Measurement & Instrumentation

Apple, iPhone, and the Shifting of Coolness

by Katherine Burns 06 Feb 2013
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There’s a wonderful scene in “Almost Famous” in which Philip Seymour Hoffman tells the teenage aspiring writer/protagonist, “I met you. You are not cool.” I’ve always loved that line, because I feel like what he was really saying was, “You are your own kind of cool.”

On my best days, this is how I would describe myself – my own kind of cool. I’m not cool by normal standards: no crazy college stories, nothing like that (unless you count that I used to channel Monty Python and click coconuts together on many long, horseless walk to the library… by the way, if you think that’s cool… you’re not either).

If the coconuts story doesn’t have you convinced, here are some other reasons why I’m not cool:

1)     Old movies. This makes you cool at the Turner Classic Movies film festival, but that’s about it. Couldn’t care less that this makes me not cool. To me, this just represents a deficiency in taste on the part of my peers.

2)     Pop culture basics. For better or worse, I tuned out the music and TV of my youth. No Cosby Show, no In Living Color, no… I’m not sure what music I didn’t listen to, because I’m not sure who was big then, because, well, I didn’t listen to it then and I don’t listen to it now. Tiffany. Was that a thing?

3)     Technology. I always seem to be one (or a dozen) steps behind in adoption of gadgets. As an example, I got my first iPhone this past December. This phone is the coolest, you guys! I can take videos! The photo quality is great! The background noise is almost nonexistent! I realize that these remarks were far more relevant in, say, 2007. This is what I mean by being not cool.

Which brings me to my next point. As I said, I’ve just come around to how great my iPhone is, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. And then I open up the Wall Street Journal today, and I see this article comparing the iPhone to the Model T. The Model T! The must-have car of 1924! Whether you were an early adopter or a late one like me, you’d have to be living under a rock not to know that the iPhone (its many iterations, launches, sleek design, nifty-looking headphones) has been one of the most exciting, have-to-have-it product introductions of our lifetime. It’s still flying off the shelves as I write this. What on earth could the iPhone possibly have in common with the car that pioneered the power of mass production in early 20th Century America? Here’s the author’s argument:

The Model T couldn’t have been the Model T unless the automobile were on its way to becoming too interesting a product for consumers ever to be satisfied with a single model, a single manufacturer, a single design statement.

The same is true of the iPhone. Different customers not only want different things from their smartphones, they want difference for its own sake, which explains the otherwise inscrutable shifting of coolness cache from the iPhone to Samsung’s Galaxy S line.

In sum, the smartphone market that Apple essentially pioneered now wants to “explode into diversity,” and Apple may not be ready for it. You can have any phone you want, so long as it’s white?*

I think the remark about the inscrutable shifting of coolness cache is interesting. For a very long time (an eternity in technology time, really), the iPhone has been a status symbol phone. This author seems to be arguing that it’s someone else’s turn now. Uncool people like me are starting to embrace the iPhone, and that must mean it’s not cool anymore. If it’s not cool anymore, something else is, and at least in this author’s opinion, that something may be the Galaxy (which, by the way, I considered purchasing instead of the iPhone, but it was frankly too cool for me…I’m not making that up).

Anyway, if I worked for Apple, I would cringe at any comparison of our trendiest, most breakthrough product to a car whose time passed almost a century ago. The stakes, and the challenges, for Apple are now extremely high. Reinvent the category yet again, or be surpassed by those with a new idea.

I’ll leave the adoption of those new ideas to the trendier set. For me, the iPhone is perfect. It’s just the right amount of cool – its own, very distinct, kind of cool. Just like its owner.

*I know that the iPhone also comes in black. But it’s more poetic to stick to just one color. Go with it.

Katherine is the Director of Strategic Communications for Growth Team Membership, a premier best practices research group within Frost & Sullivan. You can follow her on Twitter: @KatherineSBurns.

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Comments (2)

By  Shubham Jaiswal

22 Feb 2013 05:43

Great Article Katherine...

By  Elka Popova
Program Director, Internal

12 Feb 2013 12:50

Thanks for the fun post, Katherine! You made me laugh!

Let me tell you about uncool. The way I am with gadgets, the day I buy an iPhone, it will probably mean that it's officially dead :)

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