There are a bunch of rumors and speculation making the rounds about Apple adding gold to the color options for the upcoming iPhone 5s. I've heard the same thing, but probably from different sources. I joked about it yesterday, saying we might soon have Threepio Gold to add to the existing Vader Black and Storm Trooper White lineup. But beyond rumors, speculation, and jokes - and even a gold iPhone 5s poll we ran - I find myself thinking about the idea a lot today.
For years, when it came to the high end, Apple has been a black and white company, and sometimes even black and white/aluminium was one too many options for them. Sure, the iMac under Steve Jobs had some positively psychedelic color variants, and less expensive products like iPods have been chromatic for generations, recently including the iPod touch. But a gold iPhone?
According to our own Ally Kazmucha, who's no stranger to the process, gold is among the easiest colors to anodize onto an iPhone. It involves simple chemical reaction, with the possible addition of dye depending on the exact color they want to produce. (True black, conversely, is the hardest, and takes the most time, which is likely why we currently have "slate" instead.)
So, technologically, it wouldn't be hard for Apple to make a gold iPhone. But commercially, what would be the motivation?
Given how popular gold is as an aftermarket option for color-treatments, and how many gold cases there are - including but certainly not limited to the Asian markets - it could simply be the decision to offer supply where there's demand.
It could also be the iPhone 5s problem, where Apple is facing another year where their current cycle means internal rather than external changes, in a world where competitive pressures have never been higher. Given the ignorant boring comments Apple had to endure after introducing the completely re-built iPhone 5 last year, gold would give the market the superficial appearance of change they seem to crave.
In that light, introducing a third color option, one that's incredibly easy to produce, to outwardly jazz up what's otherwise amazing but completely under-the-hood improvements at least makes a certain amount of strategic sense. But a gold iPhone?
Suggesting Steve Jobs, under whose watch the Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power iMacs were unleashed, would never have allowed for a gold iPhone is clearly ridiculous, as tying it to any stream of illogic that links it to Apple is doomed journalism.
However you analyze it, if Apple is indeed preparing to release a gold iPhone 5s, it would be a change in strategy and it would be different than what they've done before. Then again, so would be releasing a less-expensive iPhone 5c.
I wasn't sure what I'd think of the iPhone 4, nor the composite black/slate and white/silver iPhone 5 when they first leaked. I'm not sure what I'd think of the gold iPhone now. But I do think I'm beginning to understand why it might exist, and why there's smoke enough to fire up all these rumors.
Update 1: There's an image circulating that's getting covered as a gold iPhone casing leak. It looks wrong, and according to our own Ally Kazmucha, who again knows her iPhone anodizing inside and out, it doesn't come across as a legit Apple part. Could be a test of some sort at best, a fake or knock off at worst.
Update 2: Image updated to be less intense, which is more accurate.
Update 3: Here's an iPhone 5 re-anodized in gold (after-market) for comparison's sake.
Update 4: MG Siegler of TechCrunch, Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac, and John Paczowski of AllThingsD have also now reported that Apple will be releasing a gold iPhone 5s. Ben Bajarin of Tech.pinions has also been looking more into the Chinese market and concept of phones as jewelry.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.