Review : 'Iconic' book takes a look at almost 40 years

Coffee table book pays tribute to Apple design

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Jonathan Zufi

Price: $75

The Good

  • Colorful imagery of Apple's history
    - Very pleasing publication design
    - Insightful input from Apple luminaries

The Bad

For years now, Apple's products have gained acclaim for their groundbreaking design and attention to the most minute details. Now, Apple fan Jonathan Zufi has pulled a collection of stunning images of products from throughout Apple's history together into a massive tome that would likely find itself at home on the coffee table of any Apple devotee.

Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation is an impressive work, with an aesthetic that complements the look of the Apple products it showcases. The product of four years work by Zufi, its 330 pages contain more than 650 images of some 500 Apple creations dating back to the company's founding. Those images are presented in a visual format that rivals that of Apple's own promotional materials, making even decades-old Apple products look as enticing as the company's bestselling devices of today.

Iconic is printed on 105lb. GoldEast matte paper, with a dust jacket printed on 105 lb. art gloss with film lamination. The endpapers are printed on 95 lb. white woodfree, plain white paper. The whole production is Smyth sewn-bound. It is a weighty book, but one with an understated grace that grabs the eye, almost demanding that it be perused.

Inside, Zufi's photographs cover the breadth of Apple's offerings. The first section of the book is devoted to the company's desktop computers, and it begins appropriately enough with the Apple I. For another 80 or so pages, Zufi showcases Apple's desktops: from the Mac 128K to 1993's Macintosh Color Classic II, the Quadra 950 to the "Flower Power" iMac G3, the ill-fated Cube to last year's super-slim iMacs. Flipping through the pages, the evolution of the desktop is striking, as is the evolution of Apple's sense of design. Time progresses, and the beige, boxy devices of yesteryear give way to curved machines that beg to be touched. Those colorful plastic creations themselves eventually give way to the stark aluminum devices of today.

The next section, necessarily, deals with Apple's portable computers, and it begins with an image that may well encapsulate the whole of the book. Juxtaposed in soft lighting are the Macintosh Portable and one of Apple's more recent MacBook Airs, summing up both the progress of computing technology and Apple design in one shot. While it may have been a marvel in its time, the Macintosh Portable looks positively gargantuan next to the Air.

The following pages show off Apple's often quirky portables from 1989 on through 2012. The businesslike PowerBooks lead into the candy coloring of the Clamshell iBooks, themselves giving way to the minimalist look of the aluminum MacBooks and MacBook Pros, which finish off the section.

The next segment looks at Apple's peripherals, and it contains some of the more interesting devices. Newer Apple fans may not know that the iPhone and iPad powerhouse once made things such as joysticks and standalone digital cameras, but there they are inside Iconic alongside adjustable keyboards and printers. Also included is the Pippin, an ill-fated gaming console developed in collaboration with Bandai. Of course, the Newton Message is also pictured in all of its stylus-enabled glory.

The fourth section deals with the products that have made Apple the most profitable company in the world: iDevices. It is perhaps here that the drive toward simplicity is most evident. The original iPod featured navigation and menu buttons surrounding a rotating volume control, itself surrounding the select button. By the time the iPod U2 Special Edition debuted in 2004, those six components were merged into two, with the click wheel handling volume and navigation.

While the story of the iPod appears to be one of uninterrupted success, Iconic also points out some of the missteps Apple made along the way. The iPhone Bluetooth Headset, no longer offered by the company, is pictured, as is the perplexing iPod HiFi, released in 2006 and discontinued in 2007 when the company "decided to focus priorities on the iPod and iPhone" and pointed customers toward other speaker devices.

The book also, of course, deals with Apple's most impactful products, the iPhone and the iPad. As those are the most recent products, it spends much less time on them, and the majority of the section is devoted to the iPod in all its iterations. Still, though, the common design thread is apparent looking from the first iPod to the iPhone 5. That simplification that began with the iPod's buttons seems fulfilled by the lone home button on the iPhone's face.

The final two sections cover Apple prototypes and packaging. The prototype segment is perhaps the more interesting of the two, giving a look at what Apple devices look like before they are fully designed, as well as many products that never made it out of Cupertino. The stylus-enabled eMate is featured, as are the Penlite and the Scribe. Also shown are the Paladin and the Apple Interactive Television, the latter proof that capturing the biggest screen in the house has been on Apple's mind for some time.

The packaging segment is less interesting, but it does reveal a thread running back decades in Apple's package design. Example after example shows the product contained in the package featured foremost on the front cover. This eventually gave way to the plastic packaging seen with the newer iPods and the iPhone 5c: the representation of the product done away with for a clear look at the product itself.

Aside from the images, Iconic contains a wealth of commentary on Apple. Zufi peppers his book with a number of choice quotes from prominent Apple figures, commentators, and influencers, including Steve Jobs, co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jony Ive, and more. It also features an introduction from Zufi himself and a foreword from early Apple employee Daniel Kottke. These snippets and paragraphs helpfully break up the deluge of images, adding perspective and insight into the devices themselves, their design process, and the impact they have had on their owners.

In all, Iconic is a fun book to flip through even idly. It is a very well realized trip through Apple history, and it comes highly recommended for the serious Apple fan. If you have every Think Different poster prominently displayed on your walls; if your iPhones aren't sold or handed down, but retired and put under glass; if you hope to hit the lottery just to have a shot at the next Apple I to show up at Sotheby's, this will make a terrific addition to your coffee table. Even if none of those describes you, you may still find it a worthy addition, if only because it is so interesting to leaf through.

Iconic is a self-published text, and as such is available to order through the book's site. The standard version is available to ship now and costs $75. Zufi is also offering it in a Classic Edition, designed to resemble the form factor of assorted Apple devices from the 1970s and 1980s, sells for $300 and will ship in mid-October.