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Jony Ive explains why Apple ditched plastic for metal

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 8:48PM EST
Apple Jony Ive Interview
Image: Apple

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Although we’re accustomed to Apple hardware being built from sturdy metal, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, anyone who remembers Apple computers from the late ’90s and early 2000s knows that they featured plastic shells like a lot of other laptops and desktops at the time. However, starting with the Powerbook G4 in 2001, Apple made a switch to using metal for its computers, a tradition that it’s extended with its MacBooks, iPads and iPhones.

In an interview with The New York Times, Ive recalls the time when he, Steve Jobs and Tim Cook decided to take the plunge and build a laptop with a titanium shell instead of a plastic shell.

“I remember clearly a time when we made plastic portable computers, and Steve and Tim and I sat down and said we wanted to build an incredibly thin and light portable computer,” Ive explains. “There was a whole range of challenges from an engineering point of view: How it worked in a new material, titanium. That meant we had to completely redesign and discover new partners to work with, hire a whole new organization.”

If you take a look at the pictures we’ve posted below of the plastic Powerbook G3 and the titanium Powerbook G4, you can see an enormous shift in design. In fact, while the Powerbook G3 looks ridiculously out of date, the Powerbook G4 still looks like the sort of computer we’d expect to see Apple release today. It’s amazing the difference a few years can make.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.

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