One bad iPhone ruins the bunch


Photo: Evan Walsh

The age of Apple is over — or at least it will be soon. Don’t be sad — it had to happen eventually, what with its unsustainable business practices and ridiculously overpriced goods and all. And no, it’s not because Steve Jobs is dead. 

When new Apple products are announced, tech reviewers and industry analysts become so preoccupied with the discussion of features and specifications that they fail to address the most important factor in Apple’s popularity: fashion. Buying a Macbook is like buying a Gucci handbag. You can certainly pay less money for the same amount of function, but you choose to pay more because the brand is in style. Until now, Apple has been extremely fashionable — enough to command thousand-dollar markups on computers compared to similar PCs, or to charge twice as much for an iPad as a competing tablet and get away with it. However, all that is about to change. 

We have entered the final chapter of Apple’s popularity, and it started with the iPhone 5s and 5c release in September. The release of two concurrent iPhones marks Apple’s failure to learn from the mistakes of their competitors. Year after year, iPhones beat Android devices in market share because consumers knew that when they bought an iPhone, they were buying the best iPhone. Android phones, meanwhile, were made in hundreds of models by more than a dozen different manufacturers. For every high-quality Android smartphone, there were numerous cheaply made, poor-quality devices ready to sully the reputation. It came as no surprise, then, that when a clear “best device” finally emerged in the form of Samsung’s Galaxy S series, it wasn’t long before Android overtook iOS in global market share. 

With the Samsung Galaxy S4, Android devices have moved even further toward the model created by the iPhone — if a device is clearly the best, more people will buy it. Apple, however, is now straying from its own precedent with the release of the iPhone 5c, the “budget” iPhone (I use the word cautiously, as it still costs more than most smartphones). A consumer buying an iPhone is not guaranteed the best anymore. The iPhone brand has been set on a course toward the kind of quality confusion that plagued Android in its early years.

The thing about fashion is that it is fickle, and brands tend to rise and fall based on the status of their signature. Apple has, unfortunately, made the iPhone its crown jewel. The sales numbers of the iPhone are the bellwether for the whole company. The iPhone release is the most anticipated of its  products every year, and every new model is headline news. So when it finally finds itself runner-up to the next Samsung Galaxy or some other, cooler smartphone, the entire company will suffer. The iPhone is Apple’s lead product, and when it isn’t hip anymore, Apple as a whole won’t be in style anymore, and consumers will start questioning whether that little glowing fruit on the back of their laptop is really worth the price. 

After the new iPhones were announced, journalists and Mac fans claimed that it was the death of Steve Jobs that caused Apple’s downward trend. I disagree. Jobs’ ideas were ahead of their time, yes, but time has caught up to them. The industry has caught its breath, fashion has changed, and the true innovation lies elsewhere. In fact, Jobs’ death might just be the only chance Apple has to reverse its course. 

Apple has always been run like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory: a secluded genius locks the doors to his workshop and churns out products while going to great lengths to protect his secrets, as seen in Apple Inc. vs. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Perhaps it’s time to start handing out some golden tickets — allow beta testing, product customization, and third-party development (like Google does) and then, maybe, the future of Apple might look a little brighter.