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Apple and the Shifting Sands of 'Cool'

Apple and the Shifting Sands of 'Cool'

Is Apple losing its 'cool' factor? There's certainly evidence indicating that it might be. "They seem to be stuck on features rather than taking a step back and delivering the bigger message of how their product will transform our ways," suggested Boston University professor Hyun-Yeul Lee. "Apple in this round has done more to make the iPhone a fashion statement than to provide functional innovation."

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
09/18/13 5:00 AM PT

Katy Perry's new song "Roar" is a hit, and so is her video, which has drawn in an impressive 70 million or so viewers on YouTube. Those viewers have watched Perry cavorting about with the latest from Nokia -- the Lumia -- and not, it must be noted, something from Apple's product line.

Is that significant? Well, it resonates when considered against a larger theme -- namely, that Apple's products are now supposedly for an older crowd while hip younger consumers go for other products.

To be sure, this story line -- that Apple has lost touch with popular culture -- is one that is being pushed mightily by its competitors, Microsoft and Samsung. It's also hardly likely that Perry just happens to love the Lumia and just happened to use it in her video -- that was product placement taken to a high art.

Nevertheless, even taking all that into account, "is Apple losing its cool factor?" is a story line worth delving into, especially now that the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s have been unveiled. Maybe Microsoft paid well to have its device highlighted in the video, but it was product placement in a certain context. Blackberry, for example, surely didn't waste its resources trying to get airtime in the video; it would have been seen as a joke.

Not My Father's iPhone

Try this theory on for size: With the iPhone 5c's low price point, parents will be more inclined to shell out for the device for their young ones. These tweens and under will then grow up on the brand and naturally gravitate toward it when they are old enough to buy their own devices.

"I have customers often purchasing iPads for their kids," Josh Davis, manager of the Apple Boutique for Abt Electronics, told MacNewsWorld. "These customers are buying iOS products for their 5- to 10-year-old kids. I have toddlers in strollers playing with mommy's iPhone. "

As Davis sees it, his older customers are infatuated with Apple and are raising their kids on iOS.

That nurturing influence seems to be rubbing off, too.

"On a daily basis there are swarms of kids glued to our iPad displays while our Asus, Samsung and HP tablet displays in our PC department sit unattended," he said.

The MTV Example

Of course, Apple could still be on the outs in the bigger picture. In some ways, Apple's popularity trajectory is reminiscent of that of MTV -- the once must-see channel that's now a symbol of a previous era, Kevin Meany, CEO of BFG, suggested.

MTV was all the rage -- a pop culture centerpiece through the mid-eighties, Meany noted -- but in the last few years its ratings have dived.

"Last year they dropped about 25 percent, and 2011 to 2012 the MTV VMAs were down more than 50 percent in total viewers," he explained. "MTV and their network channels haven't gone away, but we don't consider MTV a prominent component in today's pop culture."

The newly unveiled iPhone 5c and 5s are not likely to help, Meany opined: "A lower price point for the 5c might make it more accessible to a younger audience, but price doesn't drive pop culture."

'Stuck on Features'

If Apple is losing its mojo with the pop culture crowd, that's likely because it is also losing its innovation edge -- or so critics say. The two go hand in hand, and while devoted fans will argue to the death that Apple continues to innovate, the evidence appears to be stacking up to the contrary.

In a way, however, that's descriptive of smartphones in general, suggested Hyun-Yeul Lee, a professor of Communication at Boston University.

"Today both Apple and Samsung are actually in the same innovation-problem boat despite their recent, new products, like the iPhone 5c and Samsung's Galaxy Gear," Lee explained.

Both companies are failing to connect with the audience, Lee told MacNewsWorld.

"They seem to be stuck on features rather than taking a step back and delivering the bigger message of how their product will transform our ways," she said. "Apple in this round has done more to make the iPhone a fashion statement than to provide functional innovation."

Maybe if Apple were to step out a bit from its comfort zone it could make the leap back to icon status, suggested Jordan Edelson, CEO and founder of Appetizer Mobile.

"Pop culture is not pop culture because it's safe," Edelson told MacNewsWorld. "Pop culture is all about taking risks, being different and standing out. Apple is in a very good position to compete, it just needs to return to a risk-taker's philosophy and bring something new and fresh to the table."

Or maybe get a spot in the next Katy Perry video.


Erika Morphy has been writing about technology, finance and business issues for more than 20 years. She lives in Silver Spring, Md.


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