A few years ago in early 2013, I had a discussion with one of my MBA professors at Hult. We were both agreeing on the fact that Apple’s innovation pipeline is drying up – especially after the death of its visionary leader, Steve Jobs. I don’t know exactly what he meant but for my part, I was referring to Apple’s innovation pipeline in terms of its iOS and that users will eventually get tired of it. I was an Apple fangirl – having converted to Mac OS in 2005 when the cult of Mac was reaching the masses. I had a MacBook Pro (still do), an iPad and the iPhone 4S. I’ve been holding on to my iPhone 4s and was looking forward to the launch of the iPhone 5.
The launch came in September 2012 and it was such a disappointment in so many ways – both in hardware and in software. The screen, which was supposed to be bigger in the face of rising competition from Samsung’s bigger devices, was bigger but far from satisfying. The iOS was faster but there was just nothing more remarkable about it. I switched to Google’s Nexus right after that, betting on the Android platform. It was frustrating at first, the interface was not as intuitive and it did crash on me a few times. But once I got over that, I was able to do a lot more on my phone – I was no longer constrained by Apple’s walled garden.
However, I underestimated a few things: the ongoing marketing genius of Apple, the loyalty of Apple fans, and the devices’ easy, intuitive interface.
This is probably most apparent in the launch of the Apple Watch. As I watched Apple’s live event on Monday, despite knowing what I know, I was almost swayed by the blitz. The phrase – “in a way that has never been done before” – almost got to me. Every. Single. Time. In some instances, it was true (eg. being able to call and receive calls via the watch) but in a lot of cases, it was just not true. The most egregious is by implying that the Apple Watch is the first of its kind. I can imagine the Pebble Watch and the Android Wear teams groaning and hurling epithets on their screens.
Early reviews are mixed. Negative reviews in general point to a lack of a compelling use case for the watch. Furthermore, there does seem something douche-baggy about the Apple Watch Gold Edition, which starts at $10,000. It also says, “mug me.” But, in the end, do these negative reviews really matter? It’s not like conspicuous consumption is so out of fashion as to render the Ferraris and Hermés of this world out of business. It’s just another in a long line of status symbols.
As for a use case*, I have argued here that people will still buy the watch. Marketers call it the “halo effect”. In this case, potential buyers who already own an iPhone and who happen to like the experience, will most likely buy the Apple Watch. Furthermore, the Apple Watch can even be a gateway product – if you want to buy one, you will need to get the iPhone 6/Plus as well. It’s actually great – if you’re interested in wearables, you get the Apple Watch + iPhone 6 and if you have the iPhone 6, you’re going to be very curious about that Apple Watch.
The loyalty of Apple fans
It is so hard to believe now, but seeing an Apple product was like seeing a unicorn. Apple’s market share in consumer electronics was so marginal that one had to search wide to find someone owning an Apple computer. In the Philippines, they were practically non-existent in the 80s, 90s and even early 2000s. My first introduction was a desktop Macintosh – the interface of which was so foreign to me but the owner’s enthusiasm stayed with me. It was this encounter that guided my decision to buy my first MacBook.
It is such Apple owners’ enthusiasm that is perhaps the most compelling. Apple may have the marketing genius but it is the company’s ability to recognize customers as marketing evangelists that continues to fuel Apple products adoption. A 2014 survey among 2,000 iPhone users found 60% of respondents to having “blind loyalty” to Apple. Call them iSheep if you will but that loyalty has translated to healthy profits for the company and a rise in smartphone market share.
Easy and intuitive interface
My sister is not the most technologically savvy of electronics users. More than that, she has a healthy suspicion for expensive and fancy-schmancy devices. And yet, a few years ago, she finally got herself an iPhone and an iPad. She will likely upgrade to yet another iPhone/iPad soon. I mention this because the laggards in smartphone adoption – the holdouts and the older generation – simply find Apple’s mobile devices easier to navigate than Android’s. Even my 1 year old daughter has a much better time understanding Apple’s home button than my Nexus’ side home button. To be fair, that “home button” is patented so even if its utility has been proven, no other company can copy it even if they want to.
(Side note: One of the things that confused me about the Android OS when I first used it was: “Where are my apps?” On iOS, all the installed apps are at the “home” screen, even if that turns out to be several “pages” of “home.” On Android, there’s the home screen where (other than Google’s or the manufacturer’s default apps) you manually add your apps. Then there’s “all the other apps” that you can access by clicking sort of above the “home” button on the glass interface. I find that even hard to explain. Needless to say, the Android interface is definitely not for those who don’t want to spend time learning it.)
Furthermore, Apple devices simply have a much better camera than Android phones. This is actually not always a question of hardware. Most of the time, it’s just that Apple focused on relatively quick access, understanding that users just want something that will literally point and shoot. They focused on that first, sacrificing photo quality over speed. And then, they came up to speed with the hardware part. Now, the iPhone 6/Plus are on par with other phones in terms of image quality. I want to echo this article’s point and also fervently say:
I don’t want an iPhone, but dammit, I want the effortlessness of the iPhone’s camera
And with all the sharing happening on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Meerkat, etc., the quick and effortless composition of pictures and videos could be the driving force for a smartphone purchase.
Although, it is yet to be determined whether the Apple Watch and it’s newly-patented “crown” have the same ease of use as the iPhone/iPad, brand loyalty and marketing will definitely propel Apple Watch way ahead of the competition. Despite the initial protests, people who happen to be Apple users and who pride themselves on being early adopters, will buy the Apple Watch. They will become the watch’s evangelists and the cycle begins yet again for the profit machine that is Apple.
*By the way, there was not much use case for the first iPhone either. There weren’t that many apps, Internet browsing was so slow and for that price, who really needed it? Yet, look where we are now.