July 31, 2007

Lemming management, or why the iPhone is kind of a scam

If you're like me (and whether that is a good thing or not is a matter of considerable debate), you've been watching all the iPhone mania and asking yourself one question:


Maybe I'm overthinking things, but I have a hard time understanding what all the fuss is about. I have to admire the marketing folks for giving this thing that sort of messianic je ne sais quois, but honestly I can't buy into it. I know I'm a little late to this particular party, but I got into a conversation about it over the weekend, and it sort of flipped the rant-switch, so here we are.

My basic problem with the iPhone is this: it's targeted at the early-adopter, the gadget geek who wants the latest and greatest, the bleeding edge technology. This is the group that has been salivating over this thing since they'd heard about it, and you've been telling them (and everyone else who'll listen) that it's going to revolutionize their lives. But in the end, all it's really doing is adding time and cost to their lives, which isn't exactly the kind of revolution I think they had in mind. Let me explain (there is plenty of time, so no need to sum up).

Let's say you're a full-on Apple disciple. If that's true, you probably have a Mac of one kind or another, and love it. You probably also have a great big iPod with the video screen, and have ported over your whole cd collection, and are enjoying your iTunes and watching Scrubs on the metro in the morning every day. Now, you're just itching to pick up this new iPhone, because holycrapitsaphoneanditplaysmusicanditsawifisupercoolinternetcruiserandohboyohboyicantwaittogetone.

And so you camp out for a few days, you and your brethren turning every Apple store into its own little Geekstock village. And the doors open on That Fateful Morning, like the heavens themselves (just with more casually dressed angels), and all of your patience and enthusiasm is rewarded with the Greatest Electronic Gadget Ever, the iPhone. So you rush home to fire it up, figuring the first thing to do is move all your music from your iPod to the phone, since clearly now that you have the iPhone, you won't need the iPod anymore. This is going to be so effing cool, you think, until you get home and realize....

Your iPod: 40GB
The iPhone: 8GB, max

Which does pose something of a problem. See, it's one thing if you have one of those 512MB players, where you just switch out a few songs here and there since you're only working with a couple hours' worth of music anyway, but with 8GB? that's 20% of your collection, a fifth of your music will fit onto the Next Big Thing. Which means that you'll actually have to be judicious about what moves from one to the other, the avoidance of which is more than likely a big reason you bought the 40GB iPod in the first place.

So really, you can't replace your iPod with it.

Okay, so at least you can replace your phone. That's easy, right? It's a cell phone, so I won't need my current cell phone anymore. True, but as cell phones go it's awfully expensive, and it's not exactly slim and portable, is it? Say you're currently carrying a RAZR. That's a decent-sized phone, as the more recent models go, and the iPhone is considerably bigger than heavier than a RAZR. Part of the reason I don't want a Blackberry or a smartphone is because they're just too big for me to want to carry with me everywhere I go. But that's just me.

But yes, you can replace your cell phone with it. As long as you already subscribe to AT&T, or are at the end of your contract anyway. Otherwise, prepare for the $125 cancellation fee from your existing provider on top of the $600 for the iPhone and the AT&T activation fee that's going to accompany the Joy of iPhone Ownership. And while we're on the topic of cell phones, let me ask this question: in the past 12 months, how many times have you dropped your cell phone? How paranoid are you going to be about scratches, dents, etc after dropping $600?

And as for the internet thing, I would have to imagine that the people who really need/want internet access as part of their wireless activities probably already have a Blackberry or a smartphone or something, which again only bears replacement if you're at the end of your contract or if your current device isn't working very well. The wifi thing is cool, but if you already have data service, then do you need the wifi? I don't have it, so I don't know. But it's a reasonable question.

So in the end, you pay $600, still have to keep your iPod, and making significant changes in other areas of its functionality stands to cost you even more money. Does that sound miraculous to you? I don't really see it.

Okay, so maybe the ubertechie early adopter isn't the best target audience. How about Joe Average Consumer? That's easy: $600. No thank you, I'll wait, at least until they sort out all of the bugs (which I won't even get into here, but it's not like this thing performs perfectly out of the box). The list of things I could otherwise do with $600 is long and distinguished. Plus the added $50 or so per month it's going to cost someone who doesn't already have data service on their cell plan. That's a lot of money that if I haven't already spent, it's probably not because I've just been waiting for this opportunity.

I realize also that the word 'scam' is kind of severe, but if someone told you to give them a bunch of money in return for changing your life, and the only change is that it ultimately made your life more complicated, not less, then that's probably the same word you'd use. Plus a few choice others, I'm sure.

Don't get me wrong, I think the iPhone is cool. I have a coworker who was right up front to buy one, and I got to test-drive it a bit. It's definitely an innovative little device; I'm just not sure it's worth the $600 price tag. But they're selling, so what do I know.

Jeans-wearing CEO and a borderline-cultlike marketing culture: priceless.


Carrie M said...

one of my friends just got one, and for her it was a good investment b/c she loves gadgets. she doesn't have the latest and greatest everything, so this was a splurge for her. she borrowed my 1st generation shuffle on her trip to europe and never changed the songs out. so she doesn't own an iPod and the iPhone can easily accomplish her music listening needs. She works at a place without outside internet access, and she's a connected person. She hates being offline for too long, so this keeps her more connected. She didn't have a blackberry before b/c she could be connected via laptop or desktop often enough. And she's an AT&T existing customer.

So it works for her. However, I still think the price is a bit too much for a freaking phone.

WiB said...

carrie m: Exactly. You describe what is, to me, the true target market for this product. Which consists of your friend and, like, 23 other people.

So this job is new, then? She was essentially deciding between the iPhone and getting a Blackberry to stay connected?

Jo said...

I coveted one, but only because of the idea of not having to carry both phone and ipod at all times. And it's so pretty!

But I didn't because first of all I can't afford it, and second I know apple. Wait a year or so and they'll have a new generation 20gig version.

The Wii however, is next on my list of things to purchase.

carrie m said...

I may or may not have just snorted in laughter at your response. You're absolutely right in that those people who make up that demographic is small. So who is buying the rest of them? Gadget geeks who want to be hip. And we all know Apple is hip, thanks to whoever their marketing/advertising company is.

Yep. She has to be connected. I would rather learn morse code than get a Blackberry.

WiB said...

Jo: it's much easier when you carry a purse, I guess. My cell lives in my pocket, which would not work with an iPhone. If it were more cell-sized than iPod-sized (and it's absurd that it isn't; the technology is there), then I'd consider it. But not at it's current price.

But in the end, Apple products tend to cost more for less capability than their competitors. But they are pretty. So you're paying a Pretty Premium, which personally I find preposterous.

And yeah, you can get a Wii with like 5 games for less than an iPhone. And the next-gen consoles are all ridiculously overpriced, which should tell you something about the iPhone.

Carrie m: I may or may not be inordinately proud of that fact.

I would consider a Blackberry/smartphone if it were roughly the same size as my cell phone; I want it more for calendar managment than for email/texting.

Jessica said...

I have a non-techie, non-pretentious, wears clothes from 15 years ago and doesn't know who Eminem is friend who HAD to have the iPhone and swears it's the greatest thing she's ever purchased. She was not Apple's target market, but could be the poster child...

WiB said...

Jess: Wow, a market segment smaller than Carrie M's. Impressive.

I envy her, less for the iPhone than for the fact that she doesn't know who Eminem is.

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