It was a difficult week for one of the world’s most iconic companies. Obviously, the saddest news from Apple was that its visionary, Steve Jobs, died too young after years of failing health. While his legacy as an innovator, inventor and marketing genius is secure, some worry about the future of the company he fastidiously built.
Ironically, his death came the day after the company’s first major product announcement since his resignation. That announcement did little to quell the unease of some.
Apple did what is unusual for them – it released an iPhone that was met with a yawn. That’s too bad because the new phone appears to be an improvement over the current version. But for many who follow the industry and the company, that’s not the point. It’s about satisfying expectations. Apple was either tone-deaf or ill-equipped to manage those expectations.
Apple, under Jobs, was masterful in how it elicited panting for the next device. The reveal almost always matched the tease as evidenced by the long lines outside Apple stores and the $100 billion in revenue. The company knew that an Apple product was not a commodity but a desire, a must-have. Jobs was more than a demanding CEO who could drive product development. He helped Apple walk the tight-rope of growing without becoming the faceless monolith with which consumers would have trouble connecting. Instead, Jobs was the brand as much as Apple. Consumers had faith that if he was behind it that was good enough for me.
Leading up to this release Apple not only didn’t have that personality to masterfully sell the product, it didn’t have appropriate radar on what the audience was expecting. It should have understood that analysts, bloggers, consumers were expecting an iPhone 5, not a 4S. They were speculating about the bigger screen and slimmer form factor. Think about invited guests coming to your house expecting a four-course meal and bottles of Opus One only to be met by fantastic cheeseburgers and a pitcher of Margaritas. Some will be happy but others will be let down. It’s your fault for not doing a better job of understanding their expectations and managing those expectations.
Apple should have been selectively leaking news that this was going to be a 4S and, while the look will remain the same, it will be a much more robust phone with a dual-core processor, better battery, an improved camera, a cool personal assistant and speech recognition feature in Siri and the ability to travel the world with it. Apple could have said on background that it will be the best smartphone on the market and they are doing it without altering the much-loved look and feel of the current phone.
In the end, Apple will still sell tens of millions of the iPhone 4S. They just won’t get people clamoring for it and looking to trade out of their current phone to get it, which is important in this competitive space. There is an expectation (there’s that word again) that the iPhone 5 will be released next summer with greater fanfare and consumer appreciation. For the sake of CEO Tim Cook and the future of the company without its innovative leader, let’s hope that marks the next great step for a still revered brand.