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This year’s release of the iPhone 11 Pro came with an extra surprise in the form of a new Midnight Green colour option, representing the first time in years that Apple has expanded the colours of its higher-end iPhone lineup beyond the more traditional basic shades of space grey, silver, and gold.
Over the years, we’ve only seen more colourful options when Apple has offered a lower tier in its iPhone lineup — originally with the plastic-encased iPhone 5C in 2013, and then more recently with the iPhone XR and iPhone 11. Two (PRODUCT)RED special edition releases of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 were notable exceptions, but otherwise Apple has always kept its higher-end iPhone models to much more muted colours.
The original iPhone had a simple matte silver back, while the next model, the iPhone 3G, moved to black and white rear shell colours, a motif which continued into the glass-sandwiched iPhone 4 design, and the aluminum casing of the iPhone 5 era, although by the the time the 5s was released the black had evolved into a more gunmetal “Space Grey” and the white into mostly silver, and Apple had also added a gold option. With the 2015 iPhone 6s, a short-lived “Rose Gold” finish was also added, but this was dropped by the time of the iPhone 8.
So needless to say, the addition of Midnight Green to the iPhone 11 Pro — the direct successor to the iPhone XS — was an interesting and welcome surprise.
A Quality Colour
Apple has traditionally avoided more vibrant colours on its higher-end iPhone models — Rose Gold was probably the closest we ever came — and perhaps part of the reason is that it feels that this lends a certain class. However, as high-end car manufacturers have demonstrated for years, it’s definitely possible to get more colourful while still maintaining a sense of luxury.
The catch for Apple, however, may have been in not only finding a colour that would look good on something in the class of an iPhone 11 Pro, but could also be sourced accurately, reliably, and in an environmentally responsible way.
It turns out that this is the key behind Apple’s choice of Midnight Green, which was produced by Seiko Advance, a small Japanese company that you’ve probably never heard of, but that’s been responsible for Apple’s iPhone colours since 2011.
According to a report in Nikkei Asian Review, Apple CEO Tim Cook cited Seiko Advance as “the reason Midnight Green exists.” On a recent trip to Japan, Cook visited the Seiko Advance plant, where he explained that it was only possible for Apple to use the new colour “thanks to their craftsmanship and attention to detail.”
One of the challenges in producing certain colours is that the process often requires the use of toxic chemicals; for example, producing green ink usually requires halogens. It’s understandable how, with its eco-friendly track record, Apple would want to avoid these kinds of inks as much as possible. However, it seems that Seiko Advance developed a unique and clean way to produce a midnight green ink that offers both high colour accuracy as well as durability. Cook noted this point, while also praising Seiko Advance’s plans to switch to renewable solar and wind power in 2020.
What’s especially interesting is that Seiko Advance isn’t a huge multinational conglomerate. It was incorporated back in 1950 as a paint supplier, and today has only 160 employees and annual sales in the tens of millions of dollars, and yet it’s the company responsible for what’s arguably the most interesting new colour to come out of Apple in a long time, along with all of Apple’s more traditional iPhone 11 Pro colours — Space Grey, Silver, and Gold. It also supplies high-end colours for other major global smartphone competitors like Samsung and Huawei, but Apple currently accounts for nearly 40 percent of its sales.
What’s less clear from the story is whose idea Midnight Green was, but it sounds like it was probably the result of a collaboration, as Cook says Apple and Seiko Advance have worked together for years and “grown together” and often “push each other to innovate more.”
With Apple having now cracked open the door to more colour options in its premium iPhones thanks to Seiko Advance, hopefully Midnight Green isn’t the last we’re going to see of new innovations in this area, and near year’s iPhone 12 could offer some even more interesting colour options.