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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Give Me My Hot Pink iPhone Already

I want a pink iPhone. I've yelled about it on Twitter, yearned with friends and coworkers, and pined in private Slacks for anything that fits the bill. You can imagine my initial excitement when Apple made the pink iPhone official in September during its iPhone event. Until I saw the hue. Within a second, that exhilaration fell totally flat. I was bereft, bored, and bone-tired.

I couldn't tell whether the color on my screen was actually pink. Neither could my colleagues. The pink iPhone is barely pink—maybe a pastel salmon or muted coral—but definitely not Barbie convertible. I asked my colleague Lauren Goode to describe the color after seeing it in person, and she says it’s “barely a rosé … more of a white pinot noir.” I’m not just disappointed about a barely pink iPhone. It's about what the lack of an obviously pink one represents. 

I’m tired of tech that caters to the heterosexual, cisgender, male, white, wealthy masses. I’m tired of AirSpace, of minimalism, of bland beige tones. I’m a biracial, bisexual woman. My problems are far from the worst in the world, and the worst of my problems are far more pressing than smartphone design trends. But I can't help taking this personally. Where is the bold, bright tech that allows me to be unapologetically myself? 

True Colors

In the 1990s, surrounded by colorful AOL CDs, the whistles and chitters of a modem connecting were the soundtrack that accompanied my foray into an empty frontier. I was an isolated extrovert, stuck in the rural Midwest, daydreaming about magical neon cities. The first time I found a space for myself was inside a screen.

My initial internet adventures began by sharing personally identifiable information with strangers—sorry, Mom—and maintaining a Geocities page. I obsessed over The Palace, lost myself in Dream Dollhouse, and was microdosing serotonin at the Neopets Money Tree. I painted Adobe Flash fingernails, bouncing between MyScene and GamesforGirls. I asked Jeeves what a crush was. I downloaded viruses and made my cursor sparkly. The future was bright. 

And more importantly, when I was a teen, hardware looked cool. My room was littered with bright gadgets that served hyper-specific purposes. That’s when my love for all things gear kicked in.

I had the whole array—an MP3 player that connected to a bejeweled, dog-shaped portable speaker. I saved up babysitting profits to get the bubblegum Motorola Razr, the ripe raspberry LG Rhythm. But Apple and its bright, candy-colored iPods and iMacs were behind it all. At 17, I got an iPod Touch for Christmas. It was silver, but I loved it. I customized app icons and made them pink and glitzy. I jacked in my cheap fuschia earbuds and snapped on a chunky, sparkly case. I felt undeniably cool and, despite being a teen, I also felt understood.

As gadgets became more popular, everything started to get better and also, somehow, worse. My school's computer lab replaced the neon iridescent iMacs with nondescript black and gray alternatives. My earbuds sounded better and looked worse. My phone got smarter, uglier, and much more expensive. The rectangles invaded. 

Music is a prime example. We took fragile, bulky tapes with colorful packaging and album art and organized them into orderly digital files. We improved the design until it worked nearly as efficiently as possible. When it comes to the bright and beautiful, I think we missed a turn.

I know about pinking and shrinking, the heteronormative marketing strategy that upcharges women for the privilege of worse tech in a pink package. The classic example is the Bic for Her Pens debacle, a ballpoint pen marketed to women because it’s … sparkly and pink. But offering pink as a choice to consumers isn't pandering or demeaning, as long as it isn't the sole option and it isn’t marketed explicitly “for women.” In fact, not offering these choices is, in some ways, less inclusive.

Pink Is Perfect 

Not being discriminatory is different from having everything look the same. Even as smaller companies like Lora DiCarlo, Crave, and Sequin have made strides in hiring marginalized people and creating more inclusive technology, the biggest companies have somehow failed to get the memo. Some monoliths, like Google, Samsung, and Nintendo, have taken steps toward more fun designs. But they’re baby steps. Finding good pink gear is so, so hard. Either something isn't very pink, or it isn't very good.

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I'm not stuck in the past. Zunes were great at the time, but I don’t want one now; I love my e-reader, and I would never want to go back to the days of headphone splitters or skipping Walkmans. But when I use the modern computer in my pocket, the beeps and boops of a modem connecting are missing, and so is something else. 

When I was 17, I didn’t dream about tasteful design choices and cautious market analysis. I didn’t long for infinitesimally smaller bezels and ever more refined specs. When I imagined the future of tech as a kid, I wanted so much more. I imagined the bright latex bodysuits and touchscreen makeup compacts of Totally Spies. I thought we were all going to be spinning our clothes around in giant closets, programming outfits like Cher in Clueless. I imagined my Neopets coming to life. I wanted to cover my iPod in RGB LED rhinestones.

I know it’s the height of privilege to complain about the way a $1,000 phone looks. But it's not just about the color. It's about being tired of choosing between blush, petal, or some other sort-of-pink. It’s about trying to blend into a world that was never meant to include you in the first place. 

Give me liberty, or give me death! Give me your jellybean iMacs and your crystal-clear circuitry-revealing cases full of wires yearning to breathe free. I want clickety-keyboards and decora dust plugs. I want weird to become the norm—and not at the expense of a good camera or decent battery life. I want to be thrilled. Give me the tech that reaches for the stars, and let me come along for the ride. It’s been long enough. We deserve it. 


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