The Myths and Mysteries of Apple’s Apple

How a piece of fruit with a bite mark became the world's most famous logo

Headshot of Robert Klara

Earlier in December, conservative commentator Glenn Beck raised eyebrows when he managed to link Apple's famous logo to, among other things, Nazis, homosexuality and Benedict Cumberbatch. Beck had been sent a review copy of the film The Imitation Game, which prompted him to disclose a secret that "nobody knows"—specifically, that Apple's apple was actually a furtive nod to Enigma code breaker Alan Turing, a brilliant and closeted mathematician who, uncovered by Britain's moral police in 1954, killed himself by biting into an apple he'd laced with cyanide.

Photo: Nick Ferrari

 The truth is that Apple's famous apple is not a complex talisman freighted with hidden meaning, but a clear, uncomplicated design that's been carefully tweaked over time, though never at the expense of its intuitive simplicity. "Apple has been really smart about the way they have evolved the logo," said Peter Madden, founder and president of Philadelphia-based brand consultants AgileCat. "It's simple, but it's very hard to get to simple. Simple is brilliant, and that can scare people."A far-fetched idea? Sure, and one with plenty of company. Apple boasts one of the most recognizable logos of our time, so it's no surprise that it's been sliced and diced, examined and interpreted—usually in error. There's the story about Turing (false); there's the rumor that the logo's rainbow color bands were a nod to gay liberation (false); and there's the theory that the apple represents the sin of knowledge ravished by a carnal bite (never mind).

Fortunately, simple didn't scare Steve Jobs. Apple's apple was born when Jobs decided that the company's original logo (a woodcut by co-founder Ronald Wayne depicting Sir Isaac Newton) was far too complex to be memorable. So he hired Palo Alto, Calif., designer Rob Janoff. The brief (if that's even the term) was four words: "Don't make it cute."

For Apple, Janoff settled on … an apple. "It was a no-brainer," he said in a 2009 interview. "You would miss the mark if you didn't show some kind of apple." Janoff presented Jobs with two versions of his logo—with bite and without. Worried that people might mistake the apple for a cherry, Jobs opted for the bite.

And that was it. No biblical influence, no far-flung allegory, no hidden meaning. While the apple has undergone various updates (notably, going from a rainbow pattern to the simpler, monochromatic apples of the last 15 years), the silhouette has remained intact. In the memorable "Stickers" spot last year, the pure white apple was a prop for hundreds of decals slapped on a MacBook Air laptop—"a canvas for people to express invention," Madden said. "They've taken it to a form that begets the function."

Name another logo that does all that.

Jobs: Tom Munnecke/Getty Images


@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.