Oh no. Now Apple’s on a brand ego trip

Regular readers will know that I have long been an Apple fan(atic). For years I've loved the product design, the ease of use, the packaging, the stores, the Steve Jobs story… the whole thing.

But recently, I'm sorry to say, that I think Apple are losing their way. Ow. It pains me to write that. It feels to me like they're on what I call a "brand ego trip", getting too big for their boots, and relying on emotional sizzle not product sausage. It certainly seems that investors share my concerns, when you look at the once stratospheric share price crashing back to earth, -40% vs. the high reached in Sep 12.

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First, it was the Crap-Maps fiasco. Even now, months later, I still prefer Google Maps to Apple's inferior version. Apple Maps still can't find certain landmarks I search for, where Google can. And it even puts things in the wrong place, taking me on a wild goose chase.

Then, it was the over-selling hoopla about iOS 7, the new mobile operating system. This looks to me like mainly a tweak to the aesthetics of the interface (see below for Weather and Messages), with no major functionality to get me excited. Yet the Apple website makes it sound like a revolution, not an evolution:

"iOS 7 started with a desire to take an experience people love and make it better. To make it even simpler, more useful and more enjoyable – but instantly familiar. The design of iOS7 is beautiful because it's all of those things. And it's the start of a new chapter for iOS."

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But the final straw was the self-indulgent, cringeworthy TV and press campaign "Designed in California". Here, we have the same ego-tripping style as iOS7, this time telling us about how products are designed. The TV ad is here, and a double page press ad example is below. A vomit-inducing excerpt: "We spend a lot of time on a few great things. Until every idea we touch enhances a life it touches."

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So, why is all this, in my view, an ego trip?

1. Let the products do the talking

Up to now Apple has succeeded by letting the products do the talking. They were so well designed and so distinctive, that Apple didn't need to explain in detail how they were created. Contrast the advert above with the brilliant iPod advert below.

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The sort of text in the brand ego campaign discussed above was before a consumer response to a beautifully designed wow product, whereas now it has become the stimulus. This all feels like a needy brand demanding to be loved, rather than earning that love.

2. Losing the product race

The big news so far this year on the iPhone is the iOS tweaks discussed above. Samsung seem to have got a step ahead of Apple on product innovation. It feels like the Galaxy S3 and now S4 are the hotter phones in terms of features, as the advert points out below.

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3. Corporate brand damage

In the past Apple has benefited from being seen as a cool Californian upstart on the side of the consumer. The company's products and services did improve everyday life in little ways. However, increasingly the company's corporate image is becoming tarnished. We've had the tax "management" scandal, with headlines like this one: "US Congress excoriates Apple's tax-avoidance shenanigans". More recently we've had Apple sticking its heels in and refusing to accept blame over the eBook price fixing they're accused of, even if all the other companies invloved have pleaded guilty and settled out of court.

Its still not at the point where I would stop buying Apples' products if they were good enough. But in the long run, it can't be good for business.

In conclusion, Apple's ego trip shows that even brilliant brands can loose their way. I just hope that Apple re-focuses on brilliant products that sell themselves. I've hung on to my iPhone 4S waiting for the iPhone 6, and my iPod 2 waiting for a new generation that is really different. And who knows, perhaps we will see an iWatch and and iTV?