In the event that you hate technology and prefer to stay off the Internet and away from major news sites, you may not have heard that Apple went into beastmode this week.
Powered by massive sales of the iPhone 6, the tech giant broke their own records and more on Tuesday, bumping their revenue up by $74.6 billion. Apple sold 74.5 million iPhones in its first fiscal quarter, which ended Dec. 27, putting profits at $18 billion—the biggest ever for a public company, and an increase from $13.1 billion from the year before. Interestingly, a lot of this success has been attributed to Android users switching to the iPhone.
More interesting still is that this is happening as many people with Androids and other phones keep rallying against Apple hard as ever. And there is precedent for their righteous anger, too. Other phones are not only debatably more cost effective, but routinely ranked ahead of the iPhone.
Whether choosing Apple really is going over to the dark side, consumers are smart to be wary. At the very least, it’s best to know how Apple keeps ensnaring buyers in their crafty web.
1) The cult
Calling Apple fans a “cult” is probably the oldest criticism there is for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Most of this stems from their appointed lord and savior, Steve Jobs, and the rabid fandom that still surrounds him. Jobs’ anointed sainthood has carried over into all aspects of the Apple following, to the point that the devotion some users feel towards him—and by extension, towards Apple—puts the company in a singular spot in America’s technological landscape. “Does anyone feel emotionally invested in Amazon?”, asks The Daily Dot’s Eric Zelermyer, warily. “Would anyone say that Facebook under Mark Zuckerberg has placed a greater emphasis on user experience than in wringing advertising dollars out of people’s personal content?”
By now, even waiting in line for Apple products has become treated as a holy ritual. What Jobs built has been called “reality distortion,” but given Apple’s continued success, the unequivocal belief some hold that the iPhone will simply always be the best is very real, and very powerful. “Want to have a little fun? Wait for a MacBook user to go to the refrigerator for a snack, leaving his computer unprotected in the living room,” suggests The American Monetary Association. “Wait a few seconds and then create an unholy ruckus, screaming about how sorry you are you accidentally spilled a Mountain Dew on his laptop. Witness the panic, the trembling, the freakish behavior as he slowly recovers from your small prank. The look in the eyes tells the tale of the complete loyalty the messiah has wrought.”
A more thoughtful understanding than this one would reveal that anyone would be livid if you spilled surgery caffeine all over their computer. But perhaps there is some truth to the idea that Apple users would get more upset than most, due to their obsession with the company’s products.
Bottom line: keep the Mountain Dew away from your friend’s iPhone.
2) The design
It’s hard to deny that Apple products look pretty great. The iPhone still has the most singular look of any smartphone out there, after a multitude of upgrades and changes. And of course, the beautiful design of the iPhone is, by design, meant to be beautiful. Mike Elgan of Computer World notes that the iPhone “has flawless ‘fit and finish’ and is made with incredibly high-quality materials.”
Again, Apple fanboys attribute all of this to the genius of their fearless leader. “With Steve Jobs being a notorious perfectionist, Apple’s designers and engineering team went through hundreds of revisions on every prototype that made it into his hands,” gushes the Apple iPhone blog. “Despite criticism, Steve’s obsession with the details did pay off—no single device on the market is as immediately recognizable as iDevices are, and the dedication to sleek design and user-friendly technology has played an important role to the enormous success of every iPhone, iPad and MacBook.”
Which isn’t to say that other phones don’t look great too. But for iPhone users, the look of an iPhone will always be unmistakable.
3) The status
Having the latest iPhone is kind of like having this month’s hottest accessory. To hardcore iPhone devotees, their phone isn’t just a phone, like any precious object, it’s an extension of themselves. And since they paid good money for that extension, they want you to see it.
Elgan goes on to say that in the eyes of Android users, “iPhone buyers are attracted to the Apple brand as a prestigious status symbol or fashion accessory, for the same reasons people like Rolex watches or Gucci bags…Some iPhone buyers want the biggest-selling phone for the same reason people go to Starbucks instead of the locally owned coffee shop or choose Nike shoes instead of a brand they’ve never heard of—big brands and popular products are attractive for their own sake to some people.”
Again, to a certain extent, this is probably true of all people. Most everyone has at least one product they are fiercely passionate about. The difference is that in the technology world, iPhone users sometimes come off as rubbing their chosen brand in your face.
4) The ecosystem
This is a big one. The thing to remember here is that iPhone fans don’t come back time and again in spite of the way the product changes, but because of it. And a coincidence, this is not. “Apple releases a new mobile operating system every year, and that keeps a powerful cycle in motion,” observes Timothy Stenovec of The Huffington Post. That cycle is all the more entrenching because it becomes so endless. Even more than with other kinds of technologies, the loyalties people have to their phones, to having everything just so, perfectly engineered to the way they like it, are a force to be reckoned with in modern society. And with Apple, the constant updates keep you coming back, readjusting every time, because that’s what you expect—it’s upgrading as a kind of hypnotic mind control device.
Upgrades, on any good phone, are a necessity. The difference is that with Apple, the ecosystem of your iPhone can easily become intrinsic to the ecosystem that dominates the rest of your digital life. “It seems fair to say that many iPhone fans are equally devoted to the rest of the Apple line too,” writes Elgan. Does this make diversifying your technological options easy? No, but again, that’s the point. He continues, “Many Android users enjoy customization and see that option as one of the main draws of Google’s operating system. They believe that iPhone users choose a phone that can’t easily be modified because they have no interest in tinkering with their phones—and may even grow anxious at the prospect of customizability.”
Apple controls all things Apple, and looking to the future, they appear more poised than ever to control your whole life, too. “Apple’s message this week was loud and clear: Forget everything you thought you knew about the iPhone maker or its mobile products,” stated ReadWrite’s Adrianna Lee on the week the company released the iPhone 6. “The plan: Reboot the iPhone product line as a beautiful phablet line, give the larger flagship an even bigger premium sibling, introduce Apple’s first-ever smartwatch, and tackle brand-new categories—from health and fitness to mobile payments.”
The potential for Apple to control of your entire being has now become almost frighteningly endless. Even the “ugly duckling” of the family, the Apple TV, possesses plenty of untapped potential. But since we’ve culturally shifted towards a place where we no longer see our phones as a luxury, but as a necessity, doesn’t it make sense that they would use the iPhone as a window into world domination? And really, since iPhone users seem to be content with having Apple dominate their lives anyway, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
5) The “first” factor
On a much less sinister note, the iPhone has also been aided by the added benefit of getting there first. And sometimes, it isn’t who did it better, but rather, who got there quicker, that ends up mattering in the long run. Therefore, when it comes to iPhone users, there’s an ingrained stubbornness tied to their love of the Apple ecosystem too. The predominant mentality is best summed up somewhere along the lines of, “I’ve had an iPhone since they first came out. It doesn’t matter if other products are better, I’m too deep in the game to get out. Besides, change is hard, and why would I want to change now?”
Still, you have to give it to Apple for getting there first. We beat the Soviet Union to the moon, and look how that worked out. “There was pent-up demand for a smartphone with an app ecosystem before either iOS or Android, but Apple shipped first,” writes Elgan. “People rushed to buy the iPhone, then stuck with it because they invested in apps.”
6) The apps
Ah yes, the wonderful world of apps!
The iPhone has staked its reputation on being number one in this regard, and that perception continues to stick with them, even now. “Traditionally, Apple’s advantage has been the quality and quantity of available apps,” writes Bloomberg’s Joshua Brustein.
If you’ve wanted the best apps the minute they came out, you had to have an iPhone. Android—and, to an even greater extent, BlackBerry and Microsoft—have had trouble convincing developers to create software for their devices: Apple users spend more on apps, which means bigger potential payouts for developers. After it takes its share, Apple sends about twice as much money to developers from consumer spending on apps as Android does—with half the total number of users. (The same incentives exist for merchants as they consider whether to participate in Apple’s mobile payments system: They know people carrying iPhones have deep pockets.)
Brustein’s comments bring us back to the status element. Apps can almost turn into an addiction for those who are not careful. And people with deep pockets can feed that addiction faster and longer.
However, now we’ve come to an area where Apple’s stranglehold is truly waning. Brustein goes on to observe that, “Apple’s advantage in areas like this…isn’t as significant as it once was. Of this week’s [the same the iPhone 6 came out] top 25 most downloaded free apps for iOS devices, only five aren’t available for Android.”
In short, those without iPhones can sleep soundly knowing that Apple is no longer the King of Apps. Their advantage exists, but it’s waning.
7) The media coverage
Out of all the sneaky, rotten, underhanded tricks Apple and Steve Jobs pulled over time, their greatest may have been being the best at PR. Apple is, without question, incredible when it comes to manufacturing a compelling image and narrative. Somewhere along the line, they managed to convince the media that they work for them, and the results have held for at least a decade. The American news cycle loves Apple. As in they are truly, madly, deeply in love with them. To Android users and the like, they come off as wanting to move in, get married, and have babies with Apple. And in this case, they aren’t necessarily wrong.
“The dirty little secret of tech media is that anything written on Apple gets a lot of readership, even if it’s not positive,” wrote Forbes’ Robert Hof following the release of the iPhone 5. “Sure, the Samsung Galaxy S III and other smartphones have more bells and whistles, but not enough more to really shame the iPhone 5, and the S III has its own shortcomings as well. And so that mostly positive iPhone coverage drove more interest in the new Apple phone, and record pre-orders. Nothing new here, but this dynamic undeniably gives Apple products a leg up on every other rival.”
In all seriousness, this isn’t the worst thing about Apple’s storied history. But it is troublesome nonetheless. Apple has gotten a leg up in the race by getting in bed with the people calling it. “The inclusion of reporters’ tweets in an advertising campaign begs certain comparisons, none of them great for Apple or the people reporting on them,” writes Ben Branstetter, also reporting for The Daily Dot. “Imagine if a politician were to use the words of pundits and journalists in a campaign ad. One might question the relationship between the two worlds and whether the skepticism necessary for every reporter was not absent. John McCain, for example, once called the press his ‘base.’”
For better or worse, the press has become Apple’s base too, and it’s understandable that people who prefer other phones are sick of it. To return to the metaphor of racing, it’s hard to win if your competition has already been crowned the victor before you’re even out of the gate.
That said, resistance to the iPhone remains strong, even as Apple’s profits continue to grow alongside it. Which is okay, because while the iPhone is a good phone, it’s not the only phone. And maybe holding to that idea is the reason iPhone users can seem so insufferable to begin with.