For years, tech bloggers have lamented the boring sameness of mobile phones. “They’re all slabs of glass and metal,” we groaned in 2016. “Phone design has plateaued.” These days, the same could be said of many electronic devices, all housed in generic brushed aluminium and dark plastic that doesn’t so much “wow” as inspire a “sure.” Fortunately, the solution to this problem is as simple as it is obvious: let us see inside.
The joy of translucent tech was clear to turn-of-the-century gadget makers. Nintendo released the N64 in more than half a dozen see-through variants, and the have-a-peek case of the original iMac was perhaps its best feature. These designs told you exactly what those devices were supposed to be: fun. Sadly, after letting the glory of god’s light into our tech, we collectively turned away sometime in the mid-2000s, ushering in what can only be called the dark age of translucent design.
can someone make my iphone look like this pic.twitter.com/B7HSc1P1Wc
— Sarah Emerson (@SarahNEmerson) August 14, 2018
Some might attribute the end of translucence to the fundamentally fleeting nature of aesthetic trends, but I think I have a better explanation. Gadget makers are scared. They don’t want us to know what’s going on inside their products, don’t want us to see the tiny chips and wires that facilitate the mystical abilities of their wares.
Fortunately, two companies have finally mustered the courage to show us the man behind the curtain. Last week, Sony announced that it was releasing a translucent, limited edition PS4 Pro, and on Tuesday, Microsoft listed a partially translucent Xbox controller on its site.
Still, these offerings are half-measures at best. For true, Y2K-inspired, candy-coloured translucence, after-market modifications are really your only option. The Nintendo Switch community has made encouraging achievements on this front, presumably remembering translucency’s Surge-fuelled halycon days better than most.
Haters, with their predictable contrarianism, will likely deny the obvious merits of going clear again. “If you want something more interesting,” they’ll say, “buy a crummy decal like everyone else.” No sticker, of course, will deliver what I’m really after. A peek at the guts. A reminder of the good times. An acknowledgement that, despite what marketers would have you believe, all these things are really just toys.