Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

Unraveling the tale behind the Apple logo

A number of stories have cropped up over the years to explain the origin of the Apple logo design.

Story highlights

  • Holden Frith says one story recounts how the Apple logo was a tribute to Alan Turing
  • "Sadly, the truth is rarely as simple, or beautiful, as we would like," he writes
  • Apple logo artist Rob Janoff is charmed by the story but was unaware of the association
  • Frith: More than most, Steve Jobs appreciated the value of a beautiful story

If beauty is indeed truth, as John Keats claimed, then this story ought to be true: The logo on the back of your iPhone or Mac is a tribute to Alan Turing, the man who laid the foundations for the modern-day computer, pioneered research into artificial intelligence and unlocked German wartime codes.

His death, a decade after the end of the war, provides the link with Apple. Unrecognized for his work, facing jail for gross indecency and humiliated by estrogen injections intended to 'cure' his homosexuality, he bit into an apple he had laced with cyanide. He died in obscurity on June 7, 1954, 10 years and a day after the Normandy landings, which made copious use of intelligence gleaned by his methods.

And so, the story goes, when two Stanford entrepreneurs were looking for a logo for their brand new computer company, they remembered Turing and his contribution to their field. They chose an apple -- not a complete apple, but one with a bite taken out of it.

Sadly, the truth is rarely as simple, or beautiful, as we would like. I first researched this story in 2005 and was assured by someone at Apple that it was indeed true. The article struck a chord and several people got in touch to say how pleased or touched they were to hear the story.

A few years later I mentioned it to another Apple employee, who immediately said that he thought it was a myth. It may have started around the time of the 2001 film about the Bletchley Park code breakers, Enigma, or it may have just resurfaced then. He checked with Apple headquarters, and although they were non-committal, it was clear that that Turing story was not official Apple history.

Steve Jobs leaves lasting legacy

    Just Watched

    Steve Jobs leaves lasting legacy

Steve Jobs leaves lasting legacy 04:04
PLAY VIDEO
A look back at the life of Steve Jobs

    Just Watched

    A look back at the life of Steve Jobs

A look back at the life of Steve Jobs 04:01
PLAY VIDEO
Odd Jobs tributes

    Just Watched

    Odd Jobs tributes

Odd Jobs tributes 02:22
PLAY VIDEO

Other theories were advanced. The apple represented knowledge, as in the biblical story of Adam and Eve, or referenced the falling fruit that led Sir Isaac Newton to the concept of gravity. Supporters of the latter theory note the name of Apple's handheld PDA, the Newton, but that was more than a decade after the creation of the logo.

Sadly, the evidence now points in a more prosaic direction. In a 2009 interview with CreativeBits, Rob Janoff, the man who drew the logo, reflected on the theories about his work. He dismisses Sir Isaac or the Bible as source material and, while he says he is charmed by the links with the Turing story, he says he was unaware of them at the time.

"I'm afraid it didn't have a thing to do with it," he said. "It's a wonderful urban legend."

Janoff says that he received no specific brief from Steve Jobs, and although he's hazy about how he settled on the simple outline of an apple, the reason for the bite is crystal clear: it's there for scale, he says, so that a small Apple logo still looks like an apple and not a cherry.

It wasn't long before Janoff discovered the first happy coincidence of his design, when a colleague told him that "bytes" were the foundation stones of computing. The more romantic myth-making would follow soon behind.

I was disappointed when the Turing story was first cast into doubt, but grew to enjoy the uncertainty. Limbo seemed a fitting, even poetic state, for the tale of a man who lived in the shadows. Even his tribute was now floating between life and death, like Snow White after she swallowed her own mythical apple.

I hope that a similar respect for beauty over cold, hard fact lay behind Steve Jobs' silence on the matter. He could have dismissed the creation myths inspired by his company, but he chose not to. More than most, he appreciated the value of a beautiful story.

      Life of Steve Jobs

    • cnni velshi jobs glamour computers_00012505

      We want to hear your stories. Did you ever meet Jobs? How did he change your life? Share your photos, videos and memories with CNN iReport.
    • Apple co-founder Steve Jobs introduces the new Power Mac G4 computer in San Francisco in 1999.

      Ever since Steve Jobs worked on the first Apple computer, he has strived to make computer products "insanely great."
    • Chief Executive Officer of Apple, Steve Jobs, shows off the ipod touch.

      It's well known that the secret to Apple's meteoric success is the creativity of Steve Jobs. But what drove the company's celebrity founder?
    • Apple CEO Steve Jobs waves as he delivers the keynote address.

      From the launch of the iPhone to his meeting with Bill Gates, we look at five of Steve Jobs' best moments as Apple's consummate showman.
    • US President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office carrying an iPad as he departs the White House for a game of golf in Washington on May 21, 2011. AFP PHOTO / JOSHUA ROBERTS

      President Barack Obama hailed Steve Jobs as one of America's greatest innovators, a man "brave enough to think differently."
    • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 06: Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivers the keynote address at the 2011 Apple World Wide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center on June 6, 2011 in San Francisco, California. Apple CEO Steve Jobs returned from sick leave to introduce Apple's new iCloud storage system and the next versions of Apple's iOS and Mac OSX. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

      Steve Jobs' enthusiasm and sense of humor were on full display at the launch of some of Apple's greatest hits.
    • Apple updated its website Wednesday for the death of Steve Jobs.

      Steve Jobs has consistently captured attention with his stage events. On Wednesday evening, the world took to the Web to mourn his passing.
    • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 06:  Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivers the keynote address at the 2011 Apple World Wide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center on June 6, 2011 in San Francisco, California. Apple CEO Steve Jobs returned from sick leave to introduce Apple's new iCloud storage system and the next versions of Apple's iOS and Mac OSX.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

      Steve Jobs died Oct. 5, 2011 at age 56. TIME takes a look at the Apple founder's storied, visionary career.
    • Apple Computer co-founder and CESteve Jobs introduces the all-new flat-panel iMac computer during his keynote speech at the MacWorld Expo in January 2002.

      As his illness kept him away from the office, it's been clear that we Steve jobs more than just upping the pixels on the phone camera and an ever-faster processor.