Friday, July 13, 2007

Worm in the Apple?

In iPhone, the company that gave us iPod may have to contend with technology being a great leveller of reputation

I never jumped on to the iPod bandwagon. Let me assure you, I was probably the only person in Montreal not bouncing along the streets plugged into an iPod, exchanging a knowing nod with fellow Macaholics as I crossed them on the street. But that didn’t make me miss out on the phenomenon that is the iPod — the product that is poised for an elevated place in the technology hall of fame (if there is such a place). It isn’t really surprising —Mac was always considered the cooler (richer) cousin of the PC, so any product Apple Inc. came up with just had to be slicker than the rest.

Apple managed to ride the cool wave for a long time. Very intelligent and perceptive marketing is the backbone to an already impressive product — ‘Think Different,’ Apple urged us and then told us how, with the ‘Switch’ campaign that followed. The computer offered software that allowed people like you and me to produce movies, music, websites, whose quality could rival big production houses. The iPod offered new ways of organising and transferring music— and everyone wondered how they ever did without it!

But now we are faced with the iPhone. Can it bring about a similar (global) Mac attack? Let’s go step by step.

Why would you buy an iPhone? (As opposed to simply salivating at the thought of owning one.) It’s the first phone that does not extend its software to accommodate extra features (for example, a music player) but instead it essentially condenses an entire operating system into a phone — a mini Mac, if you will. Its real feature, then, lies in applications that have not been introduced as yet. This means that you can do virtually anything with it, with features far beyond what a Blackberry offers.

But there is a small glitch. At the moment the iPhone has tied up to a single network provider in the US — Cingular — and it only allows Apple software to operate on the iPhone. This will have to change — Apple made the right decision in the 1990s when it tied up with Intel and embraced Microsoft software for Mac, instantly expanding its customer base. Now, it needs to differentiate its product from the many, many cell phones in the market. And the challenge is the same. It needs to enable consumers to play around with the product instead of being limited by it.

So will Apple’s unique branding work for iPhone? Apple’s success has rested on its image as an alternative to the system. But with the iPhone and Apple TV, uniqueness is lost. Cheaper cousins of iPhone are certainly going to crop up. News reports already talk of the initial sales boom slowing down.

We, the global community of consumers, are spoilt for choice. We are constantly adopting technology we really don’t need — simply because we can! And no doubt, the iPhone wants to ride this wave. But will we bite?

Outside of selling itself as the hippest, edgiest version of any product out there, there are some practical steps Apple should take to advance its consumer base — firstly, improve its customer service because at the moment the company is notorious for being difficult about repairing its products. But more importantly, like it did when it released the iPod nano, it needs to come up with an iPhone for the budget shopper — or a person like me — who just needs a phone, but not necessarily one with a global mapping system.

This is the crux of the matter. Apple is now in the mass-producing world of consumer electronics, and unless it wants to remain a high-end luxury product service, its strategy needs to be revised. The iPhone media hype was a freebie. It’s almost a guarantee that when the Apple TV is launched, there will be no overnight queue waiting impatiently for the moment they can plug in their newest idiot box.

Technology can be a great leveller. Apple will have to ensure it doesn’t fall too far from the (consumer) tree.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apple has just announced lower priced iPods