As The Aesthetics of Technology change, our vision of the futuredoes, too. Raygun Gothic gave way to Crystal Spires and Togas, in turn supplanted by Used Future and Cyber Punk (and then all kinds of Punk Punk). At the time of this writing, the most common style for the future is a mix of all of the foregoing, plus... well, the iPod (or the iPhone, or iPad, or any iOS).
Right now, being cutting-edge is all about plain black and white (maybe pastel colours if you're lucky), translucent plastic, smoothed edges, screens that slide and flip out, touch screens, unobtrusive buttons, minimalist advertising and displays, lights that come out of nowhere and catchy little chimes when the devices start up. And of course, it's all small and convenient. For current evidence, look no further than the success of the iPod and the iPhone ranges, and the iMac style they were based on, their imitators and other things that have adopted the style, such as pretty much the entire range of the latest game consoles.
Everything Is Online, and physical data storage either consists of an equivalent of a USB thumbdrive or doesn't exist at all, considering that computers are so small and compact you can carry them anywhere and transfer data wirelessly. Interfaces are designed to be soothing, easy to use and colourful, and if intelligent they'll probably be annoyingly helpful.
Of course, like every other "futuristic" visual style used in previous decades, this trope will probably be considered Zeerust after a while.
Contrast Raygun Gothic, which is its opposite in a number of ways. See also Holographic Terminal and Ascetic Aesthetic. For when everything (in the future or otherwise) is actually made by Apple, see Everyone Owns A Mac, as well as iPhony for direct parodies of Apple products.
Zero from the first Patlabor movie has some of this look about him. Which is quite impressive, considering Yutaka Izubuchi designed him in the late '80s.
In the 2005 Doctor Who Magazine comic strip "The Flood" (the final Eighth Doctor strip), the monsters are far-future Cybermen, who have been redesigned to look like this◊. White? Check. Rounded, streamlined surfaces? Check. Glowy blue bits? Check.
Films — Animation
Despicable Me uses this to contrast Gru's classic Mad Scientist style villainy with the upstart, next-gen villain, Vector. Gru's base looks like something out of a James Bond film, Vector's looks like if Steve Jobs had designed an iFortress.
EVE is basically a floating sentient iPod space probe that appears to be made mostly of curves, folds up neatly, and is packed with numerous features. Makes sense, since her character design was done by Jonathan Ive, who designed... wait for it... the iPod.
WALL•E himself, though his design is boxy and not sleek, makes a distinctive Mac start-up chime when he powers up, indicating that he probably runs on some form of Mac OS.
Everything aboard the Axiom and perhaps the exterior of the ship itself is indicative of this trope.
And as a rather cool bonus feature, AUTO (the autopilot) itself is voiced byMacInTalk (Apple's old text-to-speech software).
Films — Live-Action
The headquarters of Men In Black consists of featureless, rounded shapes, from the egg-shaped furniture to the oval viewscreens.
This is particularly amusing because the "Men In Black" organization is using technology built during the previous incarnation of this design style, the "space age" aesthetic of the early 1960s. It also shows up in A Clockwork Orange and the original Star Trek.
The 2009 Star Trek reboot has a Nokia system built into a vintage Cool Car. The new Enterprise itself is a mix of stylistic throwbacks but the general design seems a lot smoother than remembered. It helps that the plain white and minimalism of the old series adapts fairly well.
Nokia was enlisted to help design the communicators as well.
It's probably worth noting that the Apple.com splash screen when the second-gen aluminium iMac was released had a frame from that movie on the iMac's screen.
The first bridge set for the USS Excelsior used only in Star Trek III The Searchfor Spock is positively this style. Later variants of Excelsior-class bridges, including the Excelsior herself, were replaced with less minimalistic bridge sets later on.
The films artbook actually almost outlines this trope word for word. It also refers to how the designers wanted the titular guide to look like the previous generations iPod to the Heart of Gold's current gen model.
In Cube 2: Hypercube, instead of something out of hell with dark shadows, visible circuit boards, spinning doorlatches and rumbling elevators, the environment of the new tesseract cube is almost user-friendly with all white surfaces and touch-to-open panels.
The film I, Robot pulled this off in a Twenty Minutes into the Future setting. The latest line of robots are mostly plain, slightly transparent white, with visible blue and red lights, and very advanced (suspiciously so...). Even some of the other technology has a similar aesthetic; a security monitoring system consists of a thin strip of blue light.
The Work Pods and the interior of the Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey, made in 1968. This inspired the design of the iPod, hence the name. ("I'm sorry Dave, I can't play that...")
Samsung has attempted using 2001's tablet-like devices as Prior Art to Apple's iPad in a patent struggle.
Star Wars: This aesthetic style is very common, depending on the planet or area. High class has this aesthetics, low class has to settle for Used Future.
Kamino, the rainy planet with the extensive cloning facilities. The facilities are almost completely white and smoothly curved, although according to background material, the inhabitants' eyesight is adapted to a spectrum of light closer to the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, meaning that the environment looks varied to them.
Leia's ship that gets captured at the beginning of A New Hope.
TRON, a film that takes place inside of a computer, uses this aesthetic, partly because of the limited CG technology of the time, but mostly because everything is supposed to look sleek and virtual. The video game sequel, Tron 2.0, modernizes it slightly. The film sequel, TRON: Legacy, is actually an interesting subversion — when you consider that the OS that everyone uses was made by a hacker, it makes sense that all the computer use a Command Line Interface, making for something of a Linux future.
The control room for the Arena in The Hunger Gamesadaptation has an Apple-like aesthetic. All the Gamemakers' desks look basically like giant iPads.
Total Recall (2012) has lots and lots of touch screen technology to spare, while also mixing this with the darker, grittier style of traditional Cyber Punk.
The Bubble Ship from Oblivion (2013) in particular is a prime example, all sleek curves and shiny white surfaces.
The drones are really really pissed-off iPods.
The Chee in Animorphs are like this under their holograms-sleek ivory and steel androids that vaguely resemble two legged dogs. The Pemalite ship that powers them has a similiar look.
In the Time Scout series, the tech is mostly normal. The incredibly expensive technology used by the time scouts is basically a battered tin/plastic case. Their satchels are regular battered leather satchels. In other words, averted.
Hoffmann's offices in The Fear Index is described like this, where everything is sleek, clean and minimalistic.
The TARDIS in Doctor Who can be thought of as a version of this, in its original 1960s incarnation. The original set designer, Peter Brachacki, gave it a sterile white feel covered in a regular geometric pattern of circles with hints of neoclassical architecture to make it look "timeless", rather than making it deliberately futuristic. Due to the low budget the control console in the middle of the room was covered with conventional buttons, dials, levers and switches (Brachacki's original concept called for controls moulded specifically to the pilot's hands), but the sterile white roundel-covered walls became iconic and continue to inform the design of the current TARDIS sets nearly 50 years on. Amusingly, attempts by subsequent less visionary designers to make the TARDIS look deliberately futuristic (especially with the console design in the 1980s◊, which looked like a giant BBC Micro) dated at alarming speed.
That original circular design on the walls is a hugely-enlarged photo of a pill packet!
Star Trek: The Next Generation used iPad-like devices (called "PADDs") back in 1987. The goal was to save on the prop budget by using replaceable painted glass "touch screens" that could be updated to suit the plot, rather than designing a new machine with buttons and dials every time one was needed.
One would imagine that instructing the computer to replicate another PADD with this, that and the other thing pre-uploaded would be easier than doing it manually, given how easily the computer seems to be able to accurately interpret vague vocal commands as the plot demands. Plus a pile of them on the character's desk better conveys the impression of them being swamped with work from subordinates or deep in study. Bonus points for PADDs piled on top of books.
The most frequently shown data storage medium is the Isolinear Chip which looks quite a lot like a USB thumb drive or flash memory card.
The original series of Star Trek had so-called "data tapes" that looked and were used like the 3.5in floppy disks of the 80s and 90s...
Despite iCarly being something of a rip-off of the 'iPod Generation', the actual tech they used is completely opposite. The "Pear" Pods are literally shaped like pears, they're very colourful, and their laptops avert the typical white Macbook colour scheme. The Pear "Pad" is a massively exaggerated version of the iPad that's about as big as most common LCD computer monitors.
The computers in the video for Europa VII from La Oreja De Van Gogh, with a bit of Raygun Gothic mixed in for variety.
One of the aesthetics in Genius The Transgression is called "Pod People." The corebook mentions an editorial cartoon in a Genius-run magazine supposedly depicting the standard Pod People Death Ray: its description sounds like an iPod with its controls replaced by a single button labeled "KILL."
Traveller fits this to a T with illustrations of computers looking almost exactly like twenty-first century ones. Justifiable in that after you have miniaturized past a certain level user friendliness, fashion and aesthetics will become a premium. Maybe you can someday put several terrabytes into a datadisk the size of a dime but a human still needs to interface with it comfortably, so it is hard to picture computers designed to communicate directly with a human instead of just another computer being smaller then a palmtop without being inconvenient. Wristwatch-sized computers, "datacloths" which seem to be flexible paper-thin screens, and perhaps myriads of other arrangements are available. However one of the most popular arrangements in Traveller from pictures and discriptions seems to be something that looks rather like an Amazon Kindle.
Eclipse Phase has this, because any object not physically implanted or worn has to be usable by everything from ordinary humans to uplifted squid. As a result, everything is palm-sized, made of smooth cream-coloured plastic, lacks corners or sharp edges, and more than likely doesn't even have buttons, since you can operate most things mentally.
Portal: Aperture Science product design borrows heavily from Apple, especially with the turrets. In fact, one of the turrets from Portal was used to represent a Macintosh computer in a "Steam for Mac" ad, with a Team Fortress 2 Sentry representing the PC. Continued in the sequel Portal2.
The entire city of Esthar in Final Fantasy VIII looks like an iMac: everything has a sleek, rounded design and is built in translucent jewel colors, primarily sky blue, bright pink, and green.
The Gamecube game P.N.03 takes place mostly in a colony that employs the Mac design philosophy.
The shinier locales in Mass Effect, like Illium or the Citadel, tend towards smooth white walls and blue Holographic Terminals. Both of the Normandy ships also have a sleek, minimalist aesthetic in their interior.
Aeon technology in Supreme Commander is like this, in contrast to the utilitarian UEF look or the Cyberpunk Cybrans.
Putt-Putt Travels Through Time predicted the future would take place on Floating Continents, with teleportation being possible, having food makers for all living creatures, libraries where you could print your own stories, museums where calculators are ancient mathematics artifacts, and there is no such thing as money.
The Parasites from Gratuitous Space Battles. Their ships consist entirely of white metal hulls with brightly colored, transparent accents, and sleek weapons.
The near-future world of Lost Echo features this trope both in- and out-universe, since the game is made for iPod and iPad.
Simcity's expansion Cities of Tomorrow uses this design philosophy for its cleaner, more utopian structures. The dystopian ones are more gritty in design.
Winslow in Questionable Content is basically a very large, self-aware iPod with arms, legs and a video-screen "face", supposedly made by Apple. His PC and Linux-based counterparts have somewhat more physical faces that can change expression.
In A Mad Tea-Party, 200 years in the future, there are ipad-like things for breaking into cars and checking medical files on the internet.
Domain Tnemrot Tempest has a computer that looks and acts like an iPad. This is explained in the notes as most tech in the future being touch screen.
Ilivais X follows this design, with cities being futuristic bubbles held above the land, and the Humongous Mecha typically being very sleek and advanced. The Avespias are the only units to even have any kind face, as the Ilivais prototypes have curved wedges with a sensor web, and the Espadas are piloted from within a shoulder-mounted sphere.
Parodied in a Time Travel episode of SpongeBob SquarePants where everything in the future is chrome. They even have guys who drive around in vans spraypainting everything that's not already chrome.
Most design aesthetic today leans toward this. Generally, most people like their technology to be sleek, clean, and minimalist. Tesla's Model S, which is due for production in mid-2012 is designed around the popular iPod sentiment; it even has pulsing LEDs to indicate charging state and a 17" touchscreen console explicitly based on the iPhone's interface.
Bombardier Movia metro trains. Movia 346◊ model looks most like an iPod Classic from the outside, down to the combination of stainless steel and white panelling, and the inside◊ does not lag far behind.
The Wii itself seems to be going for this kind of aesthetic.
The Wii U takes it even further by ditching its predecessors' sharp edges in favor of rounded ones, and by having a touchscreen on the controller. Although it may be somewhat subverted now that the white model has been discontinued in favor of the black one.
The Nintendo DS series seem to be going for this look in◊ its◊ revisions. Subverted by the latest version of the Nintendo DS (the DSi XL), which is bigger and marketed for it! Though it has bigger screens for the vision- and motor-impaired, it still folds smaller than the original Game Boy.
Also compare the iPad, essentially an iPod touch with a screen that's twice as big in each direction but which may in fact be thinner. Or, as one critic wrote, a more powerful iPod Touch that can be used by people without the eyesight of an Air Force pilot.
Deliberately averted by Microsoft with their design philosophy called "Metro"note named for the signage used by mass transit systems, not metrosexuality. (supposedly) that was first used in the user interface for the Zune HD and later fully fleshed out in Windows Phone 7note although elements of it date back to the "twist" UI used in Windows Media Center 2005 and earlier generation Zunes which eschews glossy, rounded icons for decidedly flat, square tiles and heavy typography, along with off-centered alignments and text that runs off the screen in order to aid in navigation through contextual clues to reduce the amount of excess UI elements. It is about as un-Apple as they could get while still being visually distinctive and functional - which was the goal.
And now they are in the process of implementing the look across their entire product line ranging from the Xbox 360 Dashboard, to the next release of Windows.
Rather ironically, Apple started using the flat design elements rather than glassy/glossy ones for iOS 7. So while everything in the future may be an iPod, iPods themselves soon won't be.
Microsoft played it straight with their view of 2020.
Many of the exhibits at the Sony Wonder Tech Lab in Manhattan, New York are designed this way.
This is a common design for the new wave of trendy self-serve frozen yogurt shops that have been sweeping the US in the last few years.
The Logitech Solar Keyboard K750. The front is paneled in glossy black plastic, with low-profile chictlet keys, while the back is a huge piece of smooth white plastic. The edges are rounded and the whole keyboard is just a third of an inch thick - or about two pieces of cardboard stacked together. It is in fact just a wee bit thicker than an IKEA mousepad.
The "A Day Made of Glass" commercial by Corning. 5 minutes of life in a world where nearly everything is either translucent or reflective, which makes it more like Everything Is Windows Aero in the Future.
An early example was the Ford Sierra, when it first came out in 1982. It was the first of the Fords to sport the bulbous "aero look" and was so unique at the time, it was dubbed the "Salesman's Spaceship".
The Ford Taurus followed in 1985, and the makers of RoboCop (1987) were so impressed by the then-futuristic design that they purchased a fleet of Tauruses to use as police cars in the film.
The Westfield chain of gigantic shopping malls, in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand, to the point that rather than standing out for their design, the Apple stores in them completely blend in to their waves-of-curved-sheet-glass aesthetic.
Discovery thinks this trope here. It's a three parter about 2057, guess when this was made.