The once indomitable Apple brand used to ward off competition by sheer passive intimidation. Trying too hard to out-cool the big dog when it came to gadgetry seemed ill-advised. The price of failure could be derision from marketing classmates for the worst of all possible high school social missteps -- trying too hard to be hip.
But now that Apple has shown its mere mortality (maps, supposedly “disappointing” earnings, a big stock hit) the competitors seem to have a new confidence in going toe to toe with the demoted magicians of Cupertino. Amazon this week bowed Kindle HD ads that do a side-by-side comparison of their unit and the iPad, needling Apple on its pricing.
Samsung has been unafraid of its arch competitive partner in making fun of the line-waiting, not-so-cool-kids by identifying them with (ugh!) their parents.
In its latest push behind the phablet Galaxy Note II, they are aiming for affinity with hip design and creative tools. Alexander Wang is helping to promote the slab of a phone as a design tool for hip young things. He and his team of artists are creating a print using the Note II that ultimately will become a fashion bag. The product will be sold worldwide to benefit the Art Start program that cultivates talent in at-risk kids.
Samsung is pitching the oversized phablet as the “perfect smartphone for creative.” A new video shows all the ways that Wang makes good use of his Note II throughout the day.
No doubt we will hear more of the same from multiple competitors now that Apple’s shine has dulled. But let’s be clear about what direction Apple comes from -- from cool to common. They lost their exceptional brand status both through hiccups and mortal mistakes as well as ubiquity. We can’t all be cool, because hip requires some exclusivity.
As the iPhone stampeded into mainstream pockets there was little hope it could retain its special affinity for the art and music types. But as any of us who struggled to increase our hip quotient in high school well knows, coolness is conferred, not acquired. Apple became aligned with the cool kids from years in the wilderness as the antidote to buttoned-down Microsoft. Samsung is not a new student with a mysterious past who can remake itself as the sulky sophisticate that attracts us with silence and inaccessibility. It is Samsung, for God’s sake. They make refrigerators.
Anyway, I suspect we are beyond the point of being dazzled by mobile technology. We are approaching early maturity, where a certain commoditization is good for the market and focus shifts to what people do with the technology, not what the technology can do for them.
Even Apple risks looking desperate when it pulls stunts like boasting of an iMac with razor-thin screen edges (but a nice pudgy midsection), in order to impress. Sort of like that former football hero, now an ancient 24-year-old, coming back for a high school homecoming game, waiting for the cheerleaders to gather round. “Pathetic,” the hip seniors smirk.