August 17, 2016
Apple has always been a fashionable company. They have always focused on design more than their competitors; they have presented their wares as distinctive in their creation, marketing, and use; and they have set themselves apart through attention to detail. These choices were almost never popular when Apple made them; get rid of a floppy drive, an optical drive, an old port, or stop supporting your aging OS and people lambast you as a poor steward of your consumers’ best technological interests. Of course, those same people almost always come around and Apple’s difficult decisions become the easy standard to follow. Based on Apple’s ability to pave the way for new technological innovation, the Apple Watch is largely seen as a middling product by Apple, too focused on fashion and not enough focused on the technology itself, but Apple has always been fashionable; this preference toward the aesthetically pleasing didn’t start with the Watch.
Stephen Hackett has written extensively on Apple’s History, so I would be remiss not to at least mention his work. Stephen’s most recent project dove head first into the iMac G3 and the machine continues to astound in design, technological trade-offs, and advertising. Although the story of Andy Warhol marveling at the Macintosh is well documented, the iMac G3 might as well have been one of his artistic installations. The iMac G3 is often discussed as the computer that saved Apple, which is interesting insofar as the computer eschewed many technologies that were standard for the day, the most memorable of which was the floppy drive. Also interesting from a technology standpoint was the fact that the iMac didn’t come with a way to write data onto any other form of media, so the absence of a floppy drive meant a harder sell than one might think today.
My first Mac was the PowerBook G4 I took with me to college. I used that computer well after I graduated and was still able to sell it for a good amount when I did. While the PowerBook didn’t have obvious trade-offs necessarily (the lack of certain display ports notwithstanding), models of the MacBook line that superseded it did. When the optical drive went away with the first generation MacBook Air, I immediately said good riddance, but that is not the case for some, as the 13” MacBook Pro that provides a built-in optical drive is still sold at this time. That being said, Apple’s portable computer line has continued to differentiate itself by the amount of computing power fit into the smallest of packages and Apple’s preference for thinner and lighter in portable computers has never been a secret.
Arguably, Apple’s first wearable was the iPod. The iPod Shuffle originally came with a lanyard, versions of the iPods Nano and Shuffle could be clipped on. Prior to the Apple Watch, there was a plethora of options for strapping an iPod Nano to your wrist. White headphones were the ubiquitous sign that you were in the know on well-designed, fashionable technology, even when it was not considered the best technology available.
Apple shows its attention to detail and design in everything it does, so it shouldn’t be surprising that their advertising shares that same penchant. Below are representative ads from the above-discussed technologies (and an couple extras for comparison) that show this preference. Most of these ad campaigns are now considered iconic.
The thesis of this post, if there is one, is Apple’s historical leaning toward the fashionable. The Apple Watch may be the first technology the company released with the intention of being sold within a fashion context, but Apple has always been a fashionable brand and focused on those details that made products better and more desirable, even if that meant potential pain points that initially chose form over function. Traditional technology brands like Microsoft, Palm, or Blackberry laughed at the iPhone because of its price tag or lack of a physical keyboard, but in the end were seen rushing to catch up with Apple’s innovations, both technologically and aesthetically.1 Just ask Andy Warhol and the billions of other people who have decided Apple products are right for them.
Even Google’s Android started as an OS designed with physical keyboard input in mind. And arguably, all non-Apple phone makers are still struggling to make products that match the iPhone in aesthetics.↩