Apple had to buy back old products featured in its new design book

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iMac design: The iMac G3 was a bit fatter than model than today's models.
We hope they used Apple Pay, at least.
Photo: Apple

I don’t know about you, but I imagine Apple having an amazing vault somewhere under 1 Infinite Loop, containing pristine, still-packaged copies of every single computer it’s ever come out with — if for no reason other than as a design reference for employees.

Not so.

In fact, according to a new interview with Jony Ive, Apple had to actually go out and buy copies of its old products in order to photograph them for its new $300 coffee table book, set to be released tomorrow.

“[W]e’ve been so consumed by our current and future work we came to realise we didn’t have a catalogue of the physical products,” Ive told design journal Wallpaper*. ” … Many of the products that you see, we actually had to go out and purchase. It’s a rather shameful admission, but it’s just not an area that we really invested much time or energy in.”

Fortunately, things are changing, Ive said. Around eight years ago, the company felt an “obligation” to go out and start building up an archive of every product it had released.

Quite what prompted the start of the archive isn’t known, but eight years ago would put it at around 2008 or early 2009, around the time that Steve Jobs took his first health-related leave of absence from Apple.

Whether the two were linked or not isn’t something Ive elaborates on, but Jobs was the reason Apple didn’t put much stock in its own past during the first years of his return at Apple.

Shortly after he returned to the company in the late 1990s, he gave Apple’s historical archive — comprising records that management at Apple had kept since the mid-1980s — to Stanford University Libraries because he didn’t want Apple to be fixated on the past.

A few years after that, in 1996, an ex-Apple employee named David Pakman who had worked there from 1991 through 1997 emailed Steve to suggest staging a celebratory event for Apple’s thirtieth birthday. He received a simple answer:

David,

Apple is focused on the future, not the past.

—Steve

This attitude extended to Jobs’ view of himself — and his own legacy. He apparently “made his view … very clear” that Apple shouldn’t name its new Spaceship campus — for which he made one of his last public appearance speaking in favor of — after him.

While it’s great to hear that Tim Cook’s Apple is a bit more concerned with its history than the company was under Jobs (if for no reason other than as an archive for future tech historians), it’s pretty nuts to think that Jony Ive and co. had to go out and physically purchase some of Apple’s post-1998 products so they could be featured in a book celebrating Apple’s history.

You can check out the rest of Ive’s Wallpaper* interview here.