Honestly, if it were not for my fear of the dangers that a formal, sanctioned, and public Truth Squad could cause humanity, I would vote for a Truth Squad to oversee, review, and score website articles.
Here’s the latest. “iPhones Go The Way Of The Selectric.” Rubbish. Adam Minter thinks that will happen and he writes for Bloomberg, The Atlantic, and other publications on just about anything going on in Asia, so the connection must be that iPhones are made in Asia and he saw an IBM Selectric typewriter in a museum once, so iPhones will be in a museum one day.
Maybe Minter is old enough to have used an IBM Selectric. I am. That was my first typewriter. It was the only one the school had in a roomful of manual typewriters and a few old fashioned electrics. Needless to say, moving from the nearly automatic touch typewriter to a manual was a rude awakening.
The only similarity to an IBM Selectric and an iPhone is that one day both will be in a museum.
Minter’s argument is one we’ve heard over and over. Apple is doomed. iPhone is doomed. Smartphones are commodity items and low price will win because everyone wants the least expensive product available, and that isn’t an iPhone and it wasn’t the IBM Selectric typewriter.
In Kenya, users cite social media as the primary reason for upgrading from a feature phone, and used smartphones — which go for as little as $40 — work just fine for accessing Facebook. True, the cheaper phones won’t look as good. But they do everything that late smartphone adopters want, and that’s good enough.
That says something, but not enough. ‘Good enough‘ is not good enough for everyone, everywhere. It’s just not. There are plenty of aspirational brands in technology, in home appliances, and everywhere else in the world. Products are not all commodities.
“Good enough” doesn’t sound great for Apple and other phone makers, which prosper off the relentless upgrade cycle. But many well-known products have followed the same path, from ground-breaking innovation to reliable, profitable, “good enough” staples. The KitchenAid Model K mixer revolutionized American kitchens when it was introduced in 1937, but has since changed only incrementally as it became a wedding-registry juggernaut. Maytag washing machines, Aermotor windmills, the Ford Model T, and the Browning M1911 pistol have gone much the same route.
Guess what? You can still buy a KitchenAid appliance, a Maytag, and a Ford. Why? Because those manufacturers have brands, and brands are the differentiator in goods.
How does any of that compare to an iPhone?
When IBM introduced the device in 1961, electric typewriters had already been around for decades. But the Selectric upended the business by enabling faster typing and the changing of fonts, thereby boosting productivity worldwide. The technology also came packaged in a sleek, minimalist case quickly recognized as a landmark in industrial design.
In that regard, and it’s limited, the iPhone is like the Selectric in that it revolutionized the electric typewriter market. iPhone did that to smartphones. But Apple’s iconic iPhone did not dominate the way IBM’s selectric did. iPhone has well less than 20-percent of the market.
In principle, the iPhone is becoming something similar: a tried-and-true model that simply matches customer needs. In Malaysia, where I live, one authorized reseller is promoting the iPhone 6 with a big red sign that promises “Amazing Phone, Amazing Price,” with no reference to the model name or vintage.
The smartphone, maybe, but the iPhone is a brand of smartphone, and, therefore, easily differentiated from competitors in many aspects.
Look around. How many different brands of toasters or microwaves can you find? How many different washing machine and dryer models are there? How many different cars? All are somewhat commodity like, and they do much the same thing, but they are different; by price, style, design, features, and much more. You don’t see anyone complaining that toaster makers need to broaden their line because a toaster is nothing more than heat and we’ve had that for thousands of years.
If Apple wants to maintain its reputation as an innovator, it should acknowledge the iPhone as the mature product it has become, and redirect its vaunted creative energy to something new.
Spoken like a true armchair quarterback, but one far removed from how businesses and brands actually work in the world.
Apple does not just make a smartphone. It makes the iPhone. Back in the day, IBM made the selectric and the business world fell in love with it. In the mid-1980s, IBM saw the future as personal computers and dismissed the electric typewriter business to Lexmark. Over a decade ago, IBM sold its struggling PC business to Lenovo. Was that IBM’s selectric to Apple’s iPhone?
No. It’s a false equivalency. IBM left the PC business because the ‘good enough‘ that Minter describes was good enough for customers who didn’t want to pay for IBM’s higher priced products, but that isn’t the same. IBM failed to distinguish and differentiate the venerable PC from less expensive competitors. That’s a problem Samsung has; not Apple. Apple’s wares are easily distinguishable and differentiated thanks to macOS, iOS, the ecosystem, applications, service and support, and all the extras the company builds into the product. That’s what users buy.
An IBM selectric was the last representative of the ancient typing technology and is not an equivalent comparison to the iPhone in any way other than one day both will be in a museum.