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A Letter From Paris on the iPhone's 'Non' Problem

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We continue to be baffled by how Apple allowed this particular error in its case design.

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September 10, 2013, was a big day for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), the day the tech-forward iPhone 5S and the colorful iPhone 5C made their official debut. I remember that many analysts felt underwhelmed, that the thrill of Apple product announcement events was gone. While many were discussing the merits and problems with the new phones, as well as their boredom with the presentation, some of us were stuck on one small detail: When the iPhone 5C is in the colored, stylish case that Apple designed for it, the word "iPhone," printed on the back of the device, is cut off. Through one of the case's holes appears the word "non."



Apple is renowned for its design sense, so this must be intentional, right?

The earliest reviews of the case were mostly negative, simply because of the "non." Said Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch on the day of Apple's release event, "The iPhone 5C's case looks a lot like Crocs shoes. It also makes for one of the most annoying Apple design missteps I've seen recently."

In his review, John Brownlee of Fast Company imagined how Apple's famous designer Jonathan Ive might have been playing Connect Four with his daughter one day when inspiration hit him to create a colorful and light-hearted case for the company's new entry-level (or at least closer to entry-level) iPhone. Like most other commentators, however, Brownlee took issue with the mysterious "non." Moreover, he went so far as to theorize why Apple made such a seemingly glaring error. "The reason Apple missed this is because Apple execs don't besmirch their iPhones with cases. They go bareback, and think you should, too."

Whether or not this is the case, the error still seems egregious. As Panzarino mentioned in his initial review, "And it was photoshopped out of the presentation, so they know it looks bad."


Philip W. Schiller, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Apple, presenting at the September 10 event. Notice the missing "non."

Last week, Michael Ferranti of the French start-up blog Rude Baguette drew further attention to the fact that in French, "non" translates to "no."

Adverting [sic] is omnipresent in the Paris Metro (it's no surprise that ad-tech is a growing part of the French economy), but it's done with class, with beautiful posters featuring theater, ballet, and ski vacations framed in ornate green or brown glazed-tiled frames. One of the most extensive Metro stations is Montparnasse, a section of Paris historically important for the arts. Some sections of the sprawling Montparnasse station are so long that moving sidewalks have been installed, letting commuters take a break from walking through the long corridors.

One early morning. . . I was taken by the enormous, colorful posters that had been installed promoting Apple's new iPhone 5C. I had seen similar billboards before in San Francisco on the 101 highway, but never so many, and never in France. Gliding along beside the impressive display, I noticed something that, once in a French context, seemed odd. Does that say 'non?' Why, yes it does.

So, writes Ferranti, "Apple has said 'non' to the French smartphone market. Whether it will affect sales is an open question, but from both a design and localization perspective, it was certainly a 'faux pas,' and that's no mistranslation."

I can't disagree.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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