I(con) of the Month: Apple | Selling Us Our Desires

Alongside the piece on Alan Turing, I also have another short article in Third Way this month as part of their ‘icon of the month’ series. Following the much-feted launch of the iPad, it’s about Apple.

Apple are an increasingly intriguing company. They are a huge multinational – bigger than Sony or Samsung – yet constantly define themselves as the trendy outsiders, in opposition to the fat hulking mass that is Microsoft. As Steve Jobs said recently (thanks to Tomal Price for sending me the quote) ‘why join the navy when you can be a pirate?

I’d argue that Apple are much closer to being navy boys than anyone would like to admit, and that the ‘outsider’ image is simply a clever piece of corporate spin to make people feel edgy and excited.

In the article I try to look a bit at Apple via the history of their logo. For Apple, this logo-come-halo is all-important. Subtly adorning every product, the Apple device has naturally undergone a transformation in parallel to the corporate image that they want to project. The original logo was an etching of Newton sitting under a tree: nerdy, earnest and complex:


This evolved into the rainbow shades of a bitten apple – which Jobs thought would present a friendly image: the computer as helper.


Now the colours have gone, and all is flattened. Thin, sensual, intelligently simple, sleek… The logos speaks clearly, and we see our own values mirrored in the shiny new surfaces it decorates.


Jobs is clear, the bite on the Apple logo was to stop it looking like an orange. But this particular fruit has always been rich in meaning. The bitten apple is the birth of knowledge and the end of innocence, perhaps even the birth of the ‘i’.

Yet it is also the beginning of something remarkable, and one cannot fail to be caught up in the technologically optimistic world that Jobs presents to the faithful: everything will be alright. He has created, and from the chaos of the modern digital life, he wants us to see that what he has made for us is good.

This is what Apple do so very well: they sell us our desires. Like the icons of old, we will gaze into our iPads wanting solace and communion and equilibrium and connection. What exactly they will offer us is, as yet, unknown, but without disappointment there will be no more demand.

So while few have actually put their hands on one yet, we can guarantee one thing about gazing into the dark glass of the iPad: after the initial rush, it will be disappointing. It won’t heal us.


7 responses to “I(con) of the Month: Apple | Selling Us Our Desires”

  1. …or, it’s just a very large computer / entertainment / music / mobile device / communications (delete as appropriate) company?

  2. Well said. I want answers as to where to find true identity and meaning. I fall prey to the hope that my Macbook Pro or my new house or some new expression of Christianity–or the classic case, my lover–might look back at me lovingly and tell me that I am in fact the epitome of my ideal self. Is there any hope of finding that gaze, or of finding fulfillment without it?

    I assume you have watched Century of the Self by Adam Curtis. If not, or for other readers down here in the comments, a quick Google search will reveal a copy of it, in its entirety, on Google Video.

  3. Great programme, and good comments Daniel.

    I don’t think it is Nick. For many it has all the hallmarks of a religion, with its High Priests and castes and gnostics and evangelists… not to mention the great adulation heaped on the God Jobs himself as his latest revelation of the product that will help us find nirvana is unveiled to the chosen few…

  4. “The bitten apple is the birth of knowledge and the end of innocence, perhaps even the birth of the ‘i’.”


    So many words to read on the internet but this one sentence will give me enough to reflect and meditate on for the rest of Lent. Thank you.


  5. Malcolm Armsteen

    Apple is a commitedly humanist organisation, a supporter of civil and gay rights, a general force for enlightenment.
    Haw can you have the effrontery to compare a rationalist organisation like that with woo and mumbo-jumbo?

    Why, to the religiosos, does everything have to conform to your irrational world-view?

  6. Erm… not sure you’re getting it Malcolm. Or was this an attempt at satire?!

  7. Karsten R

    Apple fans were always the fiercest propagandists in the IT (somewhat “religious”) and only recently became more cool. The historical ad celebrating the introduction of the Macintosh was declaring a kind of “jihad” on the IT establishment, especially IBM.

    The big problem of Apple was and is that they’re internally so different, closed up, protectionistic, counter-competitive, patent zealots, etc.
    Ok, in some areas they have left that terrain, but I wonder very much, what would they have done if they had become the new Microsoft??