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.