Matsushita’s National Panasonic MyPhone - all transisitor intercom (1960's).
The iPhone 5 is Apple's latest iteration of their mobile communications ‘design classic'. Apple, of course, is often hailed as one of the most innovative product design companies in the world, perhaps for some, the most innovative. But just how original are Apple when it comes to the actual product design itself and even the naming of their products?
Braun products and particularly the work of Dieter Rams have often been cited (particularly in design circles) as a key inspiration behind Apple’s minimalist aesthetic. Indeed Jonathan Ive and the Apple design team have paid regular homage to Rams and many of the German company’s own classic designs of the 1950s and 60s. The similarity of the original iPod to the Braun T3 radio of 1958 is well documented, something I myself wrote about in Phaidon’s 999 Design classics books… but I was hardly the first to notice even back then.
However it’s about time the influence of Japanese product design was also given due credit. We all know of course that the Sony Walkman was the forerunner to the MP3 player (and the subsequently super-successful iPod); it being the world's first pocket size personal stereo. Before the Walkman even, many early Japanese transistor radios also shared the same aesthetic layout of the Braun T3. As someone who teaches product design, I regularly remind my students that accepted design history can often be too simplistic and biased towards design heroes over other product designers and engineers, or indeed the less glamorous companies they worked for (who also produced similar products at the same time).
Lesser known though is that the ubiquitous iEverything name that has become synonymous with almost every Apple product's descriptor - e.g. iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad (along with iTunes, iLife etc) can also trace its origins back to the technologically obsessed Japanese nation. Matsushita’s National Panasonic MyPhone (all transistor intercom) was produced around forty-five years ahead of its namesake, the Apple iPhone (first released in 2007).
I acquired these early 1960's MyPhones for my classic electronica collection about 15yrs ago. It has however, been very difficult to find any information about them, although the Panasonic Konosuke Matsushita Museum does house a 1963 MySonic portable tape recorder from the same era. Perhaps this lack of information online is why (to date) Braun have taken all the historical design credit for influencing Apple – as in today’s digital world if it’s not on the internet then it obviously never happened (sic).
So what’s in a name? The catchy 1960’s "MyPhone" literally communicated Japan's consumerist rush to copy the West’s own self-absorbed technological ‘possession obsession’. In the aftermath of the second world war, American investment policy helped convert a defeated Japanese nation into a booming technologically based democratic industrial economy. Interestingly, this is almost identical to what happened to the German economy over in Europe during the same period.
From a historical perspective then, Apple product design can be seen to have been influenced by both post war German and Japanese industrial design in equal parts, the direct result of a consumerist focused American foreign policy returning back home. Or, put more simply… what goes around comes around!
With this in mind then, which is the design classic and which is the collectible…the iPhone or the MyPhone?
MyPhone operating instructions
Images © Obsessionistas
Graham Powell is course director of the MA Product Design programme at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design (UK). For Apple fans he also wrote the Apple articles in Phaidon's 999 Design Classics (3 x books or iPad app) for the Apple Macintosh, iMac, PowerBook and the iPod.
He is also co founder of Obsessionistas.co.uk