Apple's Blowout Launch Weekend Wasn't About the Phones
Smartphone buyers are not looking at an iPhone 5s in one hand and a Samsung Galaxy Something Something in the other hand, checking off a list of specs to compare. When they see the iPhone 5c, they don't see just a color, they see all that it represents -- a whole integrated Apple ecosystem. Apple Retail Stores, iTunes and App Stores have permeated their consciousness.
After Apple topped analyst expectations by selling more than 9 million iPhones in its opening launch weekend, it didn't take long for the Apple haters and naysayers to scramble for some negative spin: iPhone buyers are just cult fanatics or iRobots, destined to buy the latest incremental update again and again until the rest of the world wakes up and realizes that Apple is just another fading tech company with no real innovation left.
I'm not pointing out a few of the more asinine of these articles because I can't bear to reward the authors with any additional clicks.
All this got me thinking: The new iPhone 5s and 5c are both innovative and incremental. The 5c is basically last year's iPhone 5 in a new plastic case of many colors. Sure it's tough and durable, but the form factor really is familiar. Same goes for the iPhone 5s -- the insides boast a 64-bit processor, which is pretty amazing work ahead of industry expectations, but most consumers don't care. As for the TouchID fingerprint recognition, it's pretty cool, but not 9 million units cool -- and a gold color doesn't deliver 9 million units, either.
So, are Apple iPhone buyers just brainwashed fanatics, ready to buy and rebuy the same old thing in record-breaking numbers?
No. The answer is no. Why then, does Apple manage to get 9 million people to jump right into a new iPhone 5c or 5s on launch weekend? There are some iPhone 4 and 4s upgraders, no doubt, but I think there's a lot more to it than just a device, a new smartphone.
It's Not About the Smartphone, Stupid
That's the rub of it, really. When Apple rolls out a new iPhone, the tech press and analysts and bloggers all start looking at it as if it were just a device, a smartphone, as if the sum of the iPhone 5s experience were all about the hardware device itself. As if the screen size mattered, as if the fingerprint sensor mattered, as if the camera mattered -- as if all these discrete elements of the device were enough to add up to adoration and buying action.
It sort of is -- but it doesn't pull 9 million buyers on launch day. I believe there are three factors that Samsung's iPhone line-spies won't ever notice: Apple Retail Stores; iTunes; and the App Store. Together, they comprise the Apple ecosystem.
Whenever a non-iPhone or a non-Mac friend or acquaintance asks me for some buying advice, I start with the price and acknowledge the generally -- but not always -- higher cost of acquisition. I talk about the discrete value propositions of the device, like the lightweight MacBook Air and long battery life, or even the quality of the hardware itself.
Next, I talk about Apple Retail Stores, which are actually Steve Jobs' greatest invention. If you have a problem, you can drop in and get it fixed. If your dog chews a power cord, no problem -- you can find another one quickly. Apple cares about customer service, and it has real employees who usually try to keep you insanely happy.
Then I talk about iTunes, and everyone knows about iTunes. I point out that you can manage your music, TV shows and movies easily. iTunes works on PCs too, and it just streamlines your media management so you don't have to think much about it. Just listen. Just view. Just rent or buy.
Last of all, I point out the iTunes App Store, if not the Mac App Store, and simply say that all the greatest apps you need -- aside from fancy customization apps -- are available in the App Store. You can download them easily, back them up, re-download them -- whatever. While you can do that elsewhere, it's way easier with Apple. Your grandmother can do it.
Permeates Consumer Consciousness
I believe that these three things -- Apple Retail Stores, iTunes and App Stores -- have permeated the consciousness of smartphone buyers, so much so that it becomes a background element of their decision-making process.
They are not looking at an iPhone 5s in one hand and a Samsung Galaxy Something Something in the other hand, checking off a list of specs to compare. When they see the iPhone 5c, they don't see just a color, they see all that it represents -- a whole integrated Apple ecosystem.
So it seems silly to pundits and critics who forget that iPhone consumers aren't just buying a new device -- they're buying a whole convenient, well-thought-out integrated system of consumer engagement. This is the hazy stuff that affects buying decisions, and it's real. It's why people line up days in advance and why Apple can pull off 9 million sales in a weekend with "incremental" iPhones.