Let’s get one thing straight: Apple could offer the iPhone 6 (or “the iPhone 5S,” or whatever new name surfaces) in only one color and it would still sell like mad. Apple could title that color “Rotten-Banana Brown” and gave it the scratch-n-sniff odor of old gym socks, and it wouldn’t matter. Barring a major cultural revolution, the iPhone will sell very well, no matter what color it is. That’s not likely to change in the foreseeable future.
That said, the mobile-phone landscape of 2012 was a more vibrant one, spectrally speaking, than ever before. For years mobile-phone buyers were confined to a world of all-black, then all-silver, then back to all-black, and finally black, gray, and a touch of white mixed in. Sure, there were outliers and brief flashes in the pan throughout: custom cases with their cheap plastic, tacky skins with their bubbles and frayed edges, and expensive paint jobs and anodization layers. Most devices, though, were stuck in limbo, painted up in variations on a thoroughly monochromatic theme. It was acceptable then, especially given its massive popularity, that the iPhone of years past landed in the smartphone marketplace sporting only two “color” options.
Last year changed all that. Thanks largely to an underdog platform and a couple struggling smartphone manufacturers, color burst onto the scene in a big way. HTC energized its own small corner of the Windows Phone world with energetically titled chromatic options like “Limelight Neon” and “California Blue,” while Nokia expanded its already-eye-catching Cyan-based offerings with the addition of glossy yellow and red casing choices for its Lumia 820 and 920.
As mentioned, neither of those companies is leading the pack currently, and Windows Phone -while it’s doing better- still isn’t putting a hole in the world yet. But despite that -maybe precisely because of it- it’s a very visible platform for change. Everyone has their eye on Windows Phone to see how the “third platform” will do in the battle for consumer attention, and manufacturers are sometimes more willing to take chances in order to stand out in that still-nascent space. Critically, companies are also more willing to spend money in the quest to get a lesser-known platform’s name out there – as Microsoft has shown with some impressive ad spending of late.
The result is that, regardless of how well the colorful Windows Phones do or don’t sell, their mind share is already leaps and bounds above where it was at this time last year. Buyers are profoundly affected by color in advertisements -so much so that legions of marketing books have been written on the topic- and that effect only multiplies when the product itself is colorful.
Apple understands this. While the iPhone has been a thoroughly monochromatic affair for its entire existence, iPods certainly haven’t. The fifth-generation iPod Touch models pictured in the title image are only the latest example of a commitment to color choice that stretches back years to some of Apple’s earliest MP3 players. The question isn’t whether the company will offer multicolored iPhones, but when.
So why now?
Well, if Apple follows the pattern it’s established with iPhone launches so far, with minor iterative bumps staggered between major redesigns, the iPhone 5S/iPhone 6 will need some differentiators, but not necessarily major ones. The iPhone 4S gave us Siri, more storage, a new processor, and an improved camera, among other minor spec bumps. I’m unwilling to speculate much on the forthcoming iPhone’s features (unless you catch me railing against the evil shackles of the iOS homescreen on the Pocketnow Weekly Podcast), but I’d bet that this time around, color will start playing a part in Apple’s iPhone story. The logistics are in place -Apple retail stores already stock the aforementioned multicolored iPods anyway- and now, with a “multispectral” smartphone landscape finally taking shape outside their window, the folks from Cupertino might decide that 2013 is the Year of the iOS-Powered Rainbow. It certainly should be.
Do you agree that the iPhone is overdue for a more colorful coating, or are you still satisfied with the Oreo approach to iOS smartphone paint jobs? Either way, sound off in the comments below.