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Summary:

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 […]

white_mac_hardwareWhen 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.

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  1. It’s not really a problem. It’s just that… you are tired of white product… Try something new, Apple is just a small part of your life. :)

  2. I disagree completely. White makes Apple what it is. It’s cool, Kubrickian and very pure and white doesn’t date as much as other colors. There’s a lot to be said for not having as much choice in color especially when that color defines the company involved. Apple uses a very strict colour coding ratio much like the shop MUJI which isn’t in the US alas. Color is not as much as choice but a philosophy for Apple and in this case white is allright.

  3. I own an MBP and a ‘gray’ nano – I’m pretty partial to the aluminum color. It’s clean, sleek, modern and elegantly simple. While PC manufacturers add all sorts of non-functional decorative ridges, doodads and weird accents that add nothing but a vague cheesiness to their ‘style,’ Macs remain classy and clean. The white embodies this the most, and I think it would be a mistake to go back to the candy-coated colors across the whole line – might be seen as gimmicky. And, as you mentioned, there is the whole inventory issue to consider. I like the line-up as it is, though I do hope to see some (subtle) styling changes soon. Apple’s designers never disappoint.

  4. Although I don’t mind white, I like where you’ve gone with this post. Aluminum is grey, and when you add up the colors you end up with the minimalist’s color palate. Very Ives.

    I’d just like to add that I’m tired of the rectangle. Have been for years. I hope Apple moves back to more interesting shapes in 2007. Long live the G4 iMac, the eMate and other non-rectangle inspired designs.

  5. Um, I’d double check the facts. The Mac Pro is “gray” and the Mac Mini is mostly gray. The only entirely white anything (peripherals aside) is the MacBook. I personally thought that the colored line of iMacs looked dated abit more quickly, but in this industry everything looks dated quickly. Just take a gander at the G1 iPod from just 5 years ago. It’s crazy. Outside of paying 200 bones for a color (which is just dumb, but folks will pay it) I’d defend Apple’s color choices.

    Now the “i” prefix to everything, that is getting worn out.

  6. I think Apple has a fairly reasonable color scheme going currently. They’ve introduced color on products of the right size and form (minis, nanos). If you’ve ever seen one of those mockups of what a red MacBook or iMac would look like, you know how hideous that would be – they’re just too big to go candy.

    This is not to say that Ives & Co couldn’t come up with a desktop computer design that incorporated more color, but I frankly think that’s unnecessary. When you look at a typical iMac, most of what you see is color – they’ve reduced the actual computer to a thin white border around the candy-colored OS X desktop.

    P.S. It’s spelled “Dalmatian.”

  7. I think the limited color palette is a good move for Apple. As some have already pointed out, colors can look dated pretty quickly. They can also turn off consumers more easily. While you (and others, certainly) may not love the whites, blacks, and grays that currently dominate their product line, I doubt anyone would say that they are actually ugly. People’s attitudes towards colors are much more mercurial. It’s easier to stay neutral and classy than risk livening up your product line in a way that makes it look childish or tacky to some of the people you’re trying to sell to.

    Another advantage is that computers are essentially blank slates. The real action takes place on the screen, where anything can happen. By keeping the colors neutral, the focus remains on the screen instead of on your cherry-red MacBook.

  8. You must be reading my mind. I’d love to see a black option across the board.

    OTOH, the “Dalmatian” and “Flower Power” iMacs were the ugliest things Apple’s ever done. Hideous.

  9. Fashion evolves. Design evolves. Don’t pine for the past, stay with the zeitgeist.

  10. Like the other James, I completely disagree.
    1. Not all apple products only come in white. Buy a black, or alum, one or a colored nano g2.
    2. The white ipod ear buds were not only a welcome change to the ubiquitous black headphones, but a key strategic element in creating a recognizable aesthetic in differentiating their product vs. everyone else.

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