Published on November 13, 2012 3:00 PM

Apple: Just Another Brand?

Given the products the company has released over the past two months, Apple's motto "Think Different" is sounding more and more out of place. Finally giving in to pressure to join the mini-tablet market, the world's most valuable high-tech firm is undergoing a rapid transformation...

With each passing keynote we've gained a deeper look into what the post-Steve Jobs era will look like, and each time it confirms what many of us had predicted: without the maestro, the orchestra will never be the same.

Or so Tim Cook seems to have decided. The new man in charge is doing his best to shine on stage like his smooth-talking predecessor, but he lacks that thing that made Steve Jobs stand out. He certainly has other qualities, though, which have helped him carry the brand to even higher heights than when he took office. And besides, if he hasn't entirely adhered to Apple's founding principles, does that really matter? Given the ultra-competitive environment in which the company's operating right now, switching strategies—even at the risk of mirroring its opponents—may be a necessity.

Never Say Never

Apple has always taken an elitist stance on the market, and its objectives haven't really changed—they've just evolved. It's a sign of the times: the wheels of reform are in motion, even at Apple. Remember, analysts have already had to lower their predictions for the company's quarterly results and while the earnings we saw early last month were outstanding yet again, they failed to meet expectations. As Trip Chowdhry of Global Equity Research has stated, "Apple will not be immune to the undercurrent of economic sluggishness". Well, times are a-changin' and Apple is making compromises.

"Apple will not be immune to the undercurrent of economic sluggishness"

Steve Jobs' strategy was always to cultivate the things that made the company different, in part by designing high-end products only that are expensive, and therefore desirable. Ever the pragmatist, Tim Cook's ambitions appear to be more mercantile. Or perhaps he's simply more realistic, adjusting to the developing climate of the high-tech world so as to avoid dwindling market shares from smartphone, tablet and PC competitors. Naturally, Jobs' vision for the company included success and earnings, but he also dreamed of being original. Cook, in contrast, seems focused on revenue. However, the metamorphosis we're witnessing is only partial because with designer-in-chief Jonathan Ive onboard the firm is still outing gorgeous, high-quality products.

Nonetheless, as though to trumpet the new management's change in direction, Cook took no time nullifying Jobs' 2010 assertion that there would never be a 7-inch iPad. For Jobs the ideal tablet had to be at least 10 inches large (the iPad is 9.7 inches). But Apple hasn't released a 7-inch tablet. Instead it released a 7.9-inch tablet, which Cook appears to consider playing it safe. Besides, market research firm, IHS iSuppli, has predicted no fewer than 67 million iPad Mini sales in 2013 (and 34 million in 2012). How does one say no to that?

Ipad mini 2012

Aping The Korean Rival

Opening shop in every segment of the lucrative tablet business is one means to Apple's end: to continue gaining ground while challenging its adversaries, who have nearly all jumped headlong into the mini-tablet market, to recast their ships and search for warmer climes. At the risk of eating away at its own "regular iPad" sales, Apple has joined its opponents in their own waters and expanded its offer.

All those who invested in an iPad 3 must have been thrilled to hear just a few months later that a new-and-improved iPad 4 was about to hit market. As a result the iPad that came out last March has simply been cast to the pyre. Furthermore, the company that had always refused to talk specs finally brought them out into the open! It's only natural to wonder if Apple is indeed turning into "just another brand". As far as we see it, they're already on their way.

The firm that has always turned its differences into its livelihood (for instance, it made a point of not revising its product lines every few months) is now emulating Samsung by reducing its devices' life cycles—despite public aversion to planned obsolescence—and, as a result, has perhaps over-complicated its offer.

Ipad 4 lightning(1)

The company's popularity skyrocketed after the release of the first iPhone, but is this firm that still refers to itself as "like no other" taking a turn for the ordinary? We're not quite there yet—Apple still has virtually unrivalled street cred and is (for now, at least) still considered hip. But the lines are already moving. For many of Apple's oldest fans the company is indeed undergoing a profound change, one that is not to everyone's liking. Some might even suggest Apple reconsider its 1997 tagline, "Think Different".

Today "My Brand" Went Mainstream

Le recently compiled a number of comments left by ex-Apple users on various forums illustrating the tensions within the company's fan base. Here's a quick taste of what they found: "Ingenuity has turned into arrogance" ... "Today 'my brand' went mainstream" ... "Apple is like a lover I've grown apart from". The only problem here is that with increased competition and a foreboding economy it would be impossible to hold onto one's market share, let alone expand it, relying on the "fan club" consumer base alone.

"Ingenuity has turned into arrogance"
But the end justifies the means and Apple, lest we forget, is a for-profit enterprise and its rivals have left it with little choice but to reconsider the path that Steve Jobs had laid out for it. Yes, it's about time we admit it, Apple is indeed a company like any other—a company whose prices are systematically higher than its competitors', with Google, Samsung and Amazon its principal sparring partners. And it isn't as though they could cut corners in the quality department—that's precisely one of Apple's selling points alongside design, finishing and a stable and efficient ecosystem (OS + iTunes + iCloud + App Store). It may be a tightly closed ecosystem, but it's brimming with popular apps and services.

Price ipad mini

With best-selling products in tow—the iPad Mini will doubtless sell in the millions—Apple will continue to sing its song, though perhaps to a broader public and minus a few of the faithful. But continue to sing it will. And let's not forget the corporate market, which could easily be drawn in by a smaller, less expensive Apple-branded slate.

Apple has gone from a cultural icon that let the others duke it out while it single-handedly begat the smartphone and tablet markets, to a company on the defensive with little choice but to join the others in the ring—a ring that only two years ago it wanted nothing to do with. So the question is: how long until they out an iPhone Maxi? After all, it wasn't long before the first iPhone was launched that Steve Jobs claimed he wouldn't touch the mobile market...

Comparative advertising
Traditionally it's been Apple's adversaries who resort to comparative advertising. Countless times has the iPhone been placed next to a competing smartphone to show how much better the latter is, how faster it is, how similar they look... And it's the same thing with tablet brands targeting the iPad, whereas in all fairness the iPad deserves to be seen more as a paragon than a foe.

Well, now Apple's joined the game, too. The tactic already reared its ugly head last March when the company presented the "new iPad", but by 23 October it had become an integral part of the keynote when Phil Schiller took jabs at the Google/Asus Nexus 7, weighing it disparagingly against the iPad Mini.

And then there was that time last month when, while presenting Apple's earnings on the same day as Microsoft's Windows 8 launch, Tim Cook said, referring to the Surface: "I suppose you could design a car that flies and floats, but I don't think it would do all of those things very well"...

Was it a sign of weakness? Or simply caution?
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