There is one reason why computers where generally thought of as beige boxes before the iMac G3, and the reason is that even for an engineer white is just too plainly plain, too boring, too uninspired.
Computers were not, certainly, all beige back then. And they where also not all boxes, either. But they were seen as beige boxes because most of the time they were. The average computer was then designed by an engineer, by which I mean that it was seen as a objective, mathematical, optimizable problem, just a matter of putting the circuit boards on a sturdy, inexpensive, practical encasing.
And that doesn’t means that no one cared about looks, either, as much as engineers would like to convince you that they don’t care about form without substance, that they can see through the false lure of bright colors and rounded corners. Engineers care about looks. It is just that they have to maintain the stance that they don’t. But they still need to appear as professional, very-businessman-like, efficient — and that is pure appearance. And so did computers made by engineers. And also computers made by designers, for a computer should not look as a toy, it should look technical, complicated, engineer-y, it should look professional.
The iMac revolution was not one of adding colors. It went much deeper than that. It included realizing no one needed floppies any more, it included trying as best as possible to avoid the cable-proliferation. But, more than anything, it was a shift in the role the computer-thing-object should play in the person’s life. A computer should not limit itself to be a work-tool, a serious and objective thing. It should allow itself to intermingle with the owner’s life as he saw fit. And that meant going light on all the business-like, professional, bossy looks.
It is obvious that, if you make a yellow stereo and a black one most people will buy the black one. If you make a market research about color preferences for computers, one can be very, very sure to not see bondi-blue come up. And probably not any other shade of cyan. Actually, most people do not know that cyan is a color, what to say about making up a color for commercial purposes (as bondi-blue was). Herd behavior will definitely make the business-like appearance more marketable. But going against opinion-research can be (surprisingly) going after the freedom of the person, freedom to use and relate to his computer in more personal ways.
But now Apple has forgotten colors. Jonathan Ive has invented white. It now thinks that “think black and white” is like “think different”. Except it isn’t. White is less-colorful than beige, and black despite being a little less bland is still all bossy and professional. And so all the proposed softening of the computer that the iMac meant is no more. Computers are back to being bland. Unspicy. Serious.
I mean, that certainly is not the end of the world, and neither the fall of Apple sales, just the contrary. But it is betrayal. Betrayal of the purported revolution. Betrayal of the idiosyncrasies of the person inside the digital existence. Betrayal of the joyful in favor of the sleek, of the playful in favor of the objective.
And some might say that this is really not very significant. That the betrayal is merely a subjective one. But back in 1998 the courage to put subjectivity in the foreground was strong enough to raise Apple from the dead.