Apple's Terrorist Marketing And Its New Aspirational Consumer
After presenting us to the medical terrorism, once again reinforced at its “Far Out” event earlier this week with another batch of Apple Watch users saved by their watches from heart attacks and… bears (?), Apple’s marketing has expanded the types of terrorism it subjects consumers to in its eagerness to sell more phones and watches.
Let’s start with existential terrorism. Priced from USD 799, the newly announced iPhone 14 is capable of sending SOS messages to satellites, even in places where there is no carrier signal or any Wi-Fi network nearby.
Without an iPhone 14, Apple threatens, what will you do when you find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere?
Later on, Apple introduced us to car terrorism. The new Apple Watch and iPhones have a unique feature that can detect car crashes and call emergency automatically.
The company claims that many accidents happen in remote areas and involve only one car, which means that if you don’t have the latest iGadget, you are in danger of dying alone, agonizing inside your car.
There is something different on Apple’s storytelling. Their classic ideal consumer, that happy person who takes pictures of their friends at fancy parties and goes on vacations in heavenly landscapes, has given way to a myriad of personas, from the paranoid who think they will die around the next corner if they don’t have an Apple Watch on their wrist to those who aspire to be something “Pro” without going to the hassle that is generally expected of someone considered “Pro”.
Take the Apple Watch Ultra, the new version of the company’s watch focused on adventurers, an audience that until now was better served by rival Garmin. With a more robust finish, a larger battery, and features designed for extreme situations, the Ultra is, as someone jokingly commented, an Apple Watch for ten people in the world — those who participate in Iron Man, who climb the Mount Everest, who cross the Sahara on foot.
Of course, Apple doesn’t expect to sell just ten units of the Apple Watch Ultra. It has equal or more appeal to a much larger audience — those who would like to be more adventurous, who plan or even go for longer walks from time to time, who aspire to be like the characters in the top-notch commercial Apple prepared to sell a USD 799 watch that will be outdated next year.
The new super camera of the iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max, with 48 megapixels and several “cinema” features, is another example of aspirational functionality.
No matter how good a phone camera is — and I truly believe they are the best for most people —, it is hard to imagine a professional photographer or movie studio discarding their huge and expensive cameras to use an iPhone, even a “Pro” iPhone. For those for whom camera quality makes a difference, any iPhone released in the last five years makes good enough pictures.
It is no longer enough to just flaunt an iPhone, an indictment of ~haters that has been made since forever, a claim theorized by Thorstein Veblen, who christened this behavior “conspicuous consumption” in the late 19th century, long before Steve Jobs took the stage to announce the first iPhone in 2007.
The real upgrade of the iPhone is its transformation from a status symbol into a (supposed) lifesaver and a prism that reflects multiple aspirations of its owner: someone concerned about health, someone adventurous, a person sensitive enough to notice insignificant aesthetic subtleties and value photography as art.
Even the purchase itself imbues an aspirational element, of someone who cares about the climate emergency. For each new product it announces, Apple throws on the screen a bunch of data and promises to “decarbonize” its production line by 2030, a fallacy that justifies greedy and hostile attitudes to the consumer, such as removing the wall charger from the iPhone box, and sweeps under the rug practices much more aggressive to the environment as hindering the reuse of components (another terrorism, this one commercial), discontinuing support for perfectly capable products and preventing the rescue of discarded equipment.
In Apple’s eyes, the ideal owner of an Apple Watch Ultra and/or an iPhone 14 Pro is like that driver who thinks he needs a huge pickup truck or SUV, even if he only drives from home to office, office to home, and never hits a dirt road. (Related note: the ranking of best-selling cars in the United States is dominated by huge pickup trucks and SUVs.)
While justifying its annual release cycle with complex craziness of extremely limited use, Apple has to deal with more pressing and mundane issues, such as the global recession and the stagnant phone market that threaten its market value. These things are closely related.
iPhone prices have risen everywhere except in the United States. The end of the “mini” version and the arrival of the iPhone 14 Plus increase the average selling price of the line and concentrate it even more in the top range market, which is immune to any crisis and has always had fat margins, and that still growing, Apple in the lead.
The strongest sign of Apple’s effort to sell more of its most expensive iPhones is the unprecedented distinctions between the Pro and regular iPhone 14 lines.
For the first time, the new iPhones use different chips. The new one, the A16 Bionic, was reserved for the Pro line. The regular iPhone 14 reused the same 2021 A15 Bionic used in the iPhone 13. For all intents and purposes, except for the Plus model’s huge screen, the iPhone 14 is almost indistinguishable from the iPhone 13.
Nothing better represents this Apple effort, however, than the “Dynamic Island”, the marketing name for the interactive animations that play with the new cutout in the screen that houses the Face ID sensors and front camera.
The same notifications displayed on “Dynamic Island” exist on every iPhone in use, but only on the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are they so pleasing, so “creative,” a show apart.
Instead of hiding it, Apple rubs the cutout in the user’s face. Is it cool? Yes, very. And genius too, a testament to Apple’s unparalleled mastery of the art of making cool phones.
Android manufacturers have spent years using the same kind of cutout in the screen for the front camera. They had plenty of time to come up with something cool like this. The best they came up with? A few static Galaxy S10 wallpapers that incorporate the cutout. That you don’t remember this is no accident.
Nonetheless, Dynamic Island is — I repeat — a preciosity that helps to justify phones that cost USD 1,000 or more in the face of other devices, including some from the same company, that do the same things and cost up to 70% less.
The various terrorisms of Apple’s marketing, the new products’ features that serve tiny groups of consumers treated as essential, even the smoke signal, I mean, the satellite signal available in the very rare event that you get lost in the woods, all this hides an inconvenient truth for the industry, for Apple: our phones, the ones we already have, already in use, are very, very good.