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Why must our consumer tech be gloomy black and grey?

Posted by Ian McKee on 25th September 2013

Rainbow AppleI am an unabashed Apple fan, and like any Apple fan this is due mainly to design philosophy. For me, a major part of this is use of colour.

So much of the negativity we have seen around the launch of Apple’s iOS 7 has been nothing to do with usability, but around how colourful it is. ‘Garish’, ‘gaudy’ and ‘loud’ are all descriptors I’ve seen used. I’ve seen jokes likening the colour scheme to a kid’s toy, as if use of colour somehow makes the device infantile. (By the way, nothing says ‘this is a grown up’s OS’ like naming it after a sweet.)

Am I the only one wondering why we need our consumer tech to be so flipping boring?

Are we all trying to be corporate now?

I get the perceived need to stick to the safer side of the spectrum for business use (though even in that case I’d argue a bit of colour ain’t so bad), but consumer gadgets? They are supposed to entertain and delight, and yes even at a childlike level. Use of colour can be a big part of achieving that.

If you’re worried that iOS 7 might clash with your grey pinstripe suit, you probably want to stick with your BlackBerry.

In the home

It might make sense with TVs and home entertainment systems, hi-fis and desktop computers. Keeping to neutral colours with gadgets that sit around the house makes sense, as people want them to fit in with the décor. Though I do think there’s a gap in the market for custom coloured TVs.

That said, of course the original Apple iMac was arguably the first time a major consumer electronics business made bright colours a selling point. And they sold by the bucket load, often stated as the turning point for the second coming of Apple, showing that not everything that sits on your desk must be black or grey.

In your pocket

I occasionally get a bit of stick for favouring the white incarnations of my iDevices. I’ve had four white iPhones and one white iPad. (Oddly, I did have a black iPod, despite the fact that the original iPods were white. Perhaps I am taking the ‘Think Different’ messaging a little literally.) Apparently, white iPhones are the ‘blinging’ option, or perhaps just a little bit feminine and as a bloke I should stick to boring black.

This seems to be the consensus. Black iPads and iPhones outsell the white alternatives. Yet Apple has still deigned to now launch not only a range of slightly cheaper colourful iPhones in the 5c, they’ve helped banish the ‘white = blinging’ idea by introducing the seriously blinging gold iPhone 5s.

Again, much derision has been poured on this ‘gaudy’ design, but they are selling like hotcakes. And you know what? Perhaps it’s my magpie like nature when it comes to tech (ooh shiny!) but I am not ashamed to say I really, really want one.

Oh, and it’s not such a ludicrous idea that Samsung wouldn’t follow Apple’s lead in record quick time.

Other consumer tech brands are available

Yes, yes, I know Apple is not the be all and end all; I am aware Nokia and Windows Phone were doing colourful already, and that HTC has been known to branch out.

I absolutely laud these brands too, it’s just Apple has a long history of being pioneering here and the negativity has brought the topic to a head.

Pretty in pink

Then of course there’s the pink gadgets debate. Tech brands rolling out pink versions of their products to appeal to the female demographic, somewhat patronisingly and perhaps cynically. But then they often do actually sell; already the pink iPhone 5c is far outstripping all the other colours.

Which is a whole other issue, but the point here is, I don’t think this is purely a tech brand responsibility. Most consumer electronics businesses are just trying to fit consumer demand. So why are we as consumers all so keen on black and grey?

Buying power

We didn’t look at the issue of colour in our consumer tech buying influence report, and I have to admit that although colour is probably higher on my list of considerations than it is for most, it isn’t top.

When I bought my DSLR camera, for instance, I toyed with the idea of a Micro Four Thirds model as I could get it in bright blue. But I didn’t, I got a black model because it was a proper DSLR with full features from a proper camera brand.

It seems you can’t have it all. But why shouldn’t we all have more colour in our lives?

Ian McKee

Ian started out his career working in travel PR, working for tourist boards, airlines and hotel groups. Whilst there he carved out a position as a digital communications expert, managing social media, SEO and email marketing campaigns for clients.

  • Alexander Perryman

    “When I bought my DSLR camera, for instance, I toyed with the idea of a Micro Four Thirds model as I could get it in bright blue. ”

    You know, in many ways, young man, we are very different people. And thank god for that.

    I don’t think the issue is so much with the aspect of personalisation; it’s the way it’s been done. Plastic simply doesn’t play to the ‘high build quality’ image that Apple has built up over the years. And although the plastic iPhone apparently does seem very well-put-together for a plastic phone, how can plastic colour options be compared to the, frankly beautiful coloured metal shell of the Nokia Lumias?

    I agree entirely that a bit of personalisation is a great thing in consumer tech. The original coloured iMacs were a revolution, and I, frankly, loved their design. But it’s a matter of taste. White iphones – eeurgh. Gold iphones? – eeeurgher. This feels like a step back.

    As for the new OS colour schemes? Please…. They make my eyes bleed. It wouldn’t have taken a lot for the icons to be slightly more co-oridinated, or muted, and for people to *have the choice* of expressing colour and personality through different backgrounds or, dare we say it, themes.

    • At least we can agree on one point, and that is indeed a great thing that we are different. 🙂

      It is all a matter of taste, of course. Think you’re being a bit contradictory here though. The first iMacs were plastic, and more affordable than the previous Macs, though like the 5c still not exactly cheap.

      I could go into detail about the iOS 7 colour scheme (the icons are much more coordinated than before, frankly) but as you say it’s subjective, and that’s not exactly the point. It’s more that generally I’d like to see more colour about, and not just from Apple, from any tech brand. I don’t understand why so many people see ‘colourful’ as cheap, or vulgar, or childish…

  • Ben Smith

    Colours – hell yes. Also can we go back to a world where every phone isn’t a rectangular slab? I know it’s a practical layout for smartphones, but seriously – no other form factors at all? I still maintain one of the most fun phones I ever played with was the big Nokia monstrosity that featured in the first Matrix with the cover that swooshed out at the press of a button (the 7110 I think). Most unnecessary feature ever – but dammit it was COOL and made an otherwise totally dreadful phone much better. Colours and crazy shapes I say. Although I realise I basically sound like Homer designing a car right now…