If beauty is indeed the truth, as John Keats declared, then this story to be true: The logo on the back of your iPhone or Mac is a tribute to Alan Turing, the man who set the foundations for the modern-day computer, pioneered analysis into artificial intelligence and open German wartime codes.
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His death, a decade after the end of the war, gives the link with Apple. Unrecognized for his job, facing jail for gross indecency and humiliated by estrogen injections meant to ‘cure’ his homosexuality, he snapped into an apple he had laced with cyanide. He died in uncertainty on 7th June 1954, ten years and a day after the Normandy landings, which formed copious use of intelligence gleaned by his methods.
And so, the story goes, when 2 Stanford entrepreneurs were looking for a logo for their brand new computer company, they retained Turing and his contribution to their field. They accepted an apple, not a complete apple, but one with a bite taken out of it.
The truth is rarely as simple, or beautiful, as we would like. It was assured by someone at Apple that it was really true. The article struck a chord and many people got in touch to say how satisfied or touched they were to hear the story.
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Some thought it was a myth. It may have begun around the time of the 2001 film about the Bletchley Park code breakers, Secret, or it may have just resurfaced then. It was verified with Apple headquarters, it was obvious that that Turing story was not true Apple history.
Other theories were advanced. The apple symbolized wisdom, as in the biblical story of Adam and Eve, or sourced the falling fruit that led Sir Isaac Newton to the theory of gravity. Supporters of the latter theory note the style of Apple’s handheld PDA, the Newton, but that was more than a decade after the invention of the logo.
The evidence now points in a more common direction. In a 2009 interview with Rob Janoff, the man who formed the logo reflected on the theories about his work. He dismisses Sir Isaac or the Bible as reference material and, while he says he is fascinated by the links with the Turing story, he states he was unaware of them at the time.
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Janoff says that he got no specific brief from Steve Jobs, and although he’s unclear about how he settled on the simple form of an apple, the reason for the bite is crystal clear: it’s there for scale, he states, so that a small Apple logo still seems like an apple and not a cherry.
It wasn’t long before Janoff found the first happy coincidence of his idea when a colleague told him that ‘bytes’ were the foundation stones of computing. The more passionate myth-making would happen soon behind.
When the Turing story was first cast into doubt, but got to enjoy the uncertainty. Limbo seemed a fitting, even romantic state, for the tale of a man who lived in the shadows. Even his tribute was now drifting between life and death, like Snow White after she took her own mythical apple.
Picture Courtesy: applemagazine.com
That a similar admiration for beauty over cold, hard fact lay behind Steve Jobs’ silence on the matter, He could have refused the creation myths caused by his company, but he chose not to. More than most, he understood the value of a beautiful story.