Apple doesn't make its millions and billions from the people who live and breathe tech all day. They don't even care if Jimmy Fallon uses one.
Despite what you might guess, a truly popular device never just appeals to the geeks of industry, the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and the corporate elite. An incredibly popular device crosses over to the masses, the teenager who hangs out in the Wal-Mart parking lot and the soccer dad. It becomes part of the consumer fabric, and that's what really creates total market domination.
That's why, when Apple announces a new iPhone next week at an event in Silicon Valley--which will likely be a 4-inch budget model--there will be a resounding thud. As we've seen with iPad trends, everyone who wants a tablet seems to have one. They are not gobbling up the new models as fast or as often.
A new survey by Branding Brand made the point quite clearly. In a survey of over 1,000 users across every age group from Millennials to Baby Boomers, a full 78% said they would not upgrade. The survey also found that, of those who currently have the iPhone 6 model, 88% do not plan to buy the 4-inch model.
The question you might ask is, why is Apple bothering? And, why are people so confident about not buying a phone that doesn't exist yet?
One reason is that the rumors about new iPhone and iPad models turn out to be quite accurate. The iPhone SE, as it might be called, will have the same fast processor as the iPhone 6 and a 4K camera, according to reports. Yet, it likely won't offer anything brand new or groundbreaking. That's the curse of companies like Apple and even Tesla who make exceptional products--they have to keep outdoing themselves.
Call it Happy Customer Syndrome. I know a few diehard Apple fans who are perfectly happy with their iPhone 5 and even the original iPad. They see no reason to upgrade. The products meet their needs. Because they are not all that tech savvy, they are not drawn to a slightly faster processor or a low power mode that squeezes out more juice from the phone. They don't care about new Apple Watch bands.
In fact, you can tell them about the features, and they look a bit puzzled. The thinking goes like this: Why would I sell my Honda Civic when it has only 100,000 miles on it and it's running fine? A new Honda needs to levitate in the air, cook breakfast, and transport you through a time machine to get their attention.
From all reports, Apple will likely introduce a 9.7-inch iPad Pro as well, a smaller version of the most recent "high performance" model that has a 12.9-inch screen, which also screams "point release" to me. In a recent interview with an Autodesk innovation expert, I had a good discussion about why big companies have to keep making major innovations. There is pressure to do something great consistently, over and over again. If you fail to do that, you can get by on "point releases" for a few years.
Then, things go south. Eventually, the masses notice.
While I was waiting in line at the SxSW conference for a panel, I struck up a conversation with a fellow techie. We talked for a full hour about the ups and downs of the industry, but the one comment my line buddy said that struck me as incredibly insightful is that a brand can be a ball and chain. It's why a major company like GM snaps up a small company like Cruise Automation. Small teams know how to take risks. They test the waters in a way big companies can't afford to do.
We also talked about the Apple Watch. We both agreed that Steve Jobs would have never let the watch out the door. The interface is microscopic. It's inelegant and hard to use. In many ways, it has become one more marker on the road to a temporary purgatory for Apple, a company that I've always liked and respected.
In my view, we are starting to wise up. Wait, we're supposed to upgrade to a new model every year? We're becoming jaded about even our favorite brands. We want to be impressed. If all we're given next week is a smaller version of the iPhone 6, people are going to balk. Well, until Apple does something amazing again.