Not seeing red: Missing Apple’s color strategy


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When you have a small point to make—that Apple has trended toward slightly muter tones in its products and offloaded the more extreme color optioning to cases and bands to allow customers more options for accessorizing—the best way to make it is to loudly declare Apple has killed “fun.” That’s just basic punditry, people.

“Apple killed fun.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Shawn King.)

Just to watch it die. May or may not have happened in Reno. Still waiting for the forensics. The body of fun was found in the desert, 40 miles east.

There was a time when visiting Apple’s website, or one of its stores, was an explosion of color.

Now… well, actually there’s still a fair amount of color on Apple’s home page. Most of it’s on the device screens because with bezel sizes shrinking and people under the thrall of “technology addiction” (not actually a real addiction) that’s all anyone ever looks at.

Also, there’s the Product(RED) iPhone but The Macalope supposes that doesn’t count because it’s for a charity. Or because it doesn’t fit the argument. Or both.

When founder Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he infused a sense of color and vibrancy that had been lacking from a company that had become stuck in a rut of selling beige boxes.

As opposed to the bevy of brightly colored boxes other companies were putting out. Yeah.

More accurately, what Jobs did was to use color as a way to differentiate Macs, to make them stand out. Jobs gave people a reason to notice the Mac at a time when most people didn’t give it a first thought, let alone a second.

For a while, the company stuck to this design trend, selling increasingly ambitious and playful products, including the original iPod…

Which was white.

…the iBook G4…

Also white.

…the Power Mac G4 Cube…

Which was grey. Apple has a product in its lineup right now that is very analogous to the G4 Cube: the current Mac Pro. Great looks? Check. Kind of overpriced? Roger. Not many good upgrade options? Mmm-hmm. Relatively poor sales? Well, yeah.

So what was your point again?

…the iPod Nano, Touch, and Shuffle, and even the iPhone 5c. Today, the only colors you’ll find on Apple products is black, white, shades of grey, and occasionally, gold.

DO NOT SPEAK OF THE PRODUCT(RED), IT DOES NOT EXIST. Also, the iPod touch does not come in blue or pink. We will not hear of it.

Real pops of color are reserved for accessories like watch bands and phone cases.

They should be! Having lived through owning a Bondi blue joystick and printer and then getting a gray Power Mac and thinking “Well, this is great, nothing matches anymore,” The Macalope can tell you that it’s better to not place so much color emphasis on a device that costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars. People who spend $1,000 or more on an iPhone X are not likely to want a chartreuse option that might be out of style in six months. Offloading the bulk of that to accessorizing or less expensive products is absolutely the right move. Look at Apple’s page of Watch bands or the iPod touch color options and see if you think Apple’s “killed fun.”

They made fun cheaper.

Even still, the MacBook, all of the iPhones other than the iPhone X, the iPad Pro, and the Watch (counting the Edition) all come in four different colors. The MacBook Pro comes in two and the iPad in three. Other than the Product(RED), they’re all muted tones but that’s good. The bright colors of the original run of iMacs worked for Apple and were a brilliant strategic move but, frankly, created a trend in design that did not age well.

Murphy waxes nostalgic about the pre-iPhone days when the market was epitomized by dozens of zany madcap designs that didn’t work out. Wasn’t it great when no two phones were alike and they all had dedicated buttons and were obsolete in a year?! Ahhh. Good times.

Apple figured out the best thing to do was make the phone disappear so you could get to doing what you wanted to do, whether it was taking a picture, reading on the web or playing a game. The Macalope supposes some people even still make phone calls. Probably, right? Well, whatever. Nostalgia for pre-iPhone phones is not worth soaking in.

It’s been a long time since Apple introduced a truly revolutionary product that has universally surprised and delighted audiences.

Yes, this is true. Apple hasn’t remade an entire market lately. AirPods have been more of a sleeper hit, but they are a classic Apple product. Of course, the Macalope can’t think of a single “revolutionary” product from Apple’s competitors “that has universally surprised and delighted audiences.” But no one ever applies that standard to any company other than Apple.

Apple didn’t kill fun. If anything it let you have more power over how you want to have fun.

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