Apple – and the rest
Editorial

Apple – and the rest

Apple has redefined the successful marketing of mobile devices – but it wasn’t always that way.

“There’s one more thing…” Expectations were immense as Steve Jobs unveiled the groundbreaking mobile phone. It was jaw-dropping in concept – the first phone to carry iconic Apple software, delivering an iTunes experience in a mobile handset.

So why was it such a failure?

No, we’re not talking about the debut iPhone’s arrival in 2007, but the Motorola ROKR E1 – released two years earlier in September 2005 and billed as ‘the iTunes phone’. At the launch Jobs described this Motorola collaboration as “a pretty cool phone”, although even by 2005 standards its design was clunky, and its basic iTunes functionality and storage very limited. It was light years away from Apple’s eventual solo mobile debut, as the sales figures testified.

Lessons were learned. With the iPhone – and subsequently the iPad – Apple has redefined successful marketing of mobile devices by putting user experience at the heart of the device. In just the three days following the September 2015 launch of the latest iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, more than 13 million devices were sold. At the time of writing, more than 750 million iPhones have been sold worldwide.

“Apple’s strategy involves selling their consumers a global package of dreams, personal experiences and status,” says Abby Francis, spokesperson at Mobiles.co.uk

It has been incredibly effective. Rather than focusing on feature count or selling hardware capability – as other mobile makers and tech companies have done in the past – Apple has delivered honed down, consistent messages about user experience, demonstrating it understands customer needs and that its devices deliver clear benefits to them.

Newcomer

When the original iPhone hit the stores in 2007, Apple was starting from zero as far as mobile was concerned. It was up against established players, including the dominant and apparently unassailable market leader Nokia, which boasted 49.4% market share.

In the wake of its decline (the mobile business was sold to Microsoft in 2013), it is easy to forget that Nokia was practically a case study in successful mobile device marketing. It released a steady stream of iconic handsets with ground-breaking features and functionality, and championed the first mainstream smartphone platform, Symbian – though the poor, unintuitive user experience of the platform compared poorly with the iPhone. Nokia’s failure to address this challenge ultimately proved fatal.

The Finnish firm had been one of the world’s leading technology companies, ranked the fifth most valuable global brand in 2007. Its marketing slogan – Connecting People – made sense. Nokia was widely regarded as a company that knew about effective marketing of cutting-edge high-end products and everyman devices for the mass-market. However, when its Symbian smartphone software was unable to deliver what the consumer wanted it continued to focus on its superior hardware features; it was unable to respond adequately or quickly enough to the software challenge presented by the iPhone, and so was unable to catch up. Brand value was not enough.

Sharp looks

Motorola was another of the main mobile players when Apple came to the party. While the Motorola ROKR ‘iTunes phone’ wasn't an Apple product, it demonstrated that hype wasn't enough to capture market share. Motorola had already succeeded in that respect with its RAZR handset – a slim, sleek clamshell-phone that was initially marketed as an exclusive, high-end style product. It wasn't the highest spec device around, but it looked unlike anything else.

Its success encouraged Motorola to widen its market, producing a range of lower cost variations and derivatives. The original V3 eventually sold 130m units over its four-year lifespan.

It was an undisputed success story – but eventually consumers moved on to other models when the desirability was diminished by its mass-market ubiquity. However, the focus on resources this approach demanded meant that Motorola arguably passed up an opportunity to create a series of equally appealing successor products. Motorola never recaptured that cutting-edge design kudos, and its mobile operation was sold to Google in 2012 and then Lenovo in 2014.

Korean opportunities

The big mobile success story post-iPhone was Samsung. The South Korean consumer technology giant established its mobile brand – and its position as the world’s number one mobile phone maker – with a wide portfolio of Android smartphones. Crucially, in building the brand cachet, these included the high-end Galaxy S series – launched in 2010 – marketed as premium devices with a high-spec, rivalling and even exceeding the iPhone’s gadgetry. The heavy marketing of these products included a campaign taking a swipe at Apple, attempting to create a similar aura of cool about its devices. This helped re-position Samsung as the leading rival brand to Apple, selling more than 100 million of the S-series between 2010 and 2014. While the last couple of years have been challenging, Samsung is still the world’s number one manufacturer and one of the few that has been capable of squaring up to Apple.

Meanwhile, Apple’s iPhone goes from strength to strength. The latest Apple results revealed record fourth quarter iPhone sales, a major contribution to the company’s quarterly revenue of $51.5 billion and net profit of $11.1 billion for the three month period to the end of September 2015.

In the words of Steve Jobs, that’s “a pretty cool phone”.

Phil Lattimore Freelance Journalist CPL
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