If Steve Jobs had lived to see the botched live stream of Apple’s most important launch event in four years he would have gone ballistic. While it didn’t exactly color the entire event for me as it did for others, it does beg an intriguing question: Has Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) regained its innovation mojo only to lose its legendary marketing magic?
Before we go down that path let’s be clear. The core of Apple’s iconic brand and the reason for its unbridled success is the user experience with its unparalleled products and services. So before I arrogantly poke the Silicon Valley goliath’s marketing in the eye, let’s talk about the products.
The iPhone 6 was more or less as expected … and that’s a good thing. The bigger and sharper screens, thinner and rounder design, upgraded cameras, 2 billion transistor A8 processor (what can I say, once a chip geek, always a chip geek), and iOS8 with health and home automation platforms were necessary to help Apple regain lost market share.
But the game changer is Apple Pay.
As I’ve said all along, the mobile payment business represents an enormous service opportunity rivaling that of iTunes. Tim Cook was right. Our credit cards with their information boldly displayed and antiquated magnetic strips are about as unsecure and hackable as you can get. The system is broken.
Apple did Apple Pay right. All the ducks are in a row. The system appears to be easy to use, smart and secure. And that’s exactly why Apple was able to get all the major credit card companies, the big banks, and retail partners such as McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), Walgreens and Whole Foods on board at launch. I’m actually looking forward to using it, and that says a lot.
As for the Apple Watch, I was impressed by the creative use of the digital crown to supplement the ubiquitous touch screen user interface, as well as the Taptic Engine’s touchy feely notification system and its intimate digital touch messaging capability. The laundry list of apps and partners was impressive and WatchKit will shift third-party developers into high gear.
As for the attention to fashion design and detail, the myriad of options, and the obvious lack of anybody having any real hands-on time with Apple’s most personal device, I can only say it looks good on paper but time and reviews will tell. Personally, I’m considering getting one, and that actually comes as a surprise to me.
Now let’s get down to business. Besides triggering “the mother of all upgrades” as Cook said in Cupertino yesterday, the bigger screen iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus represent a golden and perhaps one-time opportunity for Apple to regain lost market share from Samsung and the rest of the Droid crowd. To do that it needs users to jump ship. And let’s face it; iPhones are pricey, even more so overseas where carrier subsidies are considerably less than in the United States.
While Apple does offer premium products and service, no matter how you look at it, that price differential represents an enormous barrier to market share growth. That means Apple has to pull out all the stops and become as innovative in its marketing as it is in its product, service and sales channel development. And the truth is, it’s not.
Look, I know how that sounds. I know that Apple has the most powerful brand in the world. I know it creates a buzz like no other company on Earth. But that’s entirely the result of its products. On the marketing side, it’s all about what Apple doesn’t do. It doesn’t do much besides maintaining secrecy until launch.
On the plus side, the event and online messaging was solid. But technical issues with the live video stream – apparently caused by bad Java Script coding – resulted in 30 minutes of unwatchable video that may have caused millions to tune out. And that is simply inexcusable for a company that needs market share growth.
Today we have stories from just about every business and tech media outlet detailing and diagnosing what went wrong with the stream. I won’t bore you with all the technical gobbledygook, but suffice to say that Apple screwed up by failing to “provision and plan for the event properly,” according to streaming expert Dan Rayburn. That’s not just a technical fail. That’s a PR fail too.
More importantly, the video stream was only available to Safari and QuickTime users. If you’re already in the Apple fold, that’s fine. But if you’re in the vast majority of users with a PC or an Android phone, you were out of luck. And if I’m one of those potential converts, you know what that says to me? It says that Apple doesn’t want my business. In a competitive market, that just makes the high price barrier insurmountable.
Don’t get me wrong. With this week’s launch, Tim Cook has proven to be capable of maintaining Apple’s unassailable track record of developing outstanding products and services. He’s proven to be a strong leader who, with the help of a solid management team and Apple’s Think Different culture, can take this fabled company to the next level.
But to say Cook had big shoes to fill is a ludicrous understatement. And while Steve Jobs did indeed hate the word ‘marketing’, that in no way colors my opinion that he was without a doubt the most brilliant marketer in the history of the technology industry.
And without the consummate marketer, without Jobs’s ruthless attention to every detail of a launch event, without his reality distortion field, without his unique sense that drove Apple’s Think Different culture and those incredibly addictive iPod music ads, Apple is lacking marketing innovation to match its iconic products.
The only way to gain market share from lower-priced competitors with products that are almost as good is to create and market products that so capture customer’s imaginations that they simply must have them. And that takes as much marketing as product innovation. “Wish we could say more” alone is not going to cut it.