High Tech Colors

December 10, 2011 - Seattle, WA

“…Sony’s high-tech look, which is gunmetal gray, maybe … black”

~ Steve Jobs, 1982, in "Steve Jobs" by Walter Issacson

This is the point where Jobs fell out of love with the style of cool, dark colors and more in favor of the style of many of Apple’s current products - the shiny, the white, the colorful, the soft-rounded corners. Granted, he had been moving towards this for years; just read about his designs for the Apple II - its all molded plastic and beige.

Most of the Apply products do hold to 1982 Steve’s vision of what things should look like - soft, inviting, and usually white. Take the entry level Mac’s, the iPod, and the ‘alternative’ iPhone (but who really get’s the white one?). Its interesting to note that we really haven’t gotten away from that gunmetal grey as ‘geek chic’. All the really ‘hardcore’ products are still holding to that old asthetic.

Just look at the MacBook Pro. Gunmetal grey - no other choices.

Or the ‘nicer’ version of the generic MacBook. You want black? Well, it will cost you a RAM upgrade.

This also has implications for the cell phone market. By far, the black iPhone outsells the white. But people keep buying all these different cases to make their phone individual.

But they are still intimidating devices. My dad said, “I need the iPhone for Dummy’s book - I’m still never going to use even 10% of the functionality of this phone.” WHAT!? As a technologist, this was very shocking and frustrating to hear - there is so much cool stuff and it can make your life easier and and and. But it’s black, so in the back of his head he is thinking he is part of the cutting edge. And its cool to be out there (or at least think that you are).

So maybe that’s Apple’s whole deal - the ‘archaic’ coloring to make it seem cool and sexy and advanced. Grandma wants soft and white, but all the cool kids are using the industrial steel. That still true to a degree, but they are doing it from scratch. It’s like shopping at Hot Topic (don’t get me started), but hey, it seems to work.

Don’t get me wrong I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro. I have the latest iPhone (though I was two.5 years behind before upgrading). I run with an iPod. I don’t count myself a fanboy, but my wallet says otherwise. But you know what? Apple makes products that just work. Can’t say that about Windows. Can’t say that about anything Linux.

Working from the command line makes you strong; I highly recommend spending a couple years running linux at home and tweaking it to get it just right for you. Its ‘interesting’. After putting in my time though, I happy to let Apple make a bunch of choices for me as long as I stil have a (mostly) working terminal.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Apple is the worst form of product except for the all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

So black and gunmetal are still cool, but it seems only because we have this view of the future from 20 years ago. Maybe Steve was right and everything is going to be shiny and white, we’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, where are my flying cars?


This may read like a plug for Issacson’s book, but it really is that good. Three hours into it at the end of day that I wanted to sleep by 8:30 and this is the first time I’ve put it down (it’s nearly 1am). Go out and get Steve Jobs. Read it. Its worth it.

NOTE that I’m not advocating much of his personal life, but that man had a serious amount of vision, taste and overall a burning drive to succeed. These are what you should take away. Not that you should insult your coworkers, be arrogrant and a general ass. 99% of the time, that just ruins relationhips, the product and the company.

Unless you are that 1% of brilliance - here’s to you Steve.

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