Musings on the Popularity of Apple

Matthew Hodder - Writer

1) Introduction: 2007 

Whether you like or dislike Apple, it seems difficult to dispute the profound influence of the iPhone when it was first announced in January of 2007. The revolutionary promise of a widescreen iPod with touch-screen controls and the internet changed the face of the smartphone market, but why exactly was it so popular? This article aims to use consumer behaviour theory to explain exactly why the 2007 iPhone was so successful and to analyse the current market for smartphones to some extent. In doing this I will use qualitative data from an iPhone forum at the time, as used by Arruda-Filho, Cabusas and Dholakia (2010), to analyse some of the reasons that consumers so loved the iPhone. Along with this I will explain the concept of convergence in the smartphone market as another reason for the success of the iPhone.

2) Qualitative Data from iPhone users 

Arruda-Filho et al. (2010) conducted analysis into social behaviour at around the time that the 2007 iPhone was growing, using a popular forum called ‘every-’. They lay out some interesting distinctions between hedonistic and utilitarian tendencies with smartphones. In summation, the pursuit of hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure; in the context of the iPhone, this may be the pleasure of owning the first smartphone before anything like it was on the market. This seems to be contrary to a utilitarian outlook of smartphones, which is nothing but that which smartphones help us achieve.

2.1) Hedonism and Innovation 

Some of the reasons given for the popularity of the iPhone were indicated to be that when it was introduced there were few products, if any, like it on the market. This attracted consumers who derived hedonistic pleasure from being an early adopter of this new technology. This contributes to the nature of mobile devices becoming “social devices”(Katz and Sugiyama, 2006) that were a symbol of social status, of perceived wealth or class. This was further reinforced by the premium materials of aluminium and glass as well as the glossy, skeumorphic 1 icons within.
Arruda-Filho et al. (2010) attested that “innovative consumers adopt and use new technology not just for utilitarian but also for experiential outcomes”. So from this we can see that the desire to own new and innovative technology combined with the perceived social status of an Apple product contributed greatly to the popularity of the iPhone in 2007, based on their analysis of the netnographic data on the forum.

Apple has established itself as a highly premium brand that is recognised as a symbol of opulence everywhere in the world. This is demonstrated through- out Apple’s design of hardware, software, marketing and even physical retail stores. This uniform display of precision and simplicity has reinforced Apple’s premium brand which has undoubtedly helped the iPhone’s initial popularity to be sustained. The next theory I shall lay out centres around convergence in the smartphone market.

3) Convergence 

I shall define convergence here, in the context of the smartphone, as an amalgamation of features that were once separate devices. Obvious examples are the MP3 player, Camera, games machine and email communicator, which are now all found in a singular device. Katz and Sugiyama conclude in Arruda-Filho’s article (2006, p.475) that “[these] technologies are increasingly serving multiple functions, ranging from enhancing individual functional utility to making fashion statements to relevant social groups” which may suggest that the combination of the iPod, Phone, and internet communicator was so popular. Increasingly in today’s world, the need for multiple devices is being replaced with the need for just one: the mobile phone. There is no need for a DSLR camera with the rapid rate of advancement in smartphone cameras, and no need for a landline telephone.

Economically, we can make sense of convergence. Basic microeconomic theory says that consumers must live within their budget sets, that is all that they can afford with their income. Imagine an individual P, who has £600 to spend in a month. P needs six things: each costing £100. He needs a landline, a camera, an MP3 player, a calendar, a portable TV and a map. If he buys all of these things separately, he will be at the edge of his budget set, and can afford nothing else this month. Instead, if he purchases a mobile phone, and downloads some apps, that costs £500, he can have all of these features in one device and have £100 leftover that month. You can see the economic intuition behind this.

But why did that make the iPhone so popular? In 2007, there were no apps available for the iPhone, not like today, which limits the extent of the conver- gence at the time of its release. There existed a smaller version of convergence back then, in the MP3 and internet domain that served to shove the convergence preferences into overdrive.
This leaves us with a combination of limited convergence and the innovative appeal of the iPhone at the time. Arruda-Filho et al. (2010) highlight the haptic experience of the iPhone to be a key reason behind its popularity. The relatively new multi-touch brought an effective touch screen to the iPhone that was fully capacitive with a keyboard that disappeared when it was not needed, unlike the typical physical keyboards of time. The appeal of the new tech- nology has helped to create a considerable number of “Apple Acolytes” whose brand loyalty “survives poor product performance, scandal, bad publicity, high prices”(Arruda-Filho et al., 2010, p.475). With ever-rising prices and accusations of a lack of innovation plaguing Apple, we should question how long the status symbol that the iPhone has become will last.

4) Conclusions 

This article has explored two reasons that help to explain the phenomenon of the iPhone in 2007. The first was the innovative, and new, technology and the associated social status that arose from being an early adopter. The social status perceived from the use of Apple products, as far as I can tell, has never really left and may contribute to the continued 2 popularity of the iPhone. The second theory uses the smartphone market as a whole, where convergence has allowed smartphones to replace all sorts of devices in our lives. This arguably began with the iPhone in 2007, with just an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator.

Arruda-Filho, E.J.M, Cabusas, J.A, Dholakia, N. 2010.    Social behaviour and brand devotion among iPhone innovators. International Journal of Information Management. 30, pp.475-480

Katz, J.E, Sugiyama, S. 2006. Mobile phones as fashion statements: evidence from student surveys in the US and Japan. New Media & Society. 8(2), pp.321-337
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