Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Apple appeals to elitist consumers

It is a universally publicized truth that Apple Inc. sells a lot of products. Far from the humble days of its modest birth in a garage in Silicon Valley, the company formerly known as Apple Computer has transitioned from selling “home computer kits” hobbled together from spare computer parts to becoming one of the largest technology retailers in the world. Apple CEO Tim Cook declared at the company’s keynote last Tuesday that projections indicate the 700 millionth iOS device will enter consumer hands before the end of this month.

Apple hopes alongside that lofty amount will be a sizable number of its two newest devices, also announced at last week’s keynote: the iPhones 5s and 5c. The former is a state of the art, bleeding edge “premium handset,” containing a drastically improved onboard camera, new M7 processor, and built-in fingerprint scanner, while the latter is a plastic-bodied budget device which compromises some of the state of the art features of its fancier sibling for the sake of affordability. Apart from these specifications and the noteworthy distinction that this is the first time Apple has specifically designed a “lower-end” phone, one of the most interesting aspects to take away from Apple’s keynote is deceptively simple, and in the minds of the company’s critics, long overdue: color.

In the recent history of its products and devices following the company’s millennial resurgence, Apple has retained a relatively homogenous, even conformist, approach to design. The signature design of Apple products – sleek, gentle curves and glossy black and matte aluminum surfaces – give them an essence that initially served to set them apart, but now have arguably grown tired and hackneyed. Even the Macbook Air, once a pinnacle of innovation that pioneered the class of hyper portable laptop computers known as “ultrabooks,” has spawned a class of silver tapered ultralight imitators. Where an iPhone once stood out as one of the first truly “smart” devices amidst a sea of chunky flip phones, rounded black rectangles are now the order of the day. Priding itself as a consistent innovator and revolutionary apart from its competitors, Apple’s questionable solution to this potential wave of stagnation was to make a gold one.

Standard black and new “space-grey” are available as less obnoxious color options, but the sheer fact that one can purchase a champagne-colored iPhone speaks volumes about the average consumer, as well as the role of technology in our society as a whole. What does it say about us that we feel a need for such gleaming ostentatious devices? Are we so far gone into our obsession with material wealth that we need to derive self-worth from such tawdry trinkets? Do we really care so much about appearing wealthy that we would choose a thin veneer of fool’s gold? Technology must be extricated from its current position as an indicator of status or class. A gold iPhone actively inhibits this progress, ingraining associations of wealth and elitism that already surround Apple’s consumer culture.

Detractors might criticize or demonize Apple for creating such a monument to human opulence, but they are a corporation, after all. Underneath all the heartwarming ads and product descriptions, they have a single goal: to make money. Such logic also shifts the burden away from the consumer, and we must remember that we are also partly responsible, because no corporation is going to design a gold iPhone if people won’t buy one.

Indeed, those in the market for a more subdued handset may be in luck with the iPhone 5c, described by Apple Senior Vice President of Design and general style guru Jony Ive as “beautifully, unapologetically plastic.” Red, blue, yellow, white and green are available at launch, with no indication of whether any more colors will be released in the future. Apple critics and fans alike will draw comparisons with Google and its newly acquired subsidiary, Motorola’s Moto X, whose two defining features are that the phones are “assembled in America” and are available in nearly limitless color combinations. Not to be outdone, Cook also made a point of emphasizing Apple’s recently renovated store in Stanford, Calif. But with Motorola’s assembly plant in Texas catching media attention for the company’s stalwart resolution to lead a revival in American manufacturing jobs, Cook’s emphasis on a single retail location seems paltry by comparison.

With mobile competitors such as Samsung and Sony catching increasing amounts of flak over poor build quality or downright shoddy design choices, now is most certainly the time for Apple to step up its game, so to speak, to retain the standards of excellence and premium quality it took so much time to cultivate and have so fervently maintained. But in the face of challengers like Motorola, the elitist and classist direction being taken with the new generation of iPhones is not only tacky, but downright embarrassing to the American consumer. After all, all that glitters is not gold.

Johnny McCabe is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].


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  • T

    Tim McCabeSep 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Mr. McCabe,

    Great article! Your writing is exceptional. It reminds me of Vincent Van Gogh’s observation: How difficult it is to be simple. You may it look easy as pie!

    Uncle Tim

  • J

    JimboSep 17, 2013 at 12:53 am

    Apple appeals to twelve year old girls who don’t know what real computers are.