By: Tatiana G. King
A company’s device launch wouldn’t be much without the traditional lambasting from its competitors. So, both during and after the Samsung Galaxy S4 device launch, I noted all the companies that made it a point to sass Samsung in some way. LG probably had the most hilariously pedestrian response by placing an electronic billboard in Times Square to mimic the Samsung billboard directly below it. They made sure the signs were bigger and brighter than the Samsung ones to draw as much attention away as possible. In fact it was a perfect troll. I was at Times Square for the public Samsung Unpacked showcase and experienced the LG wisecracks in person; noticing that the messages on the LG billboard were updating as the event progressed. The LG billboard text morphed from “LG Optimus G is here 4 you now”, to something along the lines of “LG Optimus G, The Best Is Here 4 You”. Which, non-coincidentally, is a riff on Samsung’s slogan for the S4 launch (which is technically a take on Apple’s usual tagline for the iPhone releases– ‘swipers be swiping’, I guess.):
A day before the Samsung event, Apple’s Phil Schiller, Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, denounced Samsung’s new device and its use of Android; touting that the OS is a “year old operating system that will need updating” as well as mentioning internal research that suggested people switch to iOS from Android four times as much than the other way around. I can tell you right now that the former declaration is only half true as the S4 is shipping with Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), which is the latest version of Android. The next day Apple released a “Why iPhone” web page in an effort draw attention away from competitors. While the page follows the usual Apple formula of clean design and passive aggressive jabs, I believe the page is both a failure and a weak attempt against Samsung and others.
For one Apple has had a history of not directly responding to the competitors in advertisements. While, to a degree, the same can be said for the Apple’s new web page (no names are named), it was only released after the launch S4 launch event and after Paul Schiller clumsily spoke out against Android and Samsung; so logically it’s a direct slam against those competitors. ‘Why iPhone’ is a complete defensive move and shows that Apple’s nerves are unraveling. For a time, Apple has given off the attitude that its competitors are generally beneath them and that rival devices could never match up to the iPhone. There was an unspoken smugness that Apple gave off that suggested that the iPhone was untouchable. Basically, Apple believed in their own legend. Oddly though, now the narrative seems to be changing as a result of the pace of other companies and of the mobile device market share being ceded. And that’s a problem.
Unfortunately for Apple, many of the claims on the Why iPhone page aren’t even essentially true or useful anymore. One part of the page mentions the Retina display as being exclusively Apple. Well, from a branding standpoint yes, the “Retina Display” is for Apple products only. But “Retina Display” merely refers to a screen with a pixel density high enough that the human eye cannot distinguish individual pixels (which are those teeny boxy things you normally see on lower resolution screens when you stare at it long enough). The iPhone 5 Retina Display screen has 326 ppi. According to the late Steve Jobs, a retina display starts at about 300 ppi. However, competitors have long trumped the “magic number“. For example, the HTC One yields 468 ppi and the Galaxy S4 comes in at 441 ppi. In the grand scheme of things after you’re well above the 300 ppi ‘standard’, there is no noticeable benefit to the human eye in higher ppi. Benefits come with greater resolution in conjunction with advanced screen technology (i.e. IPS vs. AMOLED), efficiency of such technology to produce sharp and vivid visuals, and (maybe most importantly) how apps are properly scaled to take advantage of these screens. Regardless if it’s 400, 500, or otherwise, ppi count is now a full blown marketing tool.
Another major point that bothered me on the ‘Why iPhone’ page was the assertion that the inclusion of LTE somehow made the iPhone 5 more special. Other mobile devices from various manufacturers have had incorporated an LTE radio in their phones for years (if you’re a Verizon customer you probably more acutely aware of this). It was only with the launch of the iPhone 5 in September 2012 that Apple even embraced LTE. So I am not exactly sure how any of these talking points was deemed worthy of being weaponized.
Many of the entries on the Why iPhone page can be debated a number of ways but my problem isn’t with the claims themselves. It is with the manner in which they are presented. The page starts of with:
“What makes an iPhone unlike anything else? Maybe it’s that it lets you do so many things. Or that it lets you do so many things so easily. Those are two reasons iPhone owners say they love their iPhone. But there are many others as well.”
Well first, what are these “many things” and do they let one do? To me, the quote reads as if Apple is an inexperienced child trying to explain why their lemonade is better than the kid’s down the street, rather than expertly and effectively praising the iPhone’s ‘Jesus-phone’ status like the B2C behemoth it is. The listings of “things” on the page don’t really offer detailed explanation, so much as serving up repeated dishes from the kitchen of Apple marketing. In a nutshell, it’s just weak. I get the Apple motif as being as simple as possible when communicating directly with consumers, but it comes a time when simple just doesn’t cut it. When I read the email outlining the web page release all I could say was “what does that mean?”. What’s funny is that the vague speech is reminiscent of old Android/Droid tactics to pull users away from the Apple/iPhone. The old “Droid Does” campaign coupled with the Thunderdome-esque commercials constantly had me scratching my head of the true usefulness of the Droid branded devices. It was only until the Droid PR machine starting comparing, no pun intended, apples to apples and offering real detail that the benefits of one device over another became clear.
For the record, I do not agree with the rampant Apple gloom-and-doom prophecies that have been making the rounds for the last 6 months or so. The very notion that Apple has gone down the tubes is border-line abominable and reeks of the essence of stock market money-games. Apple still enjoys a healthy cash-rich status, is still one of (and will remain for the time being) the most valuable companies in the world, is doling out dividends to stock holders, and can comfortably relish in the fact that people will continue to buy every new or incremental iProduct released through the end of time. Unless Apple deals a self-inflicted catastrophic wound and destroys their reputation from the inside-out, they will still be a power player. Apple isn’t indefatigable by any means, but it also isn’t this financial or sales weakling that analysts are making it out to be. Not yet anyway.
I was simply disappointed by the release of the Why iPhone page. It read and felt like a case file from the SNL skit, ‘Lowered Expectations’. It turns the tone to that of a company playing catch up than one that prides itself on being an innovator. The words on the new page don’t really mean anything and holds no true verbal power. Strangely enough, it doesn’t even utilize any type of emotional mechanisms that have been a key tactic employed by Apple. These emotional appeals were smartly used in the past and were a huge part of how the iPhone empire was built in the first place. I also believe that Apple isn’t being proactive enough to use a strong PR campaign to define how people should perceive Apple, both before and after large competitors debut new devices. The focus shouldn’t be on repetition of past talking points, but rather a ground breaking strategy that can once again turn the leverage back in Apple’s favor. They can be better than a meek “it let’s you do so many things”.