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Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Of iPhones, Apple and Branding

In REACH News, Trends on July 2, 2010 at 10:01 pm

I held off as long as I could, but I had to to it. Here it finally is … THE iPHONE RANT!

I am among the millions of Americans who have invested large parts of their lives into the hunt for the ever-elusive iPhone 4. My journey toward wireless phone nirvana has been a long and treacherous one filled with clamshells and candy bars, Missing Sync and eternal contracts. Fully four years after the release of the first iPhone, I was finally in the perfect position to bag one. My Verizon contract expired in May; the new release was due in June. I was as giddy as a geek at WWDC. Little did I know my quest was far from over and I would have to endure retail travails not seen since Tickle Me Elmo before I could pierce the Apple veil and lay hold of the sacred circuitry.

I won’t detail all of those hardships because to do so would produce a tome worthy of Tolkien and probably crash WordPress servers. But I will mention that it would have been handy for Apple to let people know that Family Talk plans cannot be ordered via their website. And to the manager of the Southlake Apple store who sought to reassure all 200 of us by saying that his team had almost gotten the duration of each transaction down to seven minutes: Sorry man. You looked cool in your cargo manpris. But we were not reassured.

All of this has got me thinking (and now writing) about Apple, iPhone, Steve Jobs and Just Bieber. And I’ve come to the following conclusions about the (now) most valuable technology company in the world.

1. Apple: if they weren’t so dang good, they’d be bad.

Apple is on the verge of making a classic branding blunder and the only thing, in my opinion, keeping them from shooting themselves in the PR foot is that they’re so good at what they do. The problem is, they’re losing sight of what they do.

Five years ago, if you had asked any random man on the street (henceforth to be referred to as “Streetman“) what Apple does, he would have said, “Oh, they make iPods.”

Ten years ago, Streetman would have said, “Apple? You mean like IIe? Yeah, we had those in school. I dunno.”

Twenty years ago, Streetman would have said, “They make computers.”

Today, Streetman might say, “They make and sell gadgets.”

The devilish detail Streetman has given us is not in the ever-shifting Apple product line. It’s in the subtle insertion of the words “and sell.”

(Thank you Streetman. You may put your unmistakable white earphones back in now and continue on your way.)

I understand the reasons Apple decided to get into the retail business a few years ago. Namely, no one wanted to sell their stuff and no one who did sell their stuff could answer questions about it. But now that Apple has seemed to clear those hurdles, I think staying in the retail business only hurts them. After all, what can you do at an Apple store that you can’t do at other stores? (Save for getting ideas for where to get your next body piercing.)

We spoke in the last post about a company’s heart. Apple is not a retail company at heart. At heart, they are a technology company. By launching into the retail marketplace, and then Bogarting product launches to the point of overwhelming themselves, they are moving dangerously close to messing up the heart of their business.

Apple makes the best consumer electronics in the world. They should stick with that. They don’t make the best retail machine in the world. Wal-Mart has that one cornered.

Now, I am not one to just point out problems without offering solutions. Here’s my solution: Apple would be wise to seek out the best retail partner to help them with sales and delivery. A big one. One with a stellar logistics machine. One that can handle product launches with 1.7 million sales the first weekend. After all, the best of both worlds would be to purchase the best product in its class (iPhone) from the best store in its class (Best Buy?).

2. Steve Jobs: has just taken a bite of hot chili

My high school ag teacher (yes, I went to a school with an “ag” class) used to say that certain mistakes were like taking a bite of hot chili: whatever you do next is wrong. Jobs has backed himself into a similar corner. Based on the blundered release of iPhone 4 (not to mention the “just don’t hold it that way” issue), I see only three possibilities:

  1. Stevo and his friends are enormously humble. “Oh, we had no idea so many people would like what we make. I mean, we just do it for the love of the game. We weren’t really expecting people to line up like that to buy this stuff. We’re humbled and thankful.”
  2. Steve and company are enormously short-sighted. Maybe they rushed the launch? Maybe they had production delays they didn’t want to make public? For whatever reason, they might have just decided, “Meh, we’re going to sell out and make people wait, but who cares? We’ll be alright.”
  3. They are incompetent at retail. A friend of mine tried gamely to come to Apple’s defense in this iPhone4 bungle by saying, “Can you imagine what would happen if millions of people started lining up at Office Depot to buy toner? They’d sell out too.” I think a lot of Apple defenders take this view. But the effective rebuttal is obvious. If Office Depot had four years to figure out their toner supply chain, I guarantee they would figure out a way to stock enough, sell enough, and deliver enough so that people weren’t asked to order online and wait three weeks for shipping. The difference, of course, is that Office Depot has to compete with other stores who carry toner. Apple can afford to be laissez faire about sales because no one can compete with their product. And by hoarding the launch for a week, they ensured that no one was allowed to compete with their stores.

I guess the bottom line is that they flubbed up, but they can afford to. I and millions like me are sticking with them because for all of the headache involved in the delivery of their product, I’d rather endure the headache to get a phone and then enjoy it than get a phone easily with a BOGO coupon and then spend the next two years screaming at it. That’s why I paid more for the Mac I’m using to write this. It’s why I’ll wait two weeks for an iPhone.

If you’re waiting with me for you online order to arrive in seven to 10 business days, may the force be with you.