I believe that the decline of Apple as a brand is due to their inability to keep up with customer expectations when they used to surpass them.
Technology used to be designed for the workplace, when the use of technology at work far outweighed that at home. This balance shift was first forecast by Apple and they led the way be making their products look good. This attracted a new audience, back before Geek Chic, and indisputably had an impact on the direction that their competitors took their software, computers, tablets and of course, smartphones.
Apple realised that customer needs were leaning away from a functional working tool towards something more intuitive, usable and engaging.
Nobody knows what the user wants to be able to do better than the user. Nobody except Apple that is. Not only did Apple products look good but they felt intuitive – we didn’t know what it was until we used it and that’s when we realised we wanted it.
By taking inspiration from outside of their category, from products that people understood, Apple were able to create a frictionless experience that engaged the imaginations of a much broader range of people than had previously shown an interest in technology. This early establishment of a new audience helped to cement the loyalty that many advocates still profess to today.
“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything” Steve Jobs, iPhone launch, 2007
People were willing to pay a high price for this level of innovation but sadly this is where our story catches up with the present day.
It’s easy enough in the design and advertising world to forget about the mass smartphone market but retention is not a sustainable business model and acquisition is becoming increasingly difficult.
This exclusivity which used to be an asset has now put Apple in a position where they are increasingly unable to justify their price premium. The rainbow iPhone 5Cs look cheap and cheerful but their price tag is not a reflection of this aesthetic.
First to market with their skeuomorphs, they appear to have run out of objects to take inspiration from. After so many firsts, Apple have now been overtaken by open-source technologies. They set their own bar high and have been unable to sustain the momentum with strong fast-moving competition.
Apple have lost the extraordinary as well as the ability to delight their customers. The once widely anticipated launches of new products now feel repetitive and gimicky.
With the rise of Generation Y and the trends for coding, hacking and personalisation, there is a growing feeling of resentment from those who feel locked in by Apple. What used to be a novelty has become a problem as compatibility issues crop up.
There are also theories around the lifespan of Apple products being purposefully rigged to expire just after the warranty wears out. True or not, there’s no denying that efforts are made to narrow compatibility with standard tools and solder parts in where possible so that the entire product becomes defunct when a single part needs replacing. This only serves to irritate those who expect their products to be their own, to be able to mould them to their will. It goes so far against the initial intuitive usability that was Apple’s initial draw.
When it comes to doing the right thing, this wasteful production, and their failure to follow their supply chain to its, in many ways, rotten core, further demonstrates an inability to meet customer expectations. This shows another missed opportunity to be the company that other companies aspire to be like.
Despite being worth an estimated $700 billion, looking at Superbrands UK’s results for the Top 20 Superbrands of 2014, Apple have shifted from their position of 2nd in 2013 down to 14th. My guess is that this trend is only set to continue when the results for 2015 are published later this year.