Portrait

iPhone: The Mystique of iDesire

The latest iPhone
Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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The latest iPhone takes no revolutionary leap but the world is still mad about it

EVERY MARKETING MANAGER in the world is in awe of Apple. Why? Because it has fulfilled their fantasy ever since they got out of management school and came to harsh terms with the real world of selling where the customer is a fickle disloyal king who has to be relentlessly pampered. Apple, however, has a different equation. It has taken out the necessity of catering to what customers think they want. It decides what they are entitled to. Period. You might want a headphone jack because the idea of two small independent sticks attached to your ears does not appeal to you. Apple says no, this is what you will get because we made a damn good thing which looks as beautiful as any artist could have created and you will not only eventually come to love it, you will not be able to live without it. And if you don’t, there is an entire planet out there besides you who will. And so, last year, just like that, the iPhone 7 did away with wires in headphones. On the other hand, wireless charging has been provided by competitors for a couple of years, but it is only now with the iPhone 8 that Apple finally thought its customers should get it. And, on the other hand again, for its iPhone X, it decided that a fingerprint scanner, which no mobile phone company in the world has dared discard for top end phones, was too much of a bother with a bezel-less design and so it went in for facial recognition as its unlocker, a technology no one is really sure will prove efficient. Even at the launch event, it didn’t work at first. But it does not matter. In a couple of years, you can be sure all phones will have face recognition as the default unlocking option. Apple can be both miserly with one fist and arrogantly risky with the other because its audience, especially in the US, the largest market in the world, is captive. You cannot be a yuppie there and not have an iPhone. Outside the country, the richest slice of human society in the world remains beholden to the iPhone. Just look at what the Indian investment banker is holding.

You can see this in how it has priced the iPhone X, starting at $999, its most expensive yet. That might be forbidding, but it is what everyone will aspire to, and given enough resources, buy. But here’s the thing about the iPhone X. Feature-wise, there is really nothing extraordinary about it that separates it from phones that already exist. Samsung ’s flagship phones, for instance, have had OLED and bezel-less displays, besides wireless charging. They even have iris recognition to unlock and a slot to expand memory; with Apple you have to pay in good dollars for another iPhone if you want more storage. And this has always been the case. The iPod, the touchscreen were all inventions pioneered by others that Apple co-opted with flair. If there is anything that makes the iPhone exceptional, it is the software. It takes on a lot of what hardware does in other phones, provides a superfast and smooth user experience, is free of bloatware and less vulnerable to malware attacks. There is the perfect mix of great utility value and snob value in the iPhone.

But for those looking to buy one in India, its price is even steeper. A tag of $999 converts to Rs 64,000, but that is not what we will pay for an iPhone X. Instead, we shell out Rs 89,000. That is Rs 25,000 more. What it indicates is that at this moment, Apple really does not care for the Indian market, at least not the upper end which it finds too minuscule for it. But even so, within that minority, there will be a rush to order the iPhone X. Because when Steve Jobs turned aesthetics into the most winning business strategy in recent history, it made having an iPhone a statement about the person who was holding it.