The purple iPhone 12 is lovely and frustrating

Apple promised that the purple iPhone 12 would be really, really purple, and it wasn't wrong. Joining the color line-up on Friday, the new finish for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini is no restrained aubergine or subdued Byzantium. Instead, you get a love-it-or-hate-it lilac with hints of charming lavender, and that has me both excited and frustrated at the same time.

The design of the iPhone 12 lends itself nicely to this particular finish. The glass rear is slightly lighter in its purple, the toughened sheet leaving the hue looking almost creamy to my eyes. In contrast, the brushed metal sides are a shade darker. Purple is a tricky color to get right, but I think Apple has nailed it here.

You can order the new finish now, alongside the existing white, black, blue, green, and (PRODUCT)RED versions. It'll start shipping from this Friday, April 30, from $699 for the iPhone 12 mini and from $799 for the iPhone 12. There's no functional difference, of course, to the phones we reviewed late last year: you get the same display, the same dual rear cameras, and the same 5G support inside.

More color options in smartphones has been a welcome shift in the market over the past couple of years. The purple iPhone 12 isn't the first lilac lovely to arrive in 2021, for example, with Samsung's Galaxy S21 arguably the most striking of its siblings in its Phantom Violet finish. Apple's semi-regular (PRODUCT)RED variants of iPhones over the years have been another pleasant distraction from mainstream stalwarts like black, silver, and gray.

At the same time, though, not everyone has been able to enjoy that more experimental color palette. It's still fairly common for high-end phones to slim down the number of finishes on offer considerably, and the latest flagships are no different. You can get a purple iPhone 12, or a violet Galaxy S21, but if you want an iPhone 12 Pro Max or a Galaxy S21 Ultra your options are fairly, well... boring.

Apple offers its most expensive handset in Graphite, Silver, Gold, or Pacific Blue. Pleasing finishes, certainly, with the combination of polished metal frames and frosted glass backs, but hardly as eye-catching as the purple iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini. Samsung's hues are similarly sober: you can have your Galaxy S21 Ultra in silver, black, titanium, navy, or brown.

Perhaps there's an assumption that those digging deep into their pockets for a four-figure smartphone are too serious to consider a more eye-catching color. Maybe, too, there's a rational argument that such buyers are likely smaller in number, and so making too many color options needlessly complicates the supply chain. Samsung's silver and black Galaxy S21 Ultra finishes are the only ones you'll find in general circulation: the other three are special orders through its own web store.

I've no doubt that Apple has some excellent market research underscoring its decision to offer purple on its mainstream iPhone 12 family phones alone. Still, I can't help but be a little disappointed at having to choose between the excellent array of cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro Max or a more playful finish. This may be one of those times where Apple needs to lead and show its users what they didn't realize they wanted: more color and more personality in the gadgets we use most every day.