Rose Gold by Any Other Name

Rebecca Mead, writing for The New Yorker:

The announcement, last week, that, with its new generation of iPhones, Apple would be offering a model that was “rose gold” in color made the news that it was meant to: “The internet has lost its damn mind about the new pink iPhone,” read Buzzfeed’s headline. The phone, with its rubicund sheen, was instantly coveted. “I don’t care at all about whatever they are talking about. gimmie the pink phone,” tweeted Roxane Gay, the feminist author. In other quarters, the color was met with a sense of mystification. Christina Warren, writing at Mashable, wondered whether Apple had opted for the appellation of “rose gold” as a way to avoid using the overtly girly “p” word. “I’m just going to say it: it’s pink,” she wrote.

Rumors swirled weeks before last Wednesday's event, claiming Apple had decided to anodize its aluminum with a pink hue. What was subsequently released was a device whose color was described as, fancy that, "Rose Gold." Since then, I've seen claims that Apple had deliberately chosen to refer to the new iPhone color as something other than "pink" because they don't want to potentially scare away male purchasers who, I can only assume, would rather drink hydrochloric acid than (gasp) buy a pink phone. Never mind the fact that Apple has shown every year that it has no issues selling iPhones, regardless of color.

Also never mind the fact that the choice would never be between drinking acid and buying a pink phone, since there are three other perfectly good, not-as-emasculating colors, if a dude is so terrified of purchasing a "girl's phone."

I engaged in a healthy discussion with a friend about this very issue, spawned by the above article. I do believe Apple's naming convention on the iPhone 6s is quite deliberate, but not as capitulation to the lustful eyes of rabid, tech-hungry men who are all inexplicably slaves to the delicate façade of masculinity that flakes away with each scrub of the exfoliant that is society's impinging feminism.

"Rose gold" is a term those accustomed to buying jewelry will easily recognize. I won't regurgitate what The New Yorker piece explains so eloquently (seriously, it's a great piece, and Mead doesn't get nearly as hung up on "rose gold" vs. "pink" as I am about to. Go read it). The coppery essence infused within a vibrant yellow. It's light. It's elegant. It's precious. Where pure gold frequently looks overtly gaudy, its rose-colored variant is decidedly restrained.

I bring this up because the names Apple chooses for the colors of its devices has been firmly rooted in precious metals for at least three years now (though you could argue that Jony's love of "aluminium" proves they've been obsessed with the inherent value the purity of metals brings far longer than that). Since the unveiling of the iPhone 5, with its "silver" model eschewing the more obvious and plain "white" or "aluminum" monickers, Apple has shown that they favor metaphors. The word, "silver," evokes a sense of luxury that the other two couldn't possibly.

I'd argue that even the black phone, or "space gray," has an inherent mysticism in its name that makes it a much more desirable than the more accurate "tungsten" or "gunmetal black" ever could. Both of those sound aggressive and ugly at worst, tough and rugged at best. These are not images you want to evoke when you're holding a premium handheld computer that is the pinnacle of elegance in its class.

Apple has always tried to compel customers through its marketing that it is selling finely-crafted devices that offer a certain level of refinement no one else can match. The finesse in which they are crafted–the diamond-polished chamfered edges, the sturdy and durable unibody enclosures, the gentle curve of the dual ion-exchanged glass that is stronger at a molecular level than any other glass–necessitates words that can describe their beauty and sophistication accurately. What my Limitless Adventure (seriously, please listen to our show) cohost frequently refers to as "marketing puffery," Apple proudly wields as their best weapon against imitators. They have the world's best manufacturing process creating these devices. Might as well have the world's best marketing to sell them.

(Quick aside: you don't have to subscribe to this way of thinking. You're more than welcome to continue rolling your eyes and go on about your business, but you can't deny that part of Apple's allure is their attention to detail, from the tiniest screw to the most embellished adjective on their website. They sell experiences, not gadgets.)

So when they released the iPhone 5s, its new color–a subtle yellow anodized aluminum casing blending seamlessly into a white glass face–was called "gold." Not "brass," nor "champagne," even though anodized aluminum's very nature caused it to possess a far more restrained tone that drove many to incorrectly associate its name with effervescent fermented grape juice. And rightly so! The name of the color was meant to stir up images of luxury, but Apple didn't want the color itself to beat you over the head. After all, it was merely aluminum. To pretend otherwise with a coat of yellow paint would be in poor taste.

(No surprise, of course, that Samsung stumbled haplessly onto the scene weeks later with their own attempt, marrying the ostentatiousness of gold with the unbridled tackiness of a plastic enclosure. Not only were they late to the party, but when they stepped through the door, they realized that they somehow put both feet through a single pant leg and fell flat on their face in front of everyone. Then, in a merciless display of divine cruelty, they shit their pants.)

The choice of a gold 5s, from name to actual finish, was a success. Reserved enough to appeal to those who found actual gold revolting (me), but still holding enough of the allure to entice those who wanted everyone to see that they were, in fact, in possession of the latest and greatest iPhone. Apple found a way to make a brick of gold look tasteful. More than ever, iPhones were not just pocket computers, but pieces of jewelry. (It can't be forgotten that Apple does, in fact, produce pieces of actual jewelry now. However, considering their colors are derived from the actual materials used, the metaphor isn't applicable. They're the most literal displays of luxury Apple has ever produced.)

It should be noted that Apple is not afraid of being straightforward. Nowhere is this more apparent than the iPhone 5c, which was released in tandem with the 5s. It was created as a way to appeal to the widest amount of users. Vibrant and fun. A hard candy shell with the delicious iOS interior. The color choices matched that personality: white, yellow, blue, green, and pink. Bold colors, bold names. Never afraid to be front and center. Couldn't care less as to who might not want one because of any certain connotation. But like their bright plastic shells suggested, these were not the same class of device as their flagship siblings. They stood out in visual appeal, but were second-class in hardware. As close to a toy as Apple is ever likely to produce. You wouldn't call them luxurious.

The rose gold iPhone is the natural progression of this idea of elevating literal computers as metaphorical extensions of a user's elegance. The name is not Apple caving to the pressures of a male-dominated industry, but rather the logical evolution of their current marketing conventions. Yes, the phone appears more pink than copper, just as the gold phone appears more champagne than yellow; that's the manufacturing process mixed with the restraint of the designers. Apple is going to call them whatever they think personifies the quality of their products. I don't think for a second they give a shit about some insecure guy getting offended at the prospect of being sold a "pink" phone.

If Apple was actually afraid of alienating customers, they wouldn't deprecate floppy drives, CD-drives, 30-pin connectors. They wouldn't release a pocket computer without Flash support. They wouldn't release an iPad with no USB ports. They wouldn't release a fully-fledged computer with no traditional USB ports. They wouldn't donate their time and money to LGBT causes. Tim Cook wouldn't tell Apple investors to fuck right off when they question the necessity to create a greener company that will help leave the Earth better off than when they found it.

Apple tells its customers, "Strap in for the ride or get out." This is their vision of the future, and they'll define it how they want. If you don't like it, they're happy to leave you behind. Someone else will gladly take your spot.

And your pink iPhone.