When Apple started using the color white as it’s industrial design foundation back in the 90s - it evoked all the coolest parts of Star Wars’ Storm Troopers, 2001: A Space Odyssey - and bathroom fixtures all at once. It was a powerful design conceit that differentiated the company assertively for a decade - and big-banged out trends that are still rippling their way down the lower design food-chain today.
Then, with the advent of multicolored metal iPods, Black MacBooks and aluminum iMacs, Airs and Mac Pros, it looked as though His whiteness was finally, at long gasping last, bowing out. And none too soon.
The fact is, the whole white consumer technology thing has been done to death. There is all manner of non-Apple, white and plastic-chrome “iWhatevers” on the market. So ubiquitous is the white and “chromed” plastic look that anything done that way today usually has “made in taiwan” embossed on the side or comes from a gum ball machine.
And then Apple unveiled the iPhone 3G.
When I saw the white and chrome iPhone 3G - an exclusive color way for the premium 16GB model - I remember mildly deflating and uttering, “…really…?” And then I think I just squinted at it - waiting for the coolness to kick in. A reality distortion field. A different angle. Anything.
But no - with all the industrial design tump of Hasbro’s plastic iDog, here was my favorite company’s most awesomest product announcement on Earth and it carried itself in the housing of a 4-year old Hello Kitty school supply compartment. With free eraser. I half expected to see a keychain ring hanging off one corner.
The application of ancient white plastic to the high-end iPhone model smacked of an obvious attempt to re-invigorate the material. To wrest ownership of the scheme back from the i-imitators. To scotch tape the bastard if necessary, back onto a pedestal, by serving as an indication of one’s having afforded the “high-end” model.
But instead, the thing felt old and just made me wonder if the exceptionally cooler looking 8GB model in black would be fine after all.
Turns out it is by the way.
I do have an old friend who chose the white model. On purpose. He said he thought it was cool. I said, “…really…?” And he said, “Yeah it’s totally cool.” I wasn’t totally convinced. I think, like a lot of people, he just liked the idea that it would inherently communicate the status of his purchase.
I asked my wife what she thought about the design choice - she told me that it was probably just meant for girls. I look forward to my friend reading that.
Either way - I hope it’s the last time we see such a cheap use of shiny white plastic and chrome in Apple’s industrial design for a long time.
The Apple I love sets trends. I’m willing to forget this ever happened if the next iPhone has the sweet black anodized metal border of the iPod Touch… oh wait , they changed that to chrome - DOH!