Tale of Two Iphones – A House Divided

Posted: September 14, 2013 in Smartphones
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let the class wars begin. In Charles Dickens popular novel, A Tale of Two Cities, we are presented with a powerful picture of the affects of the disparity between the classes. We see clearly how when there is one class that perceives itself above another, there is division and contention. With the introduction of the Iphone 5c alongside the flagship 5s Apple is giving birth to two classes of iphone users. Apple has a problem.

Branding is everything. Well if not everything then it is certainly hugely important to the perception and adoption of a product by the masses. Apple is the branding king.

Even in a reality where the Curpertino company offered a product that lacked many key features of the market leaders at the time of the introduction of the original iphone, Steve jobs made an undisputed case that the iPhone was an elite, game changing product that everyone that was anyone must have. Granted its form factor and UI were indeed revolutionary and supported many of Apples claims. It did, however, have some basic shortcomings such as no voice interaction, no mms messaging, no video recording, few apps and a few other missing capabilities that the likes of Windows Mobile(Microsoft’s mobile OS at the time) had been sporting.

Despite these shortcomings Apple developed and promoted a brand that communicated to the masses that if you have an iPhone you are in the in-crowd, the mobile toting upper crust. That image-that brand- desired by many, took hold. IPhones began appearing everywhere. The yearly release of the next iteration of this magical device is almost a holiday unto itself for the Apple faithful.

Apple has prided itself on ensuring that the iPhone itself reflects the sleek, elitist image the brand exudes. The aluminum glass casing, the almost imperceptible weight in hand, the modest presence an almost seamless extension of the users own appendages. The subtle, business ready colors. The introduction of the singular physical manifestation of the companies brand each year consistently reinforced, and reestablished the upper class branding of the iPhone. To posess the iPhone meant, according to Apples deliberate branding methodology, was to belong to the single group of smartphone owners who were part of an elite class, possessing the singular object of manufacturing beauty and luxury design. Yes the iPhones design exuded physically the image of the elitist branding Apple successfully established in the smartphone industry. Well, until now.

Branding is everything. Well if not everything then it is certainly hugely important to the perception and adoption of a product by the masses. The iPhone 5c is not the iPhone. Well its not the iPhone that Apple has established as a brand for the past seven years. The brand to which it has recruited millions of faithful acolytes who have envisioned themselves as part of the smartphone elite upper crust. The plastic colorful pastel body of the iPhone 5c is in sharp contrast to what Apple has branded as the sleek sophisticated modest design of the glass and aluminum iPhone. Is plastic or color inherently less high end? I would have to argue “no”. Just look at the exquisite unibody polycarbonate designs employed in Nokia’s Lumia phone flagship devices. They are built to high standards and branded and marketed as such.

Apple’s problem is with their branding of the iPhone over the years and their extolling the merits of their glass and aluminum design as superior and of higher quality than the competition. They have deliberately and proactively criticized the quality of smartphones designed that employ plastic. Yet they have now introduced, alongside their premium glass and aluminum flagship(the 5s), the iPhone 5c which in the words of Apple’s Jony Ives is “unapologetically plastic.” They are further branding the device as being of lower quality than their primary iPhone by communicating to the masses that this is their budget iPhone. A device for those who can’t afford the “real” iPhone. The branding king has stamped an image upon their devices of Premium and Budget.

This presents a problem for Apple. Owning an iPhone use to mean being singularly united under one Apple created banner, with all other iPhone owners, as possessing the device that gave access to the smartphone bearing upper crust. This is no longer true. Apple has created two classes of iPhone owners. The haves, those who can afford the “real” iPhone and the have not’s those who can only afford the less capable, playfully colorful budget model.

In previous years, last years iphone model continued to be offered as an older model of a premium device, now that older model is repackaged and re-branded, by the branding king, as a playfully, colorful budget device. If the cover is Apples branding, the plastic body and the pastel colors, then the iPhone 5c will be judged by its cover, and the 5c holders will be judged by their phone.

Yes it is true that the iPhone 5c internally is last years premium iPhone 5 in plastic and pastel pajamas. But again…branding. Apple via Tim Cook’s new duo identity approach is branding the iPhone 5c as a budget device and dressing it as such. And again Apple is the branding king. Though ironically the $99 and $199 price tags are only $100 cheaper than the premium units, the rebranding is problematic.

One may contend that the likes of Nokia with its Lumia line has employed the use of polycarbonate and distinct colors. Additionally one may proffer that Nokia/Microsoft offers devices across the spectrum, from the low end (Lumia 520) to their premium flagship devices(41 Megapixel Lumia 1020) sporting their touted single slab of durable polycarbonate which is inherently colored throughout reducing the occurrence and appearance of damage. If companies such as Nokia, whose device build and design quality is respected in the industry and among consumers, can use and promote polycarbonate plastic and colorful designs across varying price points without being ill-perceived, why can’t Apple?
Branding. Branding is everything. Well if not everything then it is certainly hugely important to the perception and adoption of a product by the masses. Nokia has branded their devices as possessing a high quality particularly because of the materials it uses. The company promotes the unibody polycarbonate design heavily and uses its deep brightly colored devices in television spots, and internet and print marketing to promote its flagship devices. Branding. Apple- the branding king has branded it’s plastic and colorful phone as it’s budget phone. Placed beside its aluminum silver, grey and gold flagship counterpart, the plastic pastel colored 5c is promoted as the lesser of the two.

For years Apple has had a laser focus on promoting a single premium brand image; yet this year the company has deviated from the course established by the hugely influential and successful Steve Jobs by now distracting from its well established brand by offering “the real iPhone” that is branded in our minds, and its cheaper to make plastic budget counterpart. Apple has created within its own ecosystem two classes. Something that existed previously only outside of its kingdom, through their successful branding, Apple has established a foundation within its own realm for the haves and the have not’s.

This new dichotomy will create a new dynamic within the iPhone carrying crowd. Those able to afford the premium 5s will of course belong to the elite group, while their less financially capable ostentatiously obvious compatriots, thanks to the bright colors of their particular brand of iphone, will belong to the smartphone peasantry. As we know people of course can be cruel. How long before we hear of teens enduring cracks about their “fisher price” iPhones slung at them by their aluminum and glass iPhone bearing peers. Or what exec would dare pull the Apple budget device, branded with it’s pastel coloring from his jacket pocket at the board meeting. Or how long before creative names such as “icheap”, or “icantafford” begin to surface in reference to the iPhone 5c class? It won’t be long before associations such as “toy phone” or “fisher price” phone begin to emerge, particularly due to the pastel coloring combined with Apples deliberate budget branding. Supported by the fact that it will likely be the younger less affluent demographic in markets like the US, that the 5c will be more popular among, the image of the youthful less sophisticated, less financially capable will be reinforced. As we all know, it will likely also be among this group where scenarios where failure to wear the name brand sneakers, or jeans ostracizes you, that the “real iPhone carrying” class will exercise their voice to ensure that their pastel pimping peers recognize their lesser status.
It may take some time, but this new dynamic within the Apple ecosystem, created by its current duo identity will slowly erode its brand. Tim Cook will have done within Apple what Samsung and Microsoft/Nokia, through innovation, have been slowly doing from without. With Apples new duo identity it will no longer bear the singular elitist image. As the Bastille was stormed in the Tale of Two Cities, effectively destroying the elite aristocracy by the lower class peasentry; Apples new duo class system will destroy its elitest image and erode the brand that has been established. With the image gone the faithful who prided themselves in bearing the Apple label will find that that quality image has disappated. And of course to many image is everything.

Without the branding and image as a strong enticement it will be more challenging for Apple to maintain a committed audience willing to forego technological advancements in the highly competitive arena where other companies have in reality surpassed Apple in certain areas, such as Nokia with mobile photography and super-sensitive screens and Samsung with its eye tracking and touchless interaction.

It may not happen over night, but the divergent roads that Apple has embarked upon will undoubtedly erode its brand.
It is almost certain that Steve Jobs would never have endorsed this course.
In a post Steve Jobs Apple, a Tim Cook Apple, we now have two classes of iPhone users. And as the scripture says a house divided…well you know the rest.

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Comments
  1. […] Tale of Two Iphones – A House Divided. […]

  2. lol says:

    Its still only one class. The class of the overcharged clan. Apple is heading in the same direction Nokia did when they became a not in device, Unless they come up with something that’s actually unique and innovative. Its sad to, Nokia in my opinion has always been and still is the most innovative brand.

    • jlword says:

      Thanks for the comment. And I agree that Nokia is a very innovative company particularly in the area of design and photography, but additionally in the area of location software with their HERE brand.

  3. zato says:

    “Despite these shortcomings Apple developed and promoted a brand that communicated to the masses that if you have an iPhone you are in the in-crowd, the mobile toting upper crust.”

    Only losers and hater/creeps say egoistic crap like that.

  4. This blog entry is simply ridiculous! First of all, you give way too much credit to this so called “elite” that is supposedly represented by the iPhone. Your tone throughout was dripping with clear disdain for Apple’s “image” and it’s followers. I don’t know who you hang around, but most people I know that own iPhones use their phones like anyone else and I’ve never once seen or hear them criticize other people for having Android or Windows based phones.

    This part especially made me laugh: “For years Apple has had a laser focus on promoting a single premium brand image; yet this year the company has deviated from the course established by the hugely influential and successful Steve Jobs by now distracting from its well established brand by offering “the real iPhone” that is branded in our minds, and its cheaper to make plastic budget counterpart. Apple has created within its own ecosystem two classes. Something that existed previously only outside of its kingdom, through their successful branding, Apple has established a foundation within its own realm for the haves and the have not’s.”

    You do realize that for years Apple has been following the business model of: Flagship product alongside budget version of said flagship. For example, the iPod. The iPod mini was released to satisfy consumers with less cash (younger people mostly), and was addressed by using eye-popping colors and a smaller size. It was the young and colorful version of the “luxury” product that was the iPod. Then there was the iPod Shuffle which was even cheaper!

    Another example: the iBook vs Powerbook. Pretty much the iBook was the budget version of the Powerbook. The trend goes even further with the current Macbook Pro vs Macbook. Premium versions existing beside entry-level versions peacefully.

    Those were all products created under Steve Jobs, so to say that Apple’s current business model for the iPhone is some radical shift from what Jobs did is ludicrous! Above all else though, why even feed into this stupid ‘the iPhone is a status symbol’ bullshit that is used each and every year to counter the fact that the phone actually is a great device in its own right? And even if this class system exists I can’t for the life of me see how it hurts the Apple brand in the end when they still are able to sell the iPhone 5S as a premium, flagship device. The logic behind blogs like this remind me of the uproar over the iPhone finally being available on all major carriers because the mystique of being “exclusive” was suddenly gone, as if the iPhone’s image is the only thing it’s got going for it.

    • jlword says:

      Thanks for you response RayzerDanger. An assessment of Apple’s branding strategy in relation to their iphone brand is of course of great interest to many.

      Your astute examples regarding Apples business model in relation to it’s other products such as the iPod and iPod mini and the iBook vs the Powerbook are noted. Which of course are products that were launched under Steve Jobs tenure. However despite Job’s application of that particular business model in relation to those products, it is noteworthy that a man known for his meticulous attention to detail, his incredible foresight, his unwavering control of all levels of a product from concept, design, manufacturing/production and marketing and a man who has been esteemed for TELLING the consumer what they want and then providing it to them with much carisma and fanfare, NEVER took the opportunity to apply the business model applied to those other products(iPod, iBook, macbook) to the one device that changed the industry in a way that no other ever has, a device that he was highly invested in, and the singular product that became Apples greatest producer if revenue and profits, and is it’s MOST recognized branded product around the world.

      Surely given the time to conceptualize, create a business plan, and design a product the Apple team MUST, have presented the idea of a lower cost/lower to produce phone to device to Steve Jobs while he was alive. Given Androids success in the low end market, the topic most CERTAINLY must have been presented multiple times during Apple leadership and Planning sessions while Jobs was alive. Yet he never sanctioned a lower cost, new device to be launched along the high end device that had changed the industry, solidified a particular brand image, and become the primary revenue producer for Apple.

      A man of his,Steve Jobs, particular vision,unwavering meticulous attention to detail, incredible foresight, and an ability to tell the consumer what they want and then deliver to wide acclaim NEVER gave the introduction of a lower cost product such as the 5c along with the premium iPhone, the green light, should give pause to anyone who would give such a project the go ahead. It is a gamble with the brand.

      I’ve included a link to an article about a company called Burberry who did what Apple is now doing with disastrous affects to it’s brand.
      Through strong leadership after Burberrys failure there was a recovery-but the change in its model hurt their brand for some time.

      It is ironic that the 5c is being outsold by the 5s more than 2 to 1 and Burberrys CEO,Angela Ahrendts, the woman credited for saving Burberry’s brand just left Burberry(announced today 10/15/13) to oversee Apple Stores.

      Quick note: I would like to add that the iPhone certainly has more going for it than the brand, as noted in the article its design is superb and of course there is a powerful first and third party ecosystem. But the topic of the article is focused on the established brand and the potential affects of this new direction of the company in regards to the iPhone under Tim Cook.
      Burberry Branding Comparison to Apple
      http://m.techcrunch.com/2013/09/22/iphone-5cheap/?p=1&icid=art_prev

      5s Outselling 5c
      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/15/goldflavoured_iphone_5s_selling_twice_as_many_as_5c/

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