The New White

In my last post I was talking about how Apple, while not taking the crown in actual number of PCs produced and sold, has become something of a mindshare leader. There’s another aspect to that that God and I talked about and it has to do with the simplisticness of sophistication.

As I’ve looked around at fashion through the years, one of the things that has endured is the attitude that simply going black can be the ultimate in sophistication. From the classic “little black dress” to Steve Jobs trademark turtlenecks, to the usually wrong declarations that “X is the new black,” it seems like you can never go wrong with just going black. It even worked for Spinal Tap, when they wanted an album cover that could go to eleven.

But Apple bucked this trend. They were advertising that people should “Think Different” and in a form subtly reinforcing that message, instead of black, they went to the other extreme. The iPod stated it’s minimalistic elegance all in white, right down to the wires on the ear phones. For a few months, or maybe even a year or two, after the iPod took off and became the “it” girl of consumer products, there appeared periodic columns warning people that the simple white lines of those wires made them a target. They let snatch-and-grab thieves know that you had something valuable, something worth stealing.

And the copycats at company after company looked at those white wires appearing all over the place and said to themselves, “White! That’s why they’re selling! They’re white.” So they made their cheap knockoffs and flooded the market.

Those knockoffs may not have improved the audio quality of the average lossy-encoding listener, they may not have gained any of the brand reputation of the coattails they were trying to ride on, they may not have done anything other than sell a few more units than they otherwise might have, but they did do something, something of value. They made it so that those iconic lines of white, dangling from our ears to our pockets, no longer made us targets for muggers.

Or at least they got lazy journalists to stop writing articles telling us that they did.

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