HAS APPLE LOST ITS COOL?

Leon Emirali

‘Think different’. This was the slogan that accompanied Apple into its new phase of growth and innovation in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s, churning out cutting-edge products such as the iPod, iMac, iPhone and iPad on a seemingly perpetual basis.

Now in 2013, the Cupertino-based tech giant has been accused of complacency and simply not thinking at all as it struggles to keep up with buoyant competitors such as Samsung, Google and a rejuvenated Nokia.

Tech commentators have pinned part of Apple’s mini slump down to a PR strategy that has failed to mobilise a legion of loyal followers. The business has been seen to divert from the rebellious ethos that was so stringently implemented by its late CEO and founder, Steve Jobs – who referred to Apple employees as ‘pirates’ and quoted Bob Dylan lyrics at company events.

Since Jobs’ death in October 2011, the new CEO, Tim Cook has struggled to shake off his image as a buttoned-up businessman that simply doesn’t fit with the Apple brand and mantra. His first outing at the iPhone 4S product launch was underwhelming at best. A failure to replicate Jobs’ innate ability to whip up the media’s imagination with claims of the product’s potential to ‘change everything’ and ‘revolutionise’ the market were early signs that the times were changing.

Eagle-eyed tech reporters such as the Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Lessin spotted that Apple’s PR strategy had also taken a shift in a new direction since Cook took the helm. Lessin noted that in February the company issued a press release announcing a minor operating system fix – the first time Apple had issued a media notice on a mere software update since 2010.

Great. Apple is opening up to the media and building better relations with their consumers, you would be forgiven to remark. However, Apple’s undoubted success in brand-building owes a lot to its ‘drip feed’ approach to PR – keeping journalists and consumers guessing right up to the last minute, thus creating optimum fever-pitch and excitement around the next product launch. This was Steve Jobs’ way of ‘thinking different’.

The attempt to fix something that wasn’t broken didn’t go unnoticed. In April, Apple’s stock tumbled to below the $400 mark for the first time since December 2011. This was further compounded when the iPhone 5 was ranked the worst smartphone handset in a well-publicised Consumers Report rating – commentators had good reason to believe that the ‘iBubble’ had burst.

So, where next for the former pirates of Silicon Valley? Rumours are abound that Apple may be on the verge of launching wearable technology products such as the iWatch or a rival to Google Glass. But questions remain over the size and credibility of the market that such a product would penetrate.

Everyday consumers, business people and trendy fashionistas are unlikely to be spotted with a geeky digital watch on their wrist, regardless of how sleek the design. Furthermore, does a gap for an iWatch really exist? Or will Apple split its consumer base and slash a dominant market share by essentially maintaining two product lines that offer the same function; iWatch or iPhone – who needs both?

Instead Apple fans are hopeful that the next iteration of the iPhone will silence critics and carry cutting-edge features such as wireless charging, near-field communications and personal identification that Apple has so far by-passed whilst competitors have embraced.

A lack of recent innovation may be a deliberate tactic to lure competitors into complacency and then suddenly blindside them with a game-changing product, as it has before, or it may simply be struggling to keep up with creative innovation since the genius of Jobs was lost. Either way, with shareholders grumbling and consumers waiting, now is the time to think different once again.

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