I remember the first time I saw the iPhone in 2007. In my country flooded with Nokias and Siemenses, the first iPhone was an epiphany – something clearly from the future that you could get your hands on. Something unknown and not even localized for Russia, but something so friendly and tantalizing, it made zero sense for most people around, but there were the ones who opened the first ever iPhone VK (facebook analog) group days after it was announced. Hidden by a paywall of the initial $599, we had a giant in the making and we threw ourselves at it.
The kingdom of “tasteless modesty”
Apple knew what they were doing. A statement I’ll keep making throughout this article. The early and mid-2000s were no stranger to mobile phones. Some companies were building top-of-the-food-chain phones for business and entertainment. Sony Ericsson came close to “killing” the iPod with their W910, but all of the phones made were very similar in performance, materials used, operating system limitations, cameras, and general accessibility.
It’s like mobile phones did calls and everything else was a bonus, thus not a lot of expectation.
Before that historic 2007 MacWorld presentation, things were getting weird. The high-income demographic have always had something going on with their first-need devices that made them cringeworthy. From Swarovski crystal-covered Benzes and chrome Fiskers to golden phones with nothing but the arrogant and flat peacockery.
It eventually got to this ☝️when Nokia started a premium custom phone manufacturing spin-off called Vertu that still produces these ridiculous uhm… cell phones that have been labeled as “tasteless trash” and “technologically modest” bling on multiple occasions.
With mobile phone industry driving itself off the cliff, a lot of people chose to stay low-key with their simple phones waiting for what happens next.
iPhone changed it all. Apple did. For the first time ever, our focus was on the screen itself, not the body, not the buttons, not the back cover, and not the comfort of micro keyboard input. It was the screen and what the iPhone could do. The design was iconic and spot on and hasn’t changed over the years while everyone else adopted the trend.
So here I am, a 22-year-old university graduate on my first job salivating at this piece of technology I knew nothing about. If I’d had those $599 and a couple more to untie from AT&T, I would waste no time. But I hadn’t. Instead, I got a second-generation iPod nano and satisfied the itch for 4 years. Just being a part of the white earbud community kept me closer to the dream of having an iPhone once.
The iPhone was a whiff of fresh air. It didn’t bear the seal of social belonging just yet. It was impossible. And it was real.
What Apple did to me with iPod was brilliant. They got me hooked on the technology I could not afford at a time and more importantly, they cast the line for me in iTunes, a free software that opened a Mac window in my computer (pun intended). The attitude that Steve Jobs famously let off as: “Over my dead body are you gonna ship iTunes on a PC,” eventually became one of the driving forces of international Mac computer sales.
With iTunes, people owned an Apple product for free. When was the last time you could say that?
But even that was not enough for Apple to step up as the world leader in mobile everything. Steven Ballmer famously cracked up about the iPhone cost and its complete lack of viability in the business customer segment for “not having a keyboard and not being a good email machine.” Cringe.
However, there was a merit in that. People tend to alienate new technologies and advocate their old ways because they are familiar and safe. Add to that the thick skin for UX at a time and you’ll get an apprehensive attitude towards something with a $500 price tag. Apple reacted fast. They cut the initial $599 price to $399 and in half for the next generation iPhone – the 3G one ($299). Typically, at that time phones under $100 were a common practice with top models reaching as high as $300. And with that pivot, Apple took off.
A $100 iPhone. Innovation for the people in its prime.
All of a sudden iPhones became available. Around 2008 I saw one in person. After 3G and 3GS, the previous generations of iPhones were sold at $99. However, I didn’t go with that. I saved up for a 4. And it was well worth it.
The ascension that made Apple worth $ Trillion in 2018 started with that pivot. After all, that’s what we expect – better technology, more value. Less flashiness, more utility. The celebrities jumped on the bandwagon. The Vertu-bound cell phone development direction was forever dismissed.
For the record 7 years between 2007 and 2014, Apple stayed within the range of $600 for the cheapest new models with corresponding models peaking depending on the storage capacity. The changes made during that period are incremental and they still make a 5S model relevant today. Compare it to the functionality of iPhone 3G to grasp the difference.
The sales of iPhones rocketed globally defining the regions of interest for Apple, defining the target demographics and the thickness of their wallets, and their predisposition to buying more products out of the iPhone-opened Pandora’s box.
In 2015 Apple made a spurt towards the $1000 benchmark with their 64-GB iPhone 6 Plus. They timed it perfectly. First ever iPhone with a 5.5-inch 1920×1080 display.
…And Apple charged $200 extra for 0.8 inch worth of screen estate. People sucked it up and bought them. It was still an innovation. But it started getting out of hand.
In 2015 Apple began its ongoing transformation from a smarter, better, progressive brand for the ones that get it to the luxurious possession supplier for the 1%ers. Everything about the brand’s image began to change. The gradual introduction of gold and chrome parts delivered a subtle message of belonging.
I seriously considered my outfits not being good enough for the gold, rose, and silver iPhones after the playful 5Cs.
But don’t think Apple let go of folks like me. Forth came the 7 also in a perfect matte black. And a price that never dropped lower than $700 again. It was a stretch for a lot of people, but it was attainable. And again the amount of value outbalanced the growing repulsion of where Apple was heading in their past-Jobs era.
From there on, it became obvious that if you are not based in the US, you won’t be able to sustain the pace of change in Apple’s flagship products if you are not a part of the perpetual Apple GiveBack or the upcoming AppleCare takeover.
With a flexible product range that you can no longer keep track of and a flexible pricing scheme and a religious following, Apple has bitten into the goldmine.
The ones that are already in the loop, seek no escape. The ones aspiring to be in it don’t see past the image created by Apple long before iPhone X. Is it still innovation? Definitely. Is it ubiquitous? Ask people in Eastern Europe what they think about the new Face ID.
We had it coming
As part of the UI/UX design team working a lot in mobile, we hyped the shit out iPhone X last year. But before we even got our hands on the X a couple weeks after it was released, we were already adjusting interfaces and experience for it. We didn’t think what we were doing to the users.
Essentially all we were doing was promoting a piece of technology that Apple will have discontinued a year later.
Remember all the notch talks? Apart from a bunch of jokes it taught us that folks will buy everything these days. Apple has earned this. At the cost of many careers, marriages, relationships, and friendships, Apple’s vision and excellence earned them a pass for everything. And a $Trillion more. Do you think they will ever question those decisions?
Apple events are now close to being held every 3 months. The “innovation” they push is extremely exclusive and alien to the most of the world. Tim Cook says: “Stock price is a result, not an achievement by itself. For me, it’s about products and people. Did we make the best product, and did we enrich people’s lives?” – You did… some people’s lives. The ones that allowed you to do so by overpaying times more for the functionality available elsewhere.
Us designing the interfaces for the phone models we haven’t yet seen is our tiny contribution to the growing inequality.
And we did nothing
New iPhones are all about presentation. Apple events require more and more graphics and movie-like editing. What was once exclusive in terms of emotions and presence is now a prewritten plastic show. The minor updates demonstrated last week did nothing to me and a lot of people I spoke to. On top of that, I saw the signs of a long forgotten Vertu-like flashiness aimed at God knows who.
Behind the artificial diversity of the new iPhones, there is nothing but a money-draining engine. In fact, Apple Watch is the primary innovative product but how long until it follows the path of the iPhone?
Could it be that Apple is preparing us for a new “innovative” model of staying within the infinite loop (couldn’t help) on some new possession principles? Is Apple’s concerns about the sustainability of the assembled products (and not the use of conflict minerals) nothing but a strategic marketing move?
It’s quite clear that Apple is different, but for the first time ever, it becomes way too hard to stay within the ecosystem. The products are still quality in its finest. They are still desired and popular. For those within the range of high-end brands, those speculations don’t mean a lot.
However, Apple still speaks to millions of users who like me, start feeling the impending doom of being a second-hand luxury goods user and it is just against everything Apple used to stand for.
Some say Apple is cooking us (damn it) for a subscription-based service? What is next for a hardware company? Own software. What’s next for a software company? Own hardware. What’s next for someone that does both? Services. This might be where we’re heading at on the biggest and best bandwagon ever for a smartphone.
It’d be stupid to hold on to the business mission from the last century. After all, Apple would not have become a cultural phenomenon if they didn’t go against the grain. With that said, I feel like we are screwed and we need a new Apple to signify the new spiral turn.