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No Ordinary Company
If in the mid-1970s the term "apple" was mentioned without further context everybody would have thought of a fruit. Forty years on just as likely a smartphone or electronic device comes to mind.
Founded in 1976 Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer Inc.) in less than four decades has become the world's largest publicly traded corporation by market capitalization. The company enjoys dedication and brand-loyalty which very few companies have achieved. But what is the meaning of its iconic logo?
A number of stories have cropped up over the years and speculation has run deep as Apple has kept silent on the matter. This has no doubt favored the manyfold myths and associations with the Apple logo.
Former executive Jean-Louis Gassée, President of Apple Products from 1981-1990, brought it to the point when he said: "One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy." (from John Sculley's Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple)
The image of an apple itself is one of the most potent symbols in Western culture: the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (though the Bible does not specify the fruit is an apple), the discovery of gravity by Newton, the apple in stories like Snow White or Wilhelm Tell or in expressions like Big Apple, an apple a day or as American as apple pie, etc.
Naming the Startup
Before the logo was the company name. In the early days of IT, companies and computers had much more technical names. Calling a startup after a fruit was quite unusual.
Walter Isaacson states in his biography about Jobs that Steve came up with the company's name while being on a diet of fruits and vegetables. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on the other hand recounts how Jobs thought up the name for their new computer company one afternoon as the two drove along Highway 85 between Palo Alto and Los Altos: “Steve was still half involved with a group of friends who ran the commune-type All-One Farm in Oregon. And he would go up and work there for a few months before returning to the Bay Area. He had just come back from one of his trips and we were driving along and he said ‘I’ve got a great name: Apple Computer.’ Maybe he worked in apple trees. I didn’t even ask. Maybe it had some other meaning to him. Maybe the idea just occurred based upon Apple Records. He had been a musical person like many technical people are. It might have sounded good partly because of that connotation."
(Apple Corps was the Beatles' record label and both Jobs and Wozniak were fans though they later had a lawsuit)
The First Logo
The first Apple logo was designed by co-founder Ronald Wayne. Ron was the guy who early on sold his share for USD 800 and later accepted USD 1.500 to forfeit any claims against Apple (in hindsight not the wisest decision, by 2015 his stock would have been worth USD 60 billon).
Ron's logo, drawn with pen and ink, depicted Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree with a poem around and a ribbon banner ornamenting the picture frame citing the company name "Apple Computer Co". This first prototype logo was almost immediately replaced by the famous 'rainbow apple'.
April 1977 - August 1999
The Rainbow Apple
The design by Ron Wayne was far too complex to serve as a company logo and when getting out the Apple II in 1977 Jobs realized it would not do. Therefore in January 1977 the advertising agency Regis McKenna was commissioned with the design of a new logo. According to their director of art, Rob Janoff, who designed the new logo the only directive from Jobs was to avoid making it cute.
Janoff presented two versions of the new logo: an apple, one with bite and one without. Though he feared the one with the bite would look too cute, Jobs opted for the version with byte as it definitely had more personality. The new (and first official) logo looked like a real logo and simply consisted of a rainbow-colored silhouette of an apple with a bite taken out of it. It would be Apple's official logo for the next two decades from April 1977 until August 26, 1999.
Inspired by Alan Turing?
Computer geeks have often regarded the rainbow logo as a secret tribute to Alan Turing. Turing was a mathematical genius who pioneered research into artificial intelligence and laid the foundations for the modern-computer. He also created the enigma machine, basically the first super computer, thereby unlocking German wartime codes and abbreviating WWII. The Normandy landings made copious use of intelligence gleaned by his methods.
Humiliated by estrogen injections intended to cure his homosexuality and facing jail for gross indecency, Turing died in obscurity on June 7, 1954 committing suicide (according to some it was murder) by biting into an apple laced with cyanide.
Although intriguing, the Turing association can hardly be considered official history as the Apple headquarter has been non-committal and Jobs once said he (only) wished the explanation to be true.
Even designer Rob Janoff dismissed the myth of an Alan Turing homage. Apparently, he was totally unaware of the Turing story when designing the logo and added the bite simply because of scale, to avoid the apple being confused with a cherry.
At the time he was furthermore computer illiterate so that also the byte and bite wordplay was purely coincidental.
The colored stripes on the other hand were added to represent the fact that the Apple II could generate graphics in color, though there might have been other influences as well:
At the time most logos were in one or two colors only, but Jobs liked things outside the box and also sympathized with the hippie culture.
Color did furthermore appeal to the younger generation and was important to get the Apple II into schools.
Read the entire Rob Janoff interview:
The Adam and Eve Connection
Janoff also said the logo didn't have anything to do with Adam and Eve and the Bible as he was probably the least religious person. Yet the story of the garden of Eden is so ubiquitous and well known that, apart from children citing Snow White, it is likely the first association that comes to mind for a fruit with a bite taken out (though the Bible only speaks of a (generic) fruit, due to how the story is represented in artwork, the apple has almost become a synonym for the forbidden fruit).
Janoff cannot therefore altogether ignore the religious connotations of the logo he created, whether he himself adheres to the Christian faith or not.
Steve Jobs was also known for not particularly sympathizing with the God of the Bible. Tough raised, at least to some extent, in a Christian Lutheran church he early on refused the Christian God preferring Buddhism instead. How far his religious (or non-religious) leanings might have played a role in choosing his company's logo is hard to tell though.
The Apple logo is admired for its simplicity and many meanings people associate with it. Few symbols are as iconic and have been used so extensively over the centuries. No doubt, neither the designer nor Apple's founders had thought through every connotation of their logo from the beginning. The fact that the logo evolved over time should also refrain from attaching too precise a meaning to it. So, for example, the idea that the colorful stripes would stand in support of gay culture is much less appealing nowadays that the rainbow logo has been replaced with a monochromatic version.
Though from a biblical point of view the symbol of a bitten fruit stands foremost as a sign of man's rebellion against God, popular culture mainly associates the craving for 'lust' and 'knowledge' with it. Fitting attributes for an IT company that makes desirable products that allow the user to obtain knowledge about (almost) everything. Speaking much further on a matter on which both Apple and Jobs have kept silent risks destroying the art of a beautiful logo.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Marco Pompili
Lila Raines on July 09, 2015:
This was a very interesting read. I especially like how you address the Turing myth. I still remember the first Apple computers with the bright little rainbow apples. A very fun read!