Apple's Painful Cry in the Wilderness
When it comes to the iPhone, Apple seems to be hearing footsteps echoing all the way from Korea and Samsung. How else to explain a new iPhone landing page on its website that touts the device in geektastic terms that the company hasn't needed before? It's okay for Apple to come out swinging as the Galaxy S4 jumps in the smartphone ring, but it's not using its knockout marketing punch -- the emotional connection to its devices.
When I first heard about Apple's new "Why iPhone" marketing page that went live shortly after Samsung's big Galaxy S4 smartphone launch, I thought, "Uh oh, Apple's really playing defense."
Coupled with the timely Galaxy S4 pre-launch interview that Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, handed to The Wall Street Journal, the "Why iPhone" page makes it clear that Apple is either worried about the rising power of Samsung, or misguided in how it can best do battle with the Korean superstar.
More to the point, one thing needs to be made clear: Apple should not play defense.
First, Apple sucks at defense. Second, no one chooses Apple products based on defensive plays.
Let's take a closer look.
Dissecting the Why iPhone Page
Once you click on the iPhone tab on the Apple home page, everything goes downhill fast. The carousel of photos and statements starts with a white iPhone 5, and this: "Loving it is easy. That's why so many people do."
What does this really mean? Apple is saying, "Hey, we really matter to a lot of people. They love our phone." I'm not an advertising or marketing genius, but come on -- this initial page is an obvious cry for help.
Contrast that with the iPod main page and the blurb for the iPod touch: "Engineered for maximum funness." The iPod touch page implies the human effect the iPod will have, while the iPhone 5 page has to tell us that people love it.
Unfortunately, it gets worse.
The Why iPhone page has a link that is positioned at the very start of the list of key product information: Why iPhone, Features, Design, Built-in Apps, App Store, iOS, iCloud, and Tech Specs. All the other product pages do not have this Why set of pages. Clearly Samsung is getting under Apple's skin in the smartphone game.
Now Apple is saying, "OK, we're in a position where we have to justify the purchase of an iPhone 5 to consumers." Once you click on the Why iPhone page, you get a statement in huge type: "There's iPhone. And then there's everything else." Next, there's this: "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."
Aside from this being a convoluted message, again I have to ask: What's with the vague call for love?
Apple can throw itself a soft pitch to boast that the iPhone has received eight straight J.D. Power and Associates awards for customer satisfaction -- as if the decision to buy an iPhone is going to be made upon the love of other people. This is like asking a new meth addict if he loves meth, then choosing meth because the user ratings seem high.
All this love stuff should be an afterthought -- if used at all.
Apple then makes the point that its products are finely crafted marvels of engineering. Nothing offensive here -- and nothing particularly compelling.
The Downhill Slide Gets Steeper
Next, we're treated to the "Only iPhone has the Retina display" pitch. There's a lot more that goes into a great display than just the number of pixels, and it's clear that a densely packed number of pixels per inch is a big deal.
Other smartphones are beginning to get excellent displays that rival the resolution and pixel density of the iPhone 5, but they aren't called Retina displays. This claim is like Nike saying "Only Nike has the Swoosh."
Then there's a misdirected dig: "Great battery life. Without a great big battery." Consumers are buying Samsung's massive screen smartphones. Clearly they're not worried about battery size. Besides, if the point is about battery life, focus on that. Instead, we get self-serving statements like, "But it's extraordinary that we fit such a powerful battery into such a thin and light design -- all thanks to Apple scientists who created unique battery chemistry instead of settling for a large, off-the-shelf option."
Defensive. Defensive. Defensive.
Next, Apple talks about the A6 chip as being powerful but not power-hungry. That's good, but why pass up a chance for a real jab at the Samsung/Android face? Why not mention that other phones have mismatched operating systems coupled with chips that don't work together as efficiently as they should? That's why Apple engineered its own because that's how Apple rolls.
Missed opportunity here -- not that I'm saying I think this sort of page should exist at all.
Meanwhile, Apple creates a page for new customers to understand why they should buy the iPhone 5, then gets into LTE and dual-band 802.11n. Really? This is eye-glazing stuff to new smartphone buyers. Including it was just dumb.
Finally, Apple gets to something that's actually human and important to people: the camera. "The world's most popular camera."
As if buying a smartphone is a popularity contest. Does Apple's pitch really sell the camera well? Not really. It's full of vague statements. It doesn't pull my heartstrings. It doesn't promise to help me capture more important moments, action photos, or quick video. It's another missed opportunity to talk about the stuff that really matters to people.
Better yet, by finally talking media and apps, Apple says, "Millions of ways to be entertained. From one trusted source." The iTunes Store and the App Store are key differentiators that people care about -- entertainment, apps. However, Apple confuses the issue by getting into malware before jabbing the competition by saying, "Other mobile platforms have a myriad of fragmented store options, resulting in availability issues, developer frustration, and security risks."
When we finally get to iOS 6, we get a claim that it's "the world's most advanced mobile operating system." The trouble is, the explanation doesn't really meet the claim -- it's just parallel statements. Worse yet, Apple is trying to convince a smartphone newbie that the OS is the most advanced when the home screen looks like a blast from the past and customization options are virtually non-existent? Misdirected battle here.
Siri. "Your wish is its command." Whatever. Siri can't even read an email message to you.
Second to last, Apple talks about iCloud. All good there. Despite its problems and confusingly automatic nature, iCloud mostly works for consumers.
The last element in this list, however, is the only one that really matters to a potential new buyer: support from real people. This is a big deal. Not only can you call Apple and talk to a human, you can go to an Apple Store and talk to a Genius.
Apple notes, "With other smartphones, you're not sure where to go for help. Call the manufacturer, and they tell you to call your service provider. Call your service provider, and they tell you to contact the OS developer. Getting answers shouldn't be that hard. And with Apple, it never is."
Apple's Retail Stores and human support network are huge advantages, so why bury them?
The Real Reasons Why iPhone
To answer the Apple question, let's consider the effective Samsung "The Next Big Thing Is Already Here -- Samsung Galaxy S III" commercial. The ad skewered Apple fanboys -- with a sense of playful fun, by the way -- by being utterly human. It played with specifications and features, but related them to the humans in the commercial.
Remember some of the best Apple ads of all time? All are focused on the human element and the promise that the product will bring something to the owner's life. More and more Apple ads and marketing seems to be about the product, the specs, the engineering effort, the thing itself -- as if that's enough for humans to sign up for long-term contracts to buy it.
The iPhone isn't about itself so much; it's mostly about what it lets you do, what sort of creativity and freedom it unleashes in people. I don't buy the iPhone because it's well-machined with fancy screws. I buy it for all the little things it lets me do. The design comes second.
These new Apple marketing vehicles are now fighting with all the other phones on their level -- about the phone itself and the operating system. Apple needs to double down on the promise of what the iPhone experience delivers to people. The joy of using an Apple product. Simple stuff, really. Where is it right now?
Instead we get to see a more aggressive Apple, which is fantastic but full of misdirected energy. A feature war is for the old-school PC industry, for pundits and uber geeks. I don't think Apple is writhing around in the mud yet, trying to benchmark the A6 processor against the S4's processors. That is best saved for the new product reveal, the oohing and aahhing celebration of the creative energy that produced the device.
Apple's marketing ship, however, has definitely taken a turn toward a rocky shore.