Today, every one of Apple's products comes in a clean white box. They're barely decorated, just a picture of the product that nestles inside and some apologetically light grey text tucked away in a corner detailing specs and mandatory regulatory information. It was not always thus; here's the box one of my Newton MessagePads came in.
For a child of the '80s like me, that style of photography — moody, low-lit, with shafts of light picking out form and texture — is still desperately exciting. And even as a kid, I was excited about the idea of working, of business, of being productive, so the kind of language and lifestyle you see in the pictures was terribly beguiling. (I'd like to blame the '80s for this too, with its emphasis on self-improvement and free market economies, but maybe I was just a weird kid.)
Look, this dude is drawing a map giving directions and then, thrillingly, faxing it to Judy.
Faxing is an all-but obsolete technology and yet that world still seems intoxicating. In fact, I bet if you showed a middle-schooler a fax machine today, they'd think it was pretty cool that you could send a 'physical' picture from one machine to another. Mind you, so would hipsters, so this proves nothing.
All over it are marketing messages designed to make you want and then buy the MessagePad. This might seem unremarkable — and to be sure, it was, long before the MessagePad 120 came about — but historically using packaging to market a product was an unusual and innovative thing to do.
Before goods were packaged, you'd walk into a store to buy, say, oats, and the shopkeeper would shovel as much as you wanted from a sack into a plain paper bag. A shift was coming, though, in which rather than shopping at a dozen specialist stores where you just got given whatever version of a product they happened to be selling from bulk, you'd instead walk around shelves and chose for yourself which oats to buy. Now, rather than a shopkeeper being on-hand to suggest these oats rather than those oats (possibly for self-serving rather than altruistic reasons), you made the decision for yourself, and the packaging had to convince you to buy this brand rather than that brand.
Even though a PDA is about as far as you can get, conceptually, from some oats, Apple is basically doing the same thing here with the MessagePad. Indeed, there isn't enough space on the outside of the box for all the marketing it wants to shout at you, so you can lift up the front and see eight more reasons to buy, buy, buy.
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