How Apple's new iMacs color-matched today's home fashion trends

Commentary: Apple is declaring a brave new post-minimalism world by bringing to our homes colors that spark joy.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
6 min read

At its spring event earlier this week, Apple made the unexpected and bold move of unveiling its new iMac in a kaleidoscopic array of colors. From the start of the event, color played a key role, with CEO Tim Cook kicking off the presentation in front of a large rainbow sculpture.

Apple's embrace of the rainbow motif brings to mind Cook's and the wider company's support of the LGBTQ community, but its appearance on Tuesday served as an early wink at a message that hits closer to home. Or, if Apple has its way, closer to your home office

Because as much as this might seem like a throwback, with people rightly pointing out the link to the color palette of the original iMac (not to mention the original Apple logo), it's not solely a move driven by nostalgia. In fact, it's very much reflective of emerging design trends in the here and now, with the rainbow motif also being a universal symbol of hope in these particularly dark times.

"We wanted it to feel light and optimistic, while instantly brightening up any space," Mac Product Marketing Manager Colleen Novielli said during Tuesday's event, briefly touching on the color decision. A move toward bringing more vibrant hues into the physical spaces we occupy is a trend that can be seen among interior designers right now, according to some leading figures in the field.

"Crisp, clear colors are continuing to grow in popularity, with yellows, light blues/turquoises, and greens being used to brighten up spaces and put a smile on your face,"  Timothy Corrigan, an LA-based interior designer to royalty and Hollywood stars, said in an  email. "This is especially true during these challenging times, as we continue to spend more time at home and on our computers."

The colorful new Macs are a reflection of the broader change our work lives have undergone during this past year of coronavirus lockdowns. With more people working from home, often bringing equipment that once belonged in an office setting into their houses, it makes sense that Apple would move away from a uniform and utilitarian color scheme. 


The new iMac in yellow could add warmth to your home.


The new iMacs also break away from more than 20 years of colorless desktop computers from Apple, where white and silver have dominated the Mac color palette. And they're a far cry from those brightly colored original iMacs, which gained pop culture icon status and are still strongly associated with '90s aesthetics.

Colorful hues are making a comeback in a big way. 

The new interiors status symbol?

The pandemic-related working-from-home trend isn't going away anytime soon, meaning that an iMac is as likely to live at a residential property as a commercial one. Apple understands this and appears to have purposefully avoided making a machine that would look staid or industrial among the soft furnishings and personal knickknacks of the average home.

There's no halfway house of tasteful neutrals here, though. Apple has gone big and bold with juicily saturated primary colors, especially on the rear of the Mac (the front is frosted in a lighter, pastel hue to help with focus). These aren't necessarily the trendy tones that'll blend in with your favorite shade of Farrow & Ball. "I love that bright yellow," interior designer and color expert Maria Killiam said over email, "but no one is decorating with that color."

Perhaps that's the point. Apple hasn't made something that'll blend in. Rather, the Mac will draw the eye and be a statement piece, an objet d'art. It's a rejection of the kind of thinking that's informed the design of TVs that can be disguised as mirrors or have rollable screens that can scroll away into unobtrusive sideboards.

It's never really been Apple's way to treat technology as something unsightly that should be hidden from view lest it be a blight on surrounding aesthetics. It's long rejected the view that technology is inherently ugly, instead using forward-thinking design to turn its products into status symbols. With the new iMac, it's dialing up this strategy even as it reaches back to its roots.

"The original iMac introduced a radical design and vibrant colored plastics which changed the way consumers thought about a desktop PC," said CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood. "Apple is clearly hoping to achieve the same impact with the new iMac, offering a range of colors that make it attractive enough to put anywhere in a home or workplace -- almost verging on being a technology fashion statement."

The broad color palette is also reflective of Apple's aspiration for the Mac to be more than just a work device, said Wood. "The vision is clearly for the iMac to look perfectly in place not only on a desk, but in a kitchen, lounge, bedroom or elsewhere," he said.


The new iMac is designed to look good in any room in your house.


Death to minimalism, ode to joy

This move toward bolder colors -- Apple also released an eye-popping purple iPhone 12 --  stands in contrast to the past 20 years, during which the company has focused on one dominant design trend: minimalism. 

Over the last few years, the company has snuck more color into its products (iPhones in particular), but from Steve Jobs ' black mock turtlenecks to the dazzling whiteness and clean lines of every Apple Store worldwide, its dedication to minimalism remains clear. But due to what's going on in the wider world right now, the aesthetic isn't resonating as strongly as it once did.

In an article for the Atlantic last October, journalist Spencer Kornhaber wrote that the pandemic has made a mockery of minimalism, calling out "the vexingly featureless iPhone" as a classic example of how "austerity" has been the dominant design force on popular culture. Some have attempted to pronounce minimalism dead over the past few years, although the notion hasn't necessarily taken. But by comparing minimalism to the "aesthetics of quarantine," Kornhaber's argument that sparse and sterile aren't serving us at this moment in time will ring true for many.

How often have people, while locked inside over the past year with only their personal belongings surrounding them for entertainment and comfort, wished they'd Marie Kondoed their homes a little less brutally? Have they looked around at their sleek, white, blank-canvas walls and longed for a little spark of joy that comes from an injection of color?

As it happens, "joy" was at the top of Architectural Digest's 2021 list of design trend predictions. In defining what it actually meant by joy, the publication said we should look out for design that "celebrates life and unapologetically screams happiness" with "outspoken color combos."

Apple clearly gets that people are seeking to bring more color into their homes right now, making decisions based on how those colors make them feel. "We created colors that bring a sense of joy to any space," Novielli said during the event earlier this week announcing the new Macs.

With many of our homes loaded up with tech (formerly referred to as office equipment) that is black, white or silver at best, the new iMacs provide a welcome contrast. The company has made design decisions with this product that are at odds with what the rest of the technology world is doing, but that's hardly unusual.

Apple has a long history of trendsetting, and this could well be its way of calling time on monochromatic minimalism as we know it. That's not to suggest the company is about to go the other way and embrace messy maximalism, but at a time when people are reaching for rainbows in search of hope and joy, Apple has been the first to step up and show itself happy to oblige.

iMac throwback: Apple's candy-colored history, from 1999 to 2021

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