The Apple Logo: History, Meaning, and Design Influences

by Mike Jansen

Apple’s logo is one of the most iconic symbols in the world. As with any famous logo, its origin has been subject to all sorts of anecdotes, from the romantic tale of Allan Turing, an artificial intelligence pioneer who committed suicide by biting a poisoned apple, to the biblical stories of Adam and Eve.

So what exactly is the story behind the Apple logo? Read on to find out!

Where and When Did Apple Get Its Name?

Apple Inc. was officially established in 1976 by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne. The now-massive tech company was established when technology was still in its infancy, and computers were pretty cumbersome.

As a result, the three, led by Jobs, aimed at changing how people perceived computers by making them smaller and user-friendly. Merely two weeks in, Wayne called it quits and sold his share at $800, unknowingly walking away from what would become a multi-billion dollar venture.

The Inspiration

Apple got its iconic name in 1976, about the same time as it was officially established. However, like with its logo, there are plenty of speculations on the naming of the company.

Some theories claim the three founders wanted a less official name than the tech giant’s then-competitors, while others claim Jobs and Wozniak wanted to list ahead of Atari in phone books.

The Apple Logo: History, Meaning, and Design Influences

Steve Jobs, left, chairman of Apple Computers, John Sculley, center, president and CEO, and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, unveil the new Apple IIc computer in San Francisco, April 24, 1984. (SAL VEDER/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Image Source

While these theories hold water, the name Apple has a far simpler explanation. 

According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, the Apple founder followed a fruitarian diet and had just come from an apple orchard when he thought the name Apple sounded fun and spirited and later suggested it to Wozniak.

What Influenced the Apple Logo Design?

Want to know what influenced the Apple logo design? Here are three possible theories.

Steve Job’s Love for the Fruit

Jobs had a penchant for the apple. 

As noted earlier, the tech pioneer even got the inspiration for the brand’s name after one of his trips to apple orchard communes in Oregon. So, it’s no surprise that the company’s logo is an apple.

 

Apple’s Devices

The initial rainbow-striped logo had bright colors to humanize the company and as a nod to the world’s first monitor with a colored display. Apple has also had to change its logo design multiple times to accommodate device design changes through the years.

For instance, the company had to change its rainbow-striped logo to monochrome black so it wouldn’t look weird on the iMac G3.

Brand Identity

Although the Newton plaque was meaningful, Jobs wanted to create a simple, modern logo to reflect the company’s business in modern computers and devices.

He also wanted something more compelling to invoke user curiosity to improve brand identity and awareness. The rainbow-striped logo and every other Apple logo have since met this purpose.

To Distinguish the Brand

When creating the company name, Jobs and Wozniak were looking for unique, less official names. The duo came up with two name possibilities. Matrix refers to the matrix of dots on the then-computer screens, and Executek refers to its ability to execute commands.

However, they found Apple more suitable, as it was more engaging, making the brand approachable.

The Famous Bite

Despite the countless speculations regarding the bitten part of the Apple logo, it has a rather prosaic meaning. According to Rob Janoff, Apple’s original logo designer, the bitten part was simply for scale.

The Apple Logo: History, Meaning, and Design Influences
Image Source

He incorporated it to distinguish the apple from other similar fruits, such as the cherry. Janoff even admits to having bought a couple of apples and cut them in halves to try and achieve the perfect Apple logo.

The logo also represents the brand’s uniqueness, and its transformation through the years attests to Apple’s resilience.

The Apple Logo and Its Influence on Competitors

The Apple logo is among five of the most recognized emblems globally. 

It sets itself apart from the word go because it’s not just a logo; it’s also the company’s name, meaning the more a consumer hears Apple, the more they associate it with the brand.

What’s more, it’s not just an apple, but a bitten apple. That makes it distinctive and easier to remember. 

Also, the evolution of the apple logo signifies the brand’s growth through the years and its focus on the user-centered design, and the fact that it still retains its original shape invokes a powerful emotional connection toward Apple among consumers.

Many years after its creation, the Apple logo continues to set the pace for future logo designs by encouraging brands to create imaginative and innovative emblems that exude history and heritage with a balance of modernity.

A few brands that seem to have taken notes include FedEx, Target, and Volkswagen.

The Logo on Different Devices

From its Mac computers and smartphones to iPads, all Apple devices feature the iconic bitten apple logo at the center. 

The logo was moved to the center to indicate where users can place devices such as Airpods to charge, especially in the case of smartphones such as the iPhone 11.

Changes from Backlit to Glossy

Even though Apple’s MacBook has many outstanding features, one of its most iconic design elements was the glowing backlit logo. Because of its positioning at the back, the glowing logo was a unique feature that invoked a sense of brand loyalty.

But now, Apple is slowly replacing this with a new glossy logo.

While no official statement explains the change, the glowing logo might have been replaced with the glossy non-lit logo to accommodate the new MacBook models’ sleek, compact design. But this is not the first tech element the company is doing away with on its devices.

First, there was skeuomorphism, a web-design style where items mimic a real-world object so users can easily understand and adopt a new interface. 

For instance, if it’s an icon for a recycle bin, skeuomorphism designs allow graphic designers to create a 3-D image that replicates the original, allowing users to identify where to find deleted files quickly.

The history of skeuomorphism in tech is traced back to Jobs, who strongly advocated for the concept and created Aqua based on the design.

It was a pretty effective strategy in the early days when the computer learning curve was stiff and users had to rely on these almost real icons to navigate PC interfaces. Its popularity slowly diminished as technological access increased.

As a result, Apple software sales surged significantly in the 2000s, as the skeuomorphism design concept made computers more intuitive.

The Evolution and Diversity of the Apple Logo

The Apple logo design hasn’t always been the same. It has undergone four significant design changes to become the iconic, bitten apple logo we know today. 

Check out the evolution and diversity of the Apple logo through the years below.

Apple Computer Co. Newton Plaque ‒ 1976

The Newton Plaque from 1976 was the first-ever Apple logo. It was designed by Wayne and was an image of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree with a book when an apple fell on his head. 

The image depicts Newton discovering gravity and even includes a poem quote by William Wordsworth.

The Apple Logo: History, Meaning, and Design Influences
First Rendition of Apple Logo Image Source

It also has an Apple Computer Co. ribbon running around the upper and lower edges. Even though it was unique, it was nothing remotely similar to the current Apple logo and was more like a miniature piece of art, perfect more for craft beer branding than a tech-related brand emblem. 

It looks like a good, old vintage logo, but it’s not the Apple we know and love today. It was also far too complicated and not as memorable.

Rainbow Strip Apple ‒ 1977-1998

Like its creator, the Newton Plaque logo did not last long. After a year, Jobs announced it was too old-fashioned and hired Janoff, a professional graphic designer and the powerhouse behind Apple’s iconic bitten logo.

The Apple Logo: History, Meaning, and Design Influences
Image Source

Janoff’s original version had colors of the rainbow strip, giving the nod to Apple II, one of the company’s finest creations and the world’s first colored-display computer.  

The two-dimensional rainbow apple logo also had a bite mark so people would distinguish it from cherries. It also had a geeky play on words written in San Serif Italic font as a nod to the first-ever beautiful typography used in a computer.

Jobs took to the logo immediately, and it was fully incorporated into the brand’s products by the end of the year.

Because of its rainbow colors, the logo became subject to public scrutiny, linking it to the LGBT community. However, these colors had nothing to do with any community or minority and were no secret message, as they gave the nod to Apple’s colored display.

Black Apple ‒ 1998

The rainbow-striped Apple logo stayed on until 1998 when Jobs changed it upon returning to the company. During this time, Apple was losing money fast and at risk of closing.

As part of his efforts to turn things around, Jobs decided to leverage on the company’s universally recognized, bitten apple logo.

The tech pioneer wanted to portray Apple as a luxury brand and changed the rainbow logo to a blue and translucent emblem, and then in 1998, switched it to plain black. This time, the logo was also thinner and looked more like the company’s current emblem.

Besides Jobs’ brand-revamping efforts, the new logo was also specifically designed to fit the Bondi Blue, Apple’s first-ever iMac.

It was sky-blue and translucent, and a rainbow logo would look absurd. Besides the Bondi Blue, all other devices in the iMac G3 series also featured the black apple logo.

The Skeuomorphic Plastic Translucent Apple ‒ 1998

The iMac G3 produced in 1998 instantly stood out for the black apple logo and its blue color and distinct translucent plastic case. It later rolled out in other colors, from lime to tangerine, covering the whole scope of a bright color palette

With the help of Scott Forstall, a software engineer, and his longtime friend, Jobs also introduced a new language design for macOS known as Aqua. 

It used the concept of skeuomorphism, which increased the realistic ornamentation of interface elements, giving a better sense of depth and dimension and a better user experience.

This was a helpful concept back then, as it made computer interfaces less intimidating and was a win for Apple because it encouraged faster adoption.

Monochrome Plastic Skeuomorphic Apple ‒ 2001-2007

In 2001, Apple released Cheetah, a MacOS X with a slightly embossed aqua Apple logo. 

The aqua design lasted until 2007 when Apple switched from a glass-themed to a chrome textured interface signifying the brand’s shift toward aluminum-based device models.

Metallic Apple ‒ 2007-2015

Besides the Apple logo, Apple’s approach to computer design has been evolving, too. In 2003, Apple released the Aluminum PowerBook G4, shifting its low-carbon aluminum enclosures from plastic.

The Apple Logo: History, Meaning, and Design Influences
Apple logo on a Laptop Image Source

After that, the company released the MacBook Air to the MacBook Pro series, all featuring a custom aluminum enclosure. The move was inspired by the desire to achieve a greener Apple, and its success has since seen many other tech companies join in.

However, this was expected as renewable aluminum produces fewer greenhouse gases and uses less energy, making it an eco and cost-friendly raw material choice.

As part of its commitment to sustainability, Apple also shifted to renewable, energy-efficient architecture. Today, the firm’s global facilities operate on 100% clean energy, and it has countless renewable energy projects around the world.

Flat Design Apple Logo

Nowadays, the Apple logo appears more minimalistic thanks to its flat design. This flat aesthetic eliminates gradient, texture, and drop shadows, improving an interface’s readability and offering a modern, up-to-date look.

The Apple Logo: History, Meaning, and Design Influences
Apple Logo Image Source

It’s no wonder so many companies, including influential brands such as Pepsi, Google Chrome, YouTube, eBay, and American Airlines, are now shifting to flat designs. 

But the popularization of flat designs has seen skeuomorphism go from popular to one of the most despised trends in the web design realm.

Although it helped ease the learning curve, the 2000s-trend slowly replaces glass morphism, as people are now more familiar with computers and can comfortably interact with software.

Conclusion

It’s fascinating how much Apple has grown in the past four decades, yet its iconic, bitten apple logo remains a force to reckon. This logo marks Apple’s diversity, sense of community, and, most importantly, modernity.

See why Jobs believed in skeuomorphism here. Be sure to review Apple’s sustainability efforts and why most tech brands are shifting to recycled aluminum as their raw material of choice.

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