Will the new iPhone be another example of a fizzling Apple Brand?

Jason Dooris ponders how long Apple can remain dominant in a market it’s no longer pushing forward.

jason dooris headshotApple is having one of its legendary to-dos this week, where gadgets like the iPhone 8 and the Apple Watch 3, are set to be unveiled. But have the quantum-leap innovations that once defined the brand been relegated to the bottom of the company’s list of priorities, in place of a solid financial strategy that might work in the mid-term but simply heaps Apple into the pile of ‘just another tech company’?

It seems Apple has fallen into the trap of becoming another ‘business’, instead of an untouchable ‘brand’.

As a brand, Apple was the master of invention, the out-of-this-world force for inspiration led by a tyrannical, larger-than-life genius who brought us the game-changing iPhone in the midst of the GFC.

As a business, Apple is an undisputed money-making machine, but it’s just another technology business in a world that is brimming with tech startups aching to take the crown.

Yes, Apple remains dominant. But if it continues to stand for vanilla updates and lacklustre tech that does nothing to overshadow its competitors, how can the business expect to maintain this position? As a bellwether company that anyone in business should be keeping a very close eye on, Apple’s is a poignant story about the lifecycle of brand-led businesses.

For any company that has built its stronghold around marketing and developing a stratospheric brand, ‘the brand’ should be priority number one. It underpins success in all other facets of the business. This is something Steve Jobs was acutely aware of, and it’s a lesson Tim Cook – or any leader of a consumer facing business for that matter – should be heeding closely.

 

Lacklustre tech, lacklustre brand

It’s probably a statement of just how far we’ve come since Steve Jobs announced the first ever iPhone in January 2007, the fact 10 years of progress now barely elicits any excitement from formerly agape crowds the planet over.

The reveal made on that particular day changed the world and set the tone for a brand that was defined by game-changing ideas, but it’s felt like ever since, we’ve just had a series of incremental updates, none of which are quite enough get an impartial crowd fizzing with excitement, and all of which appear to be directed by short term financial imperatives.

The Apple fanboys and fangirls will still line up outside the George Street Apple store excitedly awaiting the launch this week, but what about the rest of us?

We need only look at what’s rumoured to be unveiled on 12 September for proof.

We’re awaiting the release of the iPhone 8, which is rumoured to have such updates as facial recognition technology and wireless charging, which Samsung owners will quietly be sniggering about – ‘that’s new to you?’

There’s also talk of an OLED display that will use slightly less battery and show true black. Better battery and slightly darker black? At which of those reveals do you think the audience sitting in the Steve Jobs Auditorium will swoon?

 

Living in the dragon’s shadow

There is no discussing the fading excitement surrounding Apple’s increasingly vanilla brand proposition without referring to the company’s bombastic former CEO. In every way, the Apple brand was synonymous with Steve Jobs.

The glasses, the turtleneck, the jeans and joggers – the only thing that was more famous than the man’s sense of style was his legendary temper.

Speaking on the Rich Dad Radio Show, former Apple employee Guy Kawasaki said of Jobs, “Every story, book, movie, magazine article – everything you’ve heard about Steve Jobs is true. He was very hard to deal with. He ruled absolutely by fear.”

However, Kawasaki also said that the fear made him perform “at a much higher level”.

While it didn’t win him any friends within the company, Jobs’ obsession with details and his fanaticism bled into the Apple brand and its ‘Think different’ mantra. This was a brand that only stood for the best, because Jobs demanded it. It was a brand that spawned fanatical fans, because Jobs himself was a fanatic.

This illustrates the difference between Jobs and Cook.

The current CEO is far more measured in his approach to his work, his employees, and his public persona.

Under Cook’s leadership, Apple’s market value topped the $US800 billion mark in May this year. Analysts suggested he had moved away from Jobs’ often manic focus on the minutiae toward a more holistic approach.

Bloomberg noted that when Cook took over in 2010, Apple had 14 core products, whereas in 2017 that had almost doubled to 27 products.

“There was a concern with the reliance on one product, but they’ve been able to find ways that aren’t necessarily innovative to continue to sustain growth,” said BTIG analyst Walt Piecyk.

However, while a move away from Jobs’ obsessive focus on the particulars might be good for the bottom line, it has been at the cost of the Apple brand, the brand that once stood for ground-breaking innovation and now settles for short term financial wins.

 

Growth without innovation

While the general public may not be fawning over the Apple brand anymore, this likely doesn’t bother shareholders or the board. Cook has overseen consistent market share and sustained growth. But how long can you continue to dominate a market you aren’t pushing forward?

Corporate history is littered with the corpses of companies that rested upon their laurels, only to be decimated by that most deadly of enemy: the one they didn’t see coming. Apple need only reflect on the state of the mobile market in 2007, when Nokia was the undisputed king. Now the Finnish company is a shell of its former self because it didn’t innovate.

When you think of the history of Apple, you don’t think of clever acquisitions or achievable growth.

Apple’s history is told by a series of keynote addresses at global unveilings. By Steve saying, “One more thing”, to raucous screams, as he finally reveals what everyone actually turned up to see. Apple’s story is intricately intertwined with its brand. And that brand is fading.

Under Cook, Jobs’ most famous catchphrase has gone by the wayside, seemingly along with his relentless pursuit of making one thing really well, rather than several things pretty well.

To say that Apple is in trouble, or even under pressure, is a ridiculous statement, but if Tim Cook just keeps them plodding along, making incremental updates, with little to no focus on the core brand values that Jobs himself embodied, then Apple will become the Nokia of tomorrow.

Any leader of a consumer-facing business who is considering short-term financial gain over long-term brand prosperity should keep a keen eye on the fortunes of Apple in the coming decade. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong, but if Apple continues to dilute its brand, I’d wager a fall from its zenith will follow.

 

 

Image copyright: pzaxe / 123RF Stock Photo

  • Kai Lebens

    What a great little article. Thanks Jason.

  • troymuir

    Perhaps you should wager, short some Apple stock over the next 10 years and see how that’s works for you.
    Apple has never been the first to any new specific tech advances: not smartphones, tablets, music players or even home computers. It’s in their blending of killer execution with branding that wins. And a very smart business model around creating marketplaces or platforms.

  • Ken Foster

    Jason Dooris please stop pondering, you are wasting valuable bandwidth and thinking time. Nothing in your article provides any evidence of Apple fading. Commentators like yourself have been wagering Apple’s downfall since the company began and where has that got them.