Apple recently unveiled the iPhone 5C, which is basically a mid-range iPhone and Apple’s attempt to rehash the iPhone 5 into a new (and more colorful) shell.  While some consumers may be ecstatic for a chance to own an Apple product, I felt a bit deflated. Here’s why.

What set Apple apart from the rest of the competition

What catapulted Apple to the top during their glory years?  The company’s vision of itself was to be innovative — to dare to go where others dare not tread.  But even their innovativeness had its own special brand. 

While other companies were producing products based on their customers’ needs, Apple was thinking of products that customers didn’t know they needed.  As a Time article succinctly puts it, Jobs insisted on defining needs that consumers didn’t know they had. Therefore, to be an Apple user was to be part of an “elite” group of users that could afford the “gold” standard in technology. Within Apple itself, there was no distinction among high-end, mid-range, and low-end.  Everything was high-end.  This innovation strategy distinguished Apple from its competitors.

In contrast, Apple’s new Trickle-down innovation approach is one adopted by many other top consumer brands.  You have the iPhone 5S as the flagship premium handset, and its cheaper version, the iPhone 5C which comes in “fun, plastic colors.”

Apple Innovation iPhone 5C

How Apple loses its magic with its new innovation strategy

I recently attended a career workshop conducted by a trainer certified by the John Maxwell Company. If I could pick one important take-away from that event, it would be how valuable having a vision is.  Your vision is how you perceive yourself in the future, defining how you will act in the present.

Some people define their vision by what they want to have. You envision the end-zone as having a beautiful wife, three kids, a nice car, and a two-storey house with a white-picket fence.  However, the right vision doesn’t ask what you want to have; rather, it asks what you want to be. For instance, you want to be an excellent salesman. The white-picket fence will simply be the result of this vision to be an excellent salesman.

What you want to be is unique.  Your unique set of strengths and characteristics makes you different from everyone else.  Therefore, one of the biggest mistakes when it comes to identifying your vision is to have a vision just like everyone else.  There is a growing tendency to define yourself according to what is “trending” at the moment without considering unique strengths and characteristics. Everyone loves hanging out in coffee shops nowadays, so you go ahead and put up your own coffee shop.  This crowd mentality can spell the difference between being “excellent” and being just another face in the crowd.

Which brings me to why Apple’s new strategy is just disappointing – it places Apple in a position where Apple becomes just like every other brand.  It places Apple in a position where producing what is affordable becomes more important, since this is what sells.  It puts Apple in a position where it has lost its original vision to be at the forefront of innovation, selling premium products that create a need rather than pander to a need.

Consider these words by Dominic Basulto from the Washington Post:

Part of what always made Apple so special and magical — at least, to the Apple fanboys and fangirls — was that the one premium product-per year strategy meant that a minimum-wage worker could have access to the same technology as a Wall Street hedge fund manager. There was never a sense that Apple users were viewed as “gold” and “silver” and “platinum” users – it was a sense that all Apple users were somehow superior to all the Android users out there. In an Apple retail store, there was never a VIP room or a special roped-off area for the top Apple users. Everyone was a genius. Innovation did not so much trickle down, as it seemed to swell up and emanate from everyday people in the crowd.

The old strategy is what made an Apple user feel special. This arrogance irked the Android fans, but you can’t deny that it was part of the Apple brand.  To use Apple was to be set apart from the Android sheep.  With Apple’s current strategy, this magic is lost.  If everyone can own an Apple gadget, then there’s one less reason to choose Apple, this reason being one of the primary reasons some people choose Apple anyway.

Of course, you can still argue that Apple is still Apple.  Talking to iPhone users, I noticed one usual and common observation they had – the user experience is still radically different on an iPhone.  The iPhone is more fluid and more user-friendly than other smartphones they owned in the past. You can argue that the price is the only hindrance to more people getting an iPhone device, which is why Apple’s new innovation strategy makes sense from a profit point of view.

Still, I can’t help but think how disappointing this change in strategies is.  You might say that I’m banking on a false sense of elitism.  But I think of this situation in the same way as I think about my first trip to Tokyo. I was a 5-year old, excited about my first trip to Disneyland. I couldn’t help but feel like Dorothy who suddenly found herself in the fantasy land of Oz. After the gray and dreary experience of living in Kansas, how amazing Oz must have been with its Munchkins and talking Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Woodman!  Imagine if Dorothy had travelled all the way to Kansas just to be stuck in another Kansas.  It would have been a different story! Imagine if I had travelled all the way to Disneyland and found it to be as ordinary as my own bedroom.  Sometimes, it’s the “magic” – that special quality you can’t get from anywhere else — that makes an expense worthwhile.