely on the iPod Nano line. While the Nanos shine on in black, silver, blue, pink and green (and Product RED), Apple’s desktop line is entirely white, from the Mac Mini to the iMac to the Mac Pro. Apple’s MacBooks are in white, unless you pay $200 extra to get one in black. Apple’s MacBook Pros are aluminum – which is a good way of saying… gray.
Were the bright colors of the late 1990s destined to sit in our historic subconscious as have the loud outfits and plaid/polka-dot designs of the late 1970s? Were we all dropping acid? Or will a wider variety of designs and colors once again grace Apple’s lineup? I’m ready for a change. If it’s an inventory issue, and Apple doesn’t want to get stuck with a boatload of tangerine desktops, we understand, but even Microsoft’s Zune comes in brown, and those guys don’t even look like they’re trying. It’s time for Apple to lead once again, to move beyond white and grasp the fullness of the color spectrum.