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.
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.
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.
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.