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Is Apple Losing Its Cool?

Some days ago, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak expressed concern about the company losing its cool. More specifically, he is concerned about Apple not being the cool computing system for too much longer.

This is not the first time Wozniak has expressed concern about the future of Apple. Last year, he was worried that Microsoft might be innovating in more interesting ways than Apple itself.

All this made me think of the meaning of “cool”. The concept has varied among cultures and generations over time. Today, manufacturers and marketers take advantage of how consumers are inclined toward buying cool electronic devices. But what puts a device in the cool category? What does it mean for a manufacturer to keep the cool factor year after year, as Apple has done?

Before we can decide whether Apple is losing its cool, you may want to look at the history of cool to better understand where this concept originates.

Defining terms
Associated with attitude, appearance, behavior, and style influenced by a product, the concept of cool brands first emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, the concept has morphed to leave behind the idea that being cool is all about being different and going against the mainstream.

Hip Replacement?

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says the company is losing some of its coolness.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says the company is losing some of its coolness.

According to Lauren Gurrieri, a researcher at Griffith University in Sydney, the manufacturing and marketing industries have caused identity loss in consumers by enhancing popular brands and culture with the idea of being cool. She studied the phenomenon for her thesis, “The Social Construction of Cool in Consumer Culture: A Discursive Approach.” She found that certain lifestyles are associated with the idea of cool, and brand marketing trends have stereotyped identities. These consumer stereotypes are exploited by marketers.

“Whenever cool products are sold, consumers are subconsciously buying into an experience that is determined by social order and hierarchy,” Gurrieri told me in an email.

Consumers of cool products aspire toward popularity and social acceptance, she said. Paradoxically, they compete among themselves to stand out as strong and unique individuals who don't need the help of products to fit in.

Losing it?
Of course, this makes us think of Apple product consumers. By and large, Apple products and their users have been considered part of the cool sphere. Recently, a friend of mine said the iPhone is not cool anymore, because everyone has one. I wouldn't say that, but could this be one of the reasons Apple may be losing its cool?

Society is often critical of materialism, yet the changing concept of coolness often leaves people feeling inadequate and pressured into outdoing one another while competing to acquire popular identities, lifestyles, and products. For Gurrieri, this feeling is enhanced by the fleeting sense of fulfillment that comes with buying. She said consumers end up moving through cycles of discontent in pursuit of the next cultural fad.

There is no doubt that Apple products are popular, and I think they will remain so. It's not only popularity. Apple products are quality products that respond to consumers' needs and expectations. In my opinion, Apple got the cool title when there were only a few competitors in its market. During the past few years, different electronics manufacturers have brought countless new products to market. And some of them are cool.

Maybe Wozniak shouldn't be afraid of Apple losing its cool. Instead, Apple might have to share the title of cool with other innovative products in the market. This may be the time when the word “cool” goes through another revision and adapts to the times.

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23 comments on “Is Apple Losing Its Cool?

  1. _hm
    March 4, 2013

    @Suasan: Please wait for Apple TV and Apple wrist watch. They will be cool products.

  2. ITempire
    March 4, 2013

    Wozniak's concern about the Apple's products no longer being cool is justified as today there are many phones with similar looks and features. The uniqueness of its products is what is lost. Also it is worth mentioning that iPhone 5 doesn't have that wow factor thereby Apple's reputation for innovation is going down.

  3. ITempire
    March 4, 2013

    @ _hm

    True. These products can revive the reputation of Apple for being cool. However, we must remember that if Apple is innovating in mobile TV etc, so are others.

  4. Susan Fourtané
    March 5, 2013

    _hm, 

    Don't worry, I am looking forward to seeing Apple's new products, especially the iWatch. 

    -Susan

  5. Susan Fourtané
    March 5, 2013

    Waqas, 

    “The uniqueness of its products is what is lost.”

    Uniqueness is the key word here. When a product becomes one of many the unique cool factor is vanished. Apple can bring this back by adding unique features to existing products, or even better creating a one of its kind product again. 

    All Apple products excel in quality. This is something no one can deny. 

    -Susan

  6. Adeniji Kayode
    March 5, 2013

    @ _hm

    Apple makes cool products from time to time and costly ones too

  7. Ariella
    March 5, 2013

    @Susan you close with ” This may be the time when the word 'cool' goes through another revision and adapts to the times. In what terms would you revise it? What is entailed by adaption here?

  8. Brian Fuller
    March 5, 2013

    Good points, indeed! But Apple's strength has always been in defining what will make consumers cool in the coming years. 

    That has yet to be defined, I think. Is it the next era of TV? 

    If the next big thing is the Internet of Things, Apple's going to have a really tough time there because it's such a diverse market with millions of applications. 

     

  9. garyk
    March 5, 2013

    Not if everyone is bying Apple products. Apple just needs to re-market COOL in Apples favor!!!!!!!!

  10. kilamna
    March 5, 2013

    Apple products are based on industry standard quality norms; they are no better 'quality' than a Sony or Lenovo, etc. What (in my experience) had distinguished Apple was the superb service IF one had a problem. They 'allow' consumers to 'choose' if they want to be treated 'better' by paying more than others who do not need that 'treatment'. You buy AppleCare. Another source of revenue which can justify better service. It is essentially an insurance against poor quality that the customer PAYS additional for.

     

    Lately I have noticed a fall even in this service, even though one has already PAID for it.

    Apple may be losing its cool quality image, maybe already has lost it.

  11. kilamna
    March 5, 2013

    Apple watch: A person carrying a grandfather clock is knoocked over by a drunk.  He yells at the drunk: What. Are you blind. Watch where you are going.  The drunk: I get it. But will you start wearing a normal size watch rather than this huge thing.

    This may well be a methor for the Apple watch. Dont hold your breath.

    Apple TV: Facebook just let us know that they are losing the 15-25yr olds. Apple will also soon start losing them: they have tolerated the itunes 'lock', but are now getting to the point of resistance.  The same resitance will apply to Apple TV.  When I buy or watch something I prefer things where the 'producer' gets most of the payback. With the 30ish% cut that Apple takes, I will go there only as the absolute LAST resort.

     

  12. Ford Kanzler
    March 5, 2013

    Perhaps Woz is just trying to give Apple's innovators a kick in the pants since Steve is no longer dong it. Cool factor isn't easlly earned and doesn't instantly vanish. What Wall St (the capital of fear and greed) thinks often has zip to do with a company's true value or potential. Wall St. just keeps some kind of wierd scorecard.

    If Apple's innovators maintain their passion for what's next without sweating their stock price and just go with their intuitive, colllective gut feelings, they'll continue proving what they believe people will need in further insanely great products. They're likely very aware The Ghost of Jobs is watching, far less Wall St. or the media.

    For more insight into what makes Apple and other well-led organizations tick, go to:  http://on.ted.com/p4O8

    PS: To my point above re. Wall Street's off-base perspective on Apple's value, this just in from today's SF Chronicle: Oliver Chen , an analyst at Citigroup , on the potential market for a much-rumored Apple iWatch. Wristwatches will generate more than $60 billion in worldwide sales this year, with gross margins of 60 percent, Chen estimates.

  13. ITempire
    March 6, 2013

    @ Brian

    I personally feel mobile TV has a limited scope as it is unlikely that people carry both a mobile tv and a smartphone simultaneously. Let's see how Apple and others make way for this product.

  14. ITempire
    March 6, 2013

    @ Susan

    No doubt about the quality and that is what keeps Apple among the reputed vendors for mobile devices. But there is a big population willing to compromise on quality against a lower price. All they need are the features that are must have.

    Surely Apple can sustain its revenue growth by bringing in some cool features to its devices. The ability to surprise is something which shouldn't get lost and it has become difficult to surprise people because they are always expecting something beyond their normal imagination.

  15. Susan Fourtané
    March 6, 2013

    Waqas, 

    “The ability to surprise is something which shouldn't get lost and it has become difficult to surprise people because they are always expecting something beyond their normal imagination.”

    Great point. That is exactly what is happening. Like a kid, always expecting beyond what it's possible, and will never be satisfied with any new toy, consumers have come to a point that they will not be satisfied with anything no matter what new feautures Apple would add to its devices. It's kind of sad if you come to think about it. 🙁 

    The whole same thing can kill any motivation for invention and creativity. Why to put an effort in something that it's not going to be appreciated anyway? 

    -Susan 


  16. Patrick_yu
    March 6, 2013

    “Apple products are quality products that respond to consumers' needs and expectations.”  most of these consumers simply don't use their brain, or they have too much money to spend!

    iPhone and iPad are not environmental friendly to begin with.  They force consumers to buy the proprietary dongle/adapter instead of using the universally standard microUSB connector.  When almost everybody agree to adopt the microUSB connector in Feb2009, Apple refused and kept claiming the b.s. that the proprietary 30pin (and now 9-pin) connector can do more.  More to meet the consumers' need?  No.  More with profit taking at Apple?  Yes.  Apple refused to offer the micro-SD slot.  Instead, Apple charges consumers US$100 for 16GByte which costs less than US$10 on sales at Fry's Electronics or Amazon, …  Apple refused to adopt NFC early but was willing to push out the nuisance Map Apps.  This doesn't meet consumers' need and expectation, right?  Apple offers the smallish 3.5″ screen (4:3 aspect ratio) and only agreed to the slightly larger 4″ (more of 16:9).  This strains the eyes of consumers, especially the old and the young.  In terms of HW spec, iPhone5 is so behind the competition in many areas, yet consumers was deceived to feel that they are owning the best featured smartphone.  How ironic?  Back to the screen size, when iPhone is used to visit websites, it cannot display Flash animation and choose to display static image.  Most criminal is: when iPad1/2/3/4 is used to display movie at 16:9 or wider format, iPad will cut away the left and right portion of the display in order to reduce the black stip at the upper and bottom edges of the display.  Because consumers rarely put an iPad4 and a good Android tablet (e.g. Nexus 10) together, they do not know what they are missing.  However, I would say that Apple cheats its consumers by cutting away left and right of the display.   Being Apple, Apple happily keeps making a lot of money despite of offering devices with the least user-friendly features and , …

  17. ITempire
    March 9, 2013

    True Susan. The only motivation left for Apple and its peers to innovate is sustaining the revenue of their companies. Having said that, money can never be as good a motivator as appreciation to one who sweats to develop a unique product.

  18. Susan Fourtané
    March 9, 2013

    Waqas, 

    I kept on thinking about the total disatisfaction that I believe is the problem we are facing today. The minute most consumers have a new device in their hands the first thing they do it trying to find what's missing, what's not working asthey expected, what's wrong with the them. Why are we always discussing what's wrong with the products, or the manufacturers, and not what's good about them? 

    Why are we wondering if Apple is losing its cool, instead of higlighting all the cool things Apple has? I need to think more about this. 

    “. . .  money can never be as good a motivator as appreciation to one who sweats to develop a unique product.”  

    Exactly. And here, you have found one good reason that may be part of the whole circle. Good thinking, Waqas. 🙂 

    -Susan 

  19. ITempire
    March 9, 2013

    @ Susan

    Why are we always discussing what's wrong with the products, or the manufacturers, and not what's good about them?Why are we wondering if Apple is losing its cool, instead of higlighting all the cool things Apple has? I need to think more about this.

    I feel there is a conflict between our words and action. Despite we highlight negatives of Apple and its devices for being quite standard (not cool), many of us our active users of iPhone and have no intention of dropping it. Our choice of not to let it go should keep Apple's sales team content.

  20. SunitaT
    March 10, 2013

    Despite we highlight negatives of Apple and its devices for being quite standard (not cool), many of us our active users of iPhone and have no intention of dropping it.

    @WaqasAltaf, its not the question of dropping it. Reality is Apple sales have definitely slowed down after Samsung released its Galaxy and Note series and this trend might continue because Samsung is planning to released smartphones which will have flexible display.

  21. SunitaT
    March 10, 2013

    Why are we always discussing what's wrong with the products, or the manufacturers, and not what's good about them? 

    @Susan, I agree with your opinion. I think one reason for this behavoiur is because there is little to differntiate between two products. Android devices released by Samsung/LG/HTC are as good as iPhones. So consumers tend to see what feature is missing in the product rather than what features are present. 

  22. SunitaT
    March 10, 2013

    I personally feel mobile TV has a limited scope as it is unlikely that people carry both a mobile tv and a smartphone simultaneously

    @Waqas, true. I think already there are many apps available in the market using which users can watch TV on their existing smartphones. I wonder what additional features mobile TV will have compared to the smartphone TV. I think smartphone which can project the image on bigger screen will become popular than mobile TV.

  23. ITempire
    March 10, 2013

    @ tirlapur

    “Reality is Apple sales have definitely slowed down after Samsung released its Galaxy and Note series and this trend might continue because Samsung is planning to released smartphones which will have flexible display.”

    You have a valid point. Samsung is beginning to be known as cool for its devices because of its elegant design and display features. Secondly, its cost is also below that of its Apple counterparts which makes it a worth-considering option when choosing between buying iPhone or Samsung device such as galaxy note.

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