The Iphone Phenomenon Essay
The iPhone 5 is the latest iteration of Apple’s extremely popular smartphone, due for release on September 21, 2012 (Apple). It’s already received abundant criticism amongst the media and assorted technology oriented blogs for being far too incremental an update over it’s predecessor, the iPhone 4S (Barrett, Honan, Olson, Vascellaro), which in turn was faced with the same criticism (Cryer). This criticism however, hasn’t stopped the iPhone 5 from reaching over 2 million pre-orders in the first 24 hours – nearly double that of the 4S (Graham).Financial firm J. P. Morgan predicts that the launch of the iPhone alone would boost the United States’ GDP by 0.
5% (Reid). Clearly, something other than popular critical opinion is influencing consumer behavior here – this paper will attempt to explain some of the factors that may be behind this extremely strong customer response. In a recent segment on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live! ’ called ‘First Look: iPhone 5’ the host Jimmy Kimmel shows the audience a clip of him on the street talking to passers-by. He hands them a phone and tells them it’s the new iPhone 5.
He then asks them how they think it compares to the old one – the iPhone 4S. In reality, as Jimmy tells his theatre audience, the passers-by were lied to and were actually given the “old” iPhone 4S, already available for about a year at that point. All the participants shown extoll the virtues of the new phone in their hands – they say it’s lighter, faster and that it even has a bigger screen. Some of the participants claim to already own an iPhone 4S, which makes their reaction even more surprising (“September 12th”). Jimmy Kimmel Live! ’ is not a paragon for empirical rigor, yet this particular segment does serve to highlight the question at hand – how does the very concept of a new iPhone have such a strong psychological effect on people? This paper will argue that, in line with Valcanis’ claim that new media technologies transform cultures, the iPhone has – since launch day in 2007 – been transforming our culture to a point where it is ubiquitous and almost above reproach (33).Some of this cultural transformation has been through Apple’s initial marketing campaigns and somewhat questionable business practices, but the highly networked interactions facilitated by Web 2.
0 that dominate the current communications landscape have helped turn the iPhone from a smartphone to a cultural mainstay. Apple’s Business Practices: Reinforcing the Stranglehold The only commercial (so far) of the iPhone 5 starts with Jony Ive, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design telling the audience – “When you think about your iPhone, it’s probably the object you use most in your life.It’s the product you have with you all the time. ” (Apple). This is a perfect example of Apple’s marketing campaign towards all the iPhones after the first “Jesus Phone” in 2007 (Campbell, 1192). Apple assumes that you already own an iPhone (Or you want one) – it’s no longer trying to sell you an entirely new concept, it’s simply selling you the best version of a concept you, the viewer, are already extremely familiar with.
The first iPhone commercials revolved around the software, telling the audience of the various things it’s capable of – browsing the internet, making calls and taking photographs (Pederson, 501). Five years later, only two out of the 6 minutes in the commercial focus on the software, the rest revolve around the materiality of the phone. Jony Ive talks about the various methods and materials used to build the phone while clips of fast and precise machinery chipping away at an unfinished iPhone are shown to the viewer – indicating that no human hands could ever hope to build a product so refined.As an aside, It should also be mentioned that there may be an ulterior motive behind this display of the iPhone being built by machines, given the recent criticism and public backlash Apple has faced over worker conditions in the Chinese factories of Foxconn (Kiss). The close up, slow panning and digitally enhanced shots of the iPhone 5 are clearly aiming to inspire technolust, yet the main focus of the ad is not to tell the viewers how much better the iPhone 5 is than it’s competition – it’s primary goal is to tell the viewer how much better the iPhone 5 is than it’s predecessor.
This approach is perfectly summarized by the marketing slogan for the iPhone 5 – “The biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone” (Apple). What this advertising puffery intends to do is simply further cement the footing the iPhone has in our cultural consciousness. Arruda-Filho and Lennon state that in no year did the iPhone generate as much hype and enthusiasm as it did during it’s launch in 2007 (524). This point is further supported by Campbell’s analysis of how the media began comparing the iPhone to religious figures, calling it the Jesus phone (33).Yet, even though some critics say that the iPhone no longer carries the weight it used to (The Economist), certain methods employed by Apple ensure that the public is well aware of the presence of the iPhone and the importance of getting a new one.
The first of these methods is ensuring that the customary queue of early adopters is present at every Apple store in the major cities on launch day. Some people even wait in line days before the intended launch – camp out on the street to be one of the precious few to get the iPhone first (Graham).Goggin indicates that this queue is nothing but a marketing ploy, and often the people lined up to be the first to get the iPhone are paid actors (236). Others have indicated that the iPhone is deliberately under-stocked at Apple’s website so that the company can have two sound clips to play for the media to build hype – “iPhone 5 pre-orders sold out” and “Extremely long queues on launch day” (Moses). These kind of stories indicate to the public that the iPhone 5 is highly desirable, and that they too should want one.
Shots of people cheering and celebrating as they walk out of the store with a brand new phone are also probably very strategically fed to the media, another way of telling the viewer – “Yes, you can be this happy too”. Another method is the abject refusal of Apple to deviate from the iPhones initial design. Indeed, the iPhone and the software it runs hasn’t changed much since it’s inception in 2007.
Schembri and Merrilees argue that brands are perceived to have personalities and distinct characteristics that consumers relate to (625). Apple doesn’t change the iPhone at all – it’s a slab, and it always will be a slab (Kosner).This lends a sense of comfort to consumers, provides them with a constant all while reinforcing the ubiquity of the iPhone – yet it’s at the cost of genuine innovation.
In fact, Apple is often aggressive towards those it sees as mimicking the distinctiveness of it’s phone, a fact exemplified by a recent ruling in US courts ordering Samsung to pay Apple over 1 billion USD for infringing on it’s patents (Gustin). Finally, Apple’s media ecosystem makes it extremely difficult for users to transfer their media files to devices that are not made by Apple.Music bought from Apple’s iTunes was restricted to Apple devices by Digital Rights Management (DRM) software until 2009, after which users could pay 30 cents for each song they wanted to migrate to other devices (MacWorld). So for the two years between 2007 and 2009 if a user wanted to keep the music he/she purchased from iTunes, they would also have to keep the iPhone. Ebooks, movies, TV shows and music videos purchased on iTunes are still restricted by DRM software that requires considerable technical and programming expertise to bypass.Further, Applications such as games bought from the App Store are similarly restricted from moving to any device other than those produced by Apple. Obviously, users who want to maintain their movie and application collection would feel almost obliged to stay within Apple’s ecosystem and would be more inclined to purchase the newest iteration of the iPhone in order to stay “current”.
The Global Village More than Apple’s own practices however, the current structure of the globe’s communications network greatly helps facilitate the dominance of the iPhone in our cultural consciousness.In defining the concept of a “Global Village”, Valcanis talks about how the advent of computers and the internet led to the sharing of our experiences on a global scale (34). Indeed, he further goes on to say that thanks to the internet, we have truly become a globally networked society (36). While Valcanis’ approach may be too abstract and theoretical, it does show a considerable amount of intuition about the functioning of our current communication landscape.
Henry Jenkins writes that in the Global Village, participants are no longer passive consumers of media and products, they now interact with media and orporations in what can be called a participatory culture. Still, corporations exert great influence over the topics and biases of the discussions that take place, as even heavily funded brands and products can have a place in these networks (Pederson, 494). Schembri, Merrilees and Kristiansen argue that people give brands a personality and often base their purchasing behavior on the perceived personality of brands and how closely it relates to their perceptions of their own personalities (632).Corporations can use the considerable power granted to them by the Internet to create convincing personalities and cultures for their brands. Schembri, Merrilees and Kristiansen argue that “consumers are no more than the sum of their possessions” (632). This may be far too reductionist of an approach and the data gathered in their study was largely qualitative and therefore, vulnerable to biases in interpretations.Still, it’s nearly common knowledge that people make purchases based not only on perceptions of value and utility, but also on perceptions of social status (Arruda-Filho, Lennon, 524) as well as perceptions of the brand itself.
The LEAP index categorizes consumers emotional attachment to brands, the iPhone sat comfortably at the top of that list for 2012 (Rooney). Apple develops a culture for the iPhone through meanings and practices by maintaining the same words and conventions in it’s marketing materials (Pederson, 495). Revolutionary” is one word that comes to mind almost automatically after saying the word “iPhone” simply by association from it’s ad campaigns. Apple drives public perception in this manner, and the interconnected nature of our current world means that the more influential the initial ad, the wider global spread it will have. Arruda-Filho and Lennon found that due to the highly hedonistic motivation that spurred many people to buy the iPhone caused the same people to elaborately and somewhat convincingly justify their motives, often to others on the internet (527).By making sure that people are constantly talking about the iPhone during launch windows – i. e.
long queues, sold out pre-orders etc, Apple ensures that the iPhone remains constantly visible in our global culture during this critical time and that the number of devoted users increase each year. Conclusion Arruda-Filho and Lennon found that usage of the iPhone by devoted users is still based on hedonistic and socially influenced motives and that they were the one’s most likely to purchase a new version of the phone immediately upon release (530).This paper has argued that through means of sometimes questionable business practices such as restrictive media ecosystems and through the development of a strong brand image and culture through advertising, Apple increases the number of this section of “devoted” users year after year, who, since they are motivated by social reasons may feel compelled to upgrade to the latest model as soon as they are able. None of this would be possible without the presence of a global network, which allows people and corporations to communicate like never before.However, he power in these communications are not evenly distributed, at least in terms of reach and capital – allowing corporations like apple to direct the flow of global public discourse.
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