When Apple started using the color white as it’s industrial design foundation back in the late 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 aluminum iPods, Black MacBooks and silver 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 10-year old Hello Kitty school supplies compartment. With free pink 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-mitators. To scotch tape the bastard if necessary, back onto a pedestal, by serving as an indication of one 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 know him better than you do. I think, like a lot of people, he just liked the idea that it would passively communicate the status of his greater purchase price.
I asked my wife what she thought about the design choice – she told me that it was probably just targeting 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 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 that sweet black anodized metal border of the iPod Touch, and… it’s gone? Oh now that’s too bad.
*Footnote: “TUMP” is a word I learned years ago from my friend and business partner Tim Smith, who’s southern roots go a little too deep to entirely shed the stigma of banjo playing on the porch. As it was described to me, it’s a cross between “tip over”, and dump and thump. Both evoking an action and a sound, I have come to find it a surprisingly useful word, even when describing the unfortunate unveiling of the white iPhone.