On September 12, 2011, HTC exec Martin Fichter said something that seemed crazy.
"iPhones are not that cool anymore," he proclaimed during a speech on stage at a conference in Seattle. "[Your] dad has an iPhone ... I mean, would you want what your parents wanted?"
In response to Fichter's surprising, counterintuitive declaration of the iPhone's slide from Fonzi to Screech, the entirety of the Internet -- in one unified, simultaneous, mutually agreed-upon motion--scoffed.
The statement that the iPhone -- and, by extension, any product that Apple has released in the last ten years -- is uncool was viewed as a desperate jab by a delusional competitor attacking the frontrunner in any way he could by most commenters.
I, too, scoffed, at the time. Even though my dad owns an iPhone. And even though all of his Bocce Ball partners do, too.
And then I saw the latest iPhone 4S commercial:
And then I saw this one:
And then I saw this one:
These advertisements are, I believe, the first commercials from Apple in a long time that both star and aggressively cater to white-fence suburban forty-somethings with two-and-a-half kids. The iPhone might not be a phone for parents, but Apple is certainly targeting them.
In a long series of TV spots that stretched decades, Apple ran counterculture, outsider-pose adverts in an attempt to target its products to anyone BUT the people now featured in their iPhone commercials. Think about the silhouette people dancing like wild children to the indie music on their iPods; the Big Brother-inspired '1984' ad with the sledgehammer-flinging woman disrupting the monotony of a hypnotized nation; Justin Long as a hip Mac in skinny jeans and John Hodgman as a corporate and stodgy PC.
Frankly, if Hodgman, in his wire-rimmed glasses and gray suit and tie, had appeared in these latest Apple ads syncing a PowerPoint presentation with iCloud, he wouldn't have looked too out of place. Apple had already dipped its toes into the mainstream with its squishy, sentimental iPhone 4 FaceTime ads. But with their "WB Presents 7th Heaven" milquetoast characters, the newest iPhone television spots are so clearly targeted toward vanilla young parents and mid-career corporate professionals that they might as well have played Matchbox 20 in the background.
Let's be clear about what this means: The iPhone 4S isn't "for your dad" because of these commercials, but these commercials have most certainly been made "for your dad." It makes sense for a company that has gone from a laughing stock on the brink of bankruptcy to become one of the most highly valued corporations in America to target a new group of richer, older, more settled consumers with its latest ad blitz. After all, Apple makes devices desired by all age groups, from babies to great-grandparents.
There has been no authoritative survey showing that younger people prefer Android and older people prefer iOS. You may recall a proudly unscientific infographic by Hunch that claimed to show just that, or a recent Nielsen survey showing smartphone adoption among baby boomers skyrocketing upward. A Nielsen spokesperson told me, however, that unpublished data from that study showed that any perceived age gap between Android and iOS users had either diminished or was non-existent.
Apple should be mildly wary of a teenage backlash. Before the iPhone 4S was released, the top two individual handsets in America were the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3GS (incidentally, spots three and four were both HTC phones). By now, the top three smartphones in the U.S. are almost certainly the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3GS, in that order. Apple's smartphone is terrific, but it is not so much demonstrably better than its competitors that it deserves this kind of market saturation. And frankly, if I were sixteen (if only!), I would not want to share a phone charger with my mother.
Naturally, the iPhone has become far less cool than it was when it was released in 2007. It is no longer the device that causes gawking and rubber-necking on the subway and school bus. And certainly far more dads, moms, grandmothers and grandfathers own the iPhone now, almost five years into its existence.
But as the iPhone approaches total ubiquity, and as Apple's advertisements have begun to reflect a shift in the company's target consumer, HTC exec Martin Fichter may have partially hit on something, albeit in a snarky way: Public perception of the iPhone is changing. Apple's phone is no longer scarce, and it is no longer cutting-edge. It is still cool, and it may still win prom king, but not with nearly as many votes as it would have garnered its freshman year.
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