Another year, another iPhone. Apple continued its now expected design life cycle with the recent release of the iPhone 5. I very much doubt that the launch of a new iPhone is met with any great enthusiasm amongst Apple's biggest rivals such as Samsung and Sony as it creates such a media furore that very
little else gets any coverage during that time. During last month's iPhone 5 launch, Apple enjoyed 63%* of online news coverage in the UK with their largest rival, Samsung holding 31%*, less than half. Of course this is during a week of an Apple product launch, so 31% is really quite promising for Samsung. But I'll come back to this.
Apple's ability to generate coverage (read: 'Free Advertising') in both traditional and social media is industry-leading. With a development cycle you could set a watch to, everyone knows when the next version of an Apple product is due to come out. The clever part is that this process generates its own publicity and coverage - publicity about the publicity phenomenon, coverage about coverage.
Back during the Olympics, the iPhone 5 rumour mill had already kicked into action. Samsung was investing heavily in top level Olympic advertising starring David Beckham. Meanwhile, Apple was sitting back, putting its feet on the table, knowing that by following the tried and tested technique of keeping its new products 'top secret' until launch date that a frenzied media, fan community and general public would hype itself with speculation to such an extent that everyone would be talking about the next iPhone eliminating the need for Apple to advertise its new release.
In the months building up to the iPhone 5 launch, large websites ranging from the tech specialists such as EnGadget and Gizmodo through to broader appeal sites such as the BBC & MSN, all ran stories containing no more than speculation on what new features the new iPhone would introduce.
This, I believe, is a legacy of the true genius of Steve Jobs. And I'm not denying that his Hindu/Zen inspired designs changed the face of consumer electronics or that his fearsome reputation for never compromising on his vision drove Apple mercilessly from near oblivion back to the very top of the industry. Indeed, Apple is now the single largest company in the world. But I believe his real skill laid in marketing. Long time Apple employee Daniel Kottke once said "Between Woz [Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple] and Jobs, Woz was the innovator, the inventor. Steve Jobs was the marketing person."
However this year I believe these rivals should view the release of this latest offering from Apple as an opportunity to claw back some of the lost reputational ground and indeed Samsung have come out of the blocks fast with its latest viral advert.
This strategy is clever because it plays to Apple's detractors while attempting to pull the rug out from under the die-hard Apple fans, painting them as the crowd following consumer drones that they originally embraced Apple so fervently to get away from. While this is tongue-in-cheek, it does represent a growing lever to shift Apple's reputation which its competitors would be wise to exploit.
Apple's modern incarnation is built around it being the 'underdog', a rebellious upstart promoting an open source philosophy (Linux based OS) and class leading design to challenge Microsoft. Microsoft was originally cast as the lumbering, profit orientated goliath, stifling individuality and employing questionable business practices in a relentless quest for market dominance. This was once famously summed up by Jobs in Rolling Stone magazine: "Unfortunately, people are not rebelling against Microsoft. They don't know any better." Witness the famous Ridley Scott directed '1984' advert. That's fine when you're a challenger brand, but perhaps not such a tenable position when you're the world's number one company by market capitalisation.
But a lot of industry analysts are now saying that Apple is starting to fall foul of the same trappings that they accused Microsoft and other companies of, when the company was less successful commercially.
In the last few years we've heard reports about working conditions at partner manufacturer Foxconn, accusations of patent infringements, European court inquiries into customers' statutory consumer rights, misrepresenting timing sequences and 4G capabilities in advertising.
All of these stories have been gratefully received and recounted by Apple's detractors but this negative publicity is usually outweighed by the positive publicity around amazing tech innovations and designs.
The reason I think the launch of the iPhone 5 should be viewed by competitors as a turning point, is that it has simply not garnered the same amazement, so there isn't the positive coverage to counterbalance the negative. Now people are starting to notice the principles Apple has forgotten to get to the top, such as dropping its open source roots in favour of locked systems like iTunes and the Appstore. Even straightforward operating system updates are now packaged and sold as 'new' operating systems and there are questions over the pricing model for the iPhone centred around memory capacity, with memory being by far the cheapest component.
It would be trite of me to predict the doom of Apple based on one underwhelming product launch, far from it. It is now one of the most powerful companies on the planet. But to me at least it is starting to seem that John Emerich Edward was right about absolute power in Apple's case.
*Data sourced by Echo Sonar social media and online news platform. Total articles: 3,946
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