What is the rationale behind computer coloration?

Sir Matt:

We were slaying some word processing dragons round the office the other day when we made the following observation: Most high-tech electronic gizmos-- stereos, CD players, camcorders, etc.-- are tinted a Darth Vader-ish black. Yet the humble personal computer seems to be universally produced in a unique sort of "wheat bread" color. Our own personal theories are threefold: First, light tan is the "traditional" computer color and none of the manufacturers can bear to change it. Second, off-white is the cheapest color for penny-pinching makers to produce. Third, "stealth black" conveys a macho image that is too scary for friendly Mr. Power Mac. Even stranger is the fact that while desktop computers are Navajo white, laptops are black or gray. So, oh sage of all things esoteric, what is the rationale behind computer coloration?

-- Sir Guillaume, Knight of the Keyboard

Let's take a spoonful of Theory One, a dash of Theory Three, mix em with a whole load of competition and marketing paranoia, bake it for 30 years or so, and we have your answer. According to a smallish survey of computer makers and marketers, they'd be glad to peddle us PCs in black or plaid or neon orange or in a hand-caved rosewood case, if that's what we want. But the truth is, we won't buy em. Non-white computers are definitely unsellable as business systems; and even for home use, any kicky, kookie colors are eyed skeptically. People have tried to hawk things like a camouflage keyboard or fur-covered mouse, but anything out of the "oatmeal white" norm is a dud. (One problem with odd-colored accessories is finding a matching odd-colored monitor, processor, and printer.) A San Jose manufacturer sells color-coordinated systems in charcoal gray and a deep emerald green, both with multicolored keyboards, and they're toying with the idea of a purple PC. But even they admit the color systems are targeted for the low-end home PC market. Their business system comes only in high-credibility "almond." Portable laptops are black so they won't show dirt, scrapes, dings. They're also not so different from a black attache case. An all-black desktop system may just be too ominous or too visually intrusive to be popular. But be honest now. Would you trust any data that came out of a pink PC? Wouldn't you feel like Computer Barbie, with Mattel stamped across your forehead?

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