Apple's Updated Style Guide Adds Support for More Inclusive Language

By Sam Rutherford on at

Apple has already been quite outspoken in regards to support for equality and the Black Lives Matter movement, with CEO Tim Cook having penned a statement titled Speaking Up on Racism last month in June. But more recently, Apple released an updated style guide seeking to improve the kind of language used in its products and across the company.

For those who aren’t familiar with style guides, they are a set of rules and guidelines organisations create to help dictate how language and design will be presented to best match the organisation's goals and beliefs. More specifically, style guides are helpful when trying to decide between words with multiple meanings, spellings, or even the format of dates like 17th July versus 17 July.

Alongside guidelines for more technical, Apple-specific terms like wifi or HomePod (which Apple somewhat annoyingly says should not be paired with articles aside from your, so never a HomePod or the HomePod, just HomePod or in some cases your HomePod), Apple has made some changes to its style guide to help foster more inclusive language within its devices – and even its programming code.

The most obvious example of this is the capitalisation of Black instead of using a lowercase “b” when referring to Black people or culture – a change many media outlets, including Gizmodo, have made recently as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Apple has also instructed employees to avoid using whitelist and blacklist and instead replace those words with terms like approved list or deny list, ostensibly to help avoid any implications regarding the value of different colours.

However, the most meaningful change in the entire style guide comes from direction to avoid using master/slave terminology when it comes to hardware or processes. For decades, computer engineers have used master and slave to specify things like which storage drives are the main boot drive and which drives are simply additional volumes, with the use of master and slave terminology even found as commands within computer code. However, because countless lines of code already contain this language, it’s difficult to completely eliminate its use without potentially breaking millions of apps and devices.

That said, to create a more inclusive atmosphere, Apple has directed the company to avoid using master and slave whenever possible, and when it can’t be avoided in code, Apple wants employees to “show a code sample to make it clear what users need to enter, but you should still use alternative terms in the documentation.”

Apple even included a sample line of code to demonstrate what this looks like:

The primary view controller (MasterViewController) shows the available views and controls.

While some may argue that the use of these terms is separate and not related to contemporary race relations, it’s hard to deny that they are antiquated terms already in need of a refresh. If you’re going to make an update, why not remove any connection to negative meanings or connotations while you’re at it?

So while Apple and Tim Cook may have already pledged $100 million (£80 million) towards the creation of the company’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, less obvious, internal changes like these ones are just as important when it comes to supporting equality in the future.

Featured image: Gizmodo

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