This hints at the future direction of Apple’s hardware evolution: tools empower users, but they should not monopolize their lives.
In 1998, two years after Jobs returned to Apple, Apple released the iMac G3 computer. Its shell uses a translucent jelly-like plastic, and it is “colored”-a sea blue. In the era when almost all computers used off-white casings, this design was a breakthrough.
The iMac G3 was very popular, and half a year later, Apple added 5 new colors of red, orange, green, blue and purple to it, and achieved further success. This is considered to be the beginning of Apple’s “renaissance” in the 21st century.
IMac G3 in five colors｜Apple
The design of iMac G3 came from Jony Ive. At that time, Jobs discovered Ive from Apple and encouraged him to boldly make eclectic designs. We all know the later story. Ive became Apple’s chief design officer and one of the most influential designers in the 21st century. He worked at Apple for nearly 30 years until he left in the summer of 2019.
Jony Ive passed his mantle to two designers, Alan Dye and Evans Hankey. The former is responsible for man-machine interface design and control software; the latter is responsible for industrial design and is in charge of hardware.
Early this morning, Apple released a new iMac computer. This new iMac is designed by Hankey, except for white, there are six colors of “red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple”, which correspond exactly to the six colors on the Apple Rainbow Logo in the 1970s. It pays tribute to the iMac G3 23 years ago.
But this is more than just a “tribute.” In addition to color matching, Hankey also used many other classic designs. Behind this wave of “retro fashion”, the relationship between technology products and people is also changing.
The new iMac just released today｜Apple
“Retro Easter Eggs” in New Products
The new iMac, at first glance, looks like a “very familiar” product.
Its screen is very thin and flat, from the front to the frame is a right-angle transition, and the four corners are rounded. The headphone jack is moved from the back to the side, similar in shape to the iPad Pro.
Its stand is based on the transformation of the stand of the high-end display Pro Display XDR. The latter is the last batch of designs made by Jony Ive at Apple. The shape is very simple, the base and the bracket are perfectly vertical, and there is a strong sense of order. But in order to achieve this, the cost of this bracket is extremely high, priced at RMB 7,799.
Optional Pro Stand Stand for Pro Display XDR｜Apple
Conceptually, the new iMac is born out of the two “new products” of the iPad and Pro Display, but Hankey has buried many retro “small eggs” in the details.
The screen and stand of the new iMac are connected by a metal hinge. The exposed part of the side of the shaft adopts a metal drawing process.
This small dot of brushed metal is easily reminiscent of the volume adjustment buttons of the music app on Mac and iPhone around 2011, which are brushed metal. At that time, Apple advocated “quasi-materialized design.” Many software interfaces were based on real objects and designed similar textures to facilitate users to understand functions. A brushed metal button makes it easier for users to understand “this can be dragged.”
From the side, the hinge of the new iMac is like a small brushed metal button｜Apple
The iMac’s hinge is made into a brushed texture, which seems to encourage users to touch it with their hands. This has no functional significance, but it coincides with a “useless” feature of iMac G3.
Back then, Jony Ive insisted on adding a “handle” to the iMac G3. Although it is a 30 kg desktop computer, users will not carry it around, but Jony Ive believes that the existence of the “handle” can bring the user and the computer closer even if it is just for the user to hold it occasionally. The distance produces a kind of “intimacy.”
Finally, the English main copy of the new iMac is “Say hello”. This “hello” is a tribute to the hello drawn with MacPaint drawing software on the early Macintosh computers in 1984. When the iMac G3 came out in 1998, “hello (again)” was also used as the promotional copy.
The new iMac has seven different color schemes. In addition to white, the remaining six are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. These six colors are taken from Apple’s early rainbow stripes logo, symbolizing the return of “color”.
The return of “color”
The characteristic of “colorfulness” has been rooted in Apple’s DNA from the very beginning.
In 1977, the second year of Apple’s business, Jobs asked a design studio to design a new logo for Apple. Rob Janoff, the designer in charge of this project, made a version of the design: a bitten apple made of rainbow stripes.
This design did not conform to the prevailing industry trends at the time. At that time, most of the technology companies would not use graphic logos, but would use words to “write” their own logo, such as IBM. They will not use color design, because in black and white newspapers and televisions, color cannot be displayed.
But Jobs saw the colorful apple at a glance. Because Jobs’ ideal computer is a “personal computer” designed for ordinary people, and the ultimate goal is to have a colorful graphical interface. This logo happens to fit this concept. Through the colorful logo, the cold computer is also a little more “angry.”
Color Logo on Apple II Computer
In the late 1990s, after the iMac G3 succeeded in adopting a colorful case, Apple had a period of fully embracing “colorfulness”. The iBook G3 notebook, iPod mini, and nano series products all use a colorful shell design, and the choice of color matching mostly follows the rainbow colors of the Apple Logo. At the same time, because the hardware itself is already in color and there is a visual conflict with the rainbow stripe Logo, Apple replaced the Logo with a monochromatic apple to match the color of the product.
But since the advent of the iPhone in 2007, Apple’s color housing products began to gradually decrease. That year, Apple changed the Logo again, changing the Logo to a metallic apple with a trace of being passed by a CNC car.
In those years,
Jony Ive paid more attention to showing the “texture” of products through metal materials, weakening the element of color. He led the design of the one-piece MacBook, the iPhone 4, and the iPad made of glass and metal. All of them are silver, gray, black, white and other single colors. “Color” gradually faded out of Apple’s product line.
The only exception is the iPhone 5c. In 2012, Ive chose polycarbonate, a plastic with a more vivid coloring effect, to design this iPhone based on the “colorful” concept. However, the colorful iPhone did not win the market like iMac G3, and the sales of iPhone 5c were not satisfactory. In the next few years, Apple never launched a colorful iPhone or Mac.
Today, many people miss the iPhone 5c, but the sales volume was not satisfactory at that time｜Apple
The return of the color trend began with the re-adopting of colorful color schemes in the iPhone XR in 2018. It was on the eve of Jony Ive’s departure from Apple. There is reason to believe that Evans Hankey single-handedly promoted the embrace of “colorfulness” in hardware design.
In the past year, Evans Hankey has made colorful choices covering almost every Apple product line: iPhone 12, iPad Air, Apple Watch, AirPods Max, and this time iMac.
In the future, we can continue to look forward to Apple’s launch of MacBooks with colorful casings.
Technology products with “lifestyle”
Coloring a computer sounds like a simple design choice. But just like Jobs’s choice of colorful logo back then contains deep meaning, iMac’s return to colorfulness also implies a deeper change behind it.
One of the reasons why technology products are designed to be simple and precise is to provide users with a “sense of reliability.” Users need an accurate and reliable device, without too many tricks, in order to concentrate on the content it provides. This is also the reason why Imitative Style UI has withdrawn from the stage of history. Users no longer need a “brushed metal” button as a hint. Everyone knows that the round button can be dragged to adjust the volume. The minimalist design can reduce the cognitive burden of users.
In the past ten years, smartphones have ruled the world. The iPhone leads the design principles of the smartphone era, and consumers are also vigorously pursuing products that are simple, refined, integrated, and a little cold like the iPhone. This trend is so fierce that even the creator Jony Ive himself can’t resist.
The iPhone 5c back then was like Ive’s reflection on product design: apart from the sophisticated and cold metal glass, is there any aesthetic space left for colorful and lively plastic? The answer the market gave him was no.
But in recent years,
more and more people have begun to ask, is “concentrating on mobile phones” our ultimate goal? People finally realized that they were so obsessed with technology products that they neglected life. In 2017, both Apple and Google introduced the “Usage Management” function to help people use their mobile phones in moderation.
Today, we may need a computer that can reach out and touch and hold the handle; we prefer to appreciate a mobile phone that is colored, not so cold, and can be integrated into life; we prefer some pragmatic “retro” designs.
The new Apple TV just released is equipped with a redesigned remote control. A “touch wheel” has been added to the new remote control, replacing the previous “touch pad”. This touch wheel was born out of the ClickWheel wheel on the iPod that year. It is also a retro design. It may not be so cool, but it is more suitable for practical scenarios.
The new Apple TV remote uses a “wheel” design similar to that of iPod｜Apple
In the past 10 years, most of Apple’s product introduction videos, especially high-end products, will have a pure white or pure black background, which is very slow to move the lens. With the deep and magnetic sound of Jony Ive, it will disassemble the hardware a little bit for you. The structure shows the details with great texture. The whole picture is simple, pure, and orderly. This allows users to focus on the product itself.
But for the newly released products in the past year, such as the iPad Air, iPhone 12, and this new iMac, Apple has used more real-life scenes in product videos, and these scenes are not “futuristic.” “Simple style” is more messy, closer to reality, with warmer lighting, more life-like, and the movement of the lens is more free.