While the internet is still exploding over Apple’s announcement that they’re getting rid of the headphone jack in its newest iPhones, and their introduction of the Airpods (a move I personally think is, at the very least, tone deaf), the feature of the new iPhone that I’m stuck thinking about is the camera.
Because, regardless of whatever else you could say about the iPhone, that camera is a hell of a piece of technology. And yet, I can’t figure out who its for. And that got me wondering about who the iPhone as a whole is for. Basically, what’s the point of having that sophisticated a camera in a phone?
Even Apple admits that, despite how great the new iPhone camera is, it can’t compare to the flexibility and quality you would get from professional camera equipment. So the iPhone camera isn’t a selling point for professional photographers because they’re still going to need a more expensive, but also all-around better camera.
And the same could be said about most of the other iPhone features. No matter how well Photoshop can run on an iPhone, a professional graphic designer is going to want to work with a tablet on a bigger screen. A professional filmmaker is going to want to sit down with a big screen and a fully-functional editing suite to cut their movies – even if, like Sean S. Baker’s Tangerine, they do all the filming on an iPhone. A business professional will likely always prefer to work at a desk, likely with multiple screens, rather than having to squint at Microsoft Office on his phone. A professional writer will never find it easier to write on a phone than on a keyboard. A dedicated gamer is going to want a high-end PC or a console in order to play the highest quality AAA games.
The iPhone is a great multipurpose tool, but as the saying goes, a jack of all trades is a master of none. And no matter how sophisticated the iPhone becomes as a multitool, it will always be asymptotically inferior to the dedicated tools of any given craft.
And yet, so much of the potential of what the iPhone can do is wasted on people who will never use it. The improved camera will make the casual, or even the hardcore, Instagrammer’s pictures look that much better, but only to be appreciated for a few seconds as someone scrolls down their feed. The next viral video may very well be hurriedly shot in extremely high quality on an iPhone 7, but it’s unlikely anyone will be parsing through it to critically analyze its cinematography. And it’s unlikely that many people would ever make it to the end of a 20 hour RPG exclusive to any mobile device.
So if the iPhone’s extremely sophisticated features are still not advanced enough for professionals, but are too unlikely to ever be taken advantage of by casual mobile users, that really leaves only one real demographic for those features – Amateurs.
And I don’t mean that as an insult. I mean “amateur” by its dictionary definition, a non-professional. And Apple catering to amateurs isn’t a bad thing, either. It’s great to have a device that allows someone to dip their toes into so many different arts and crafts before investing a ton of money into specialized equipment. And, it should go without saying, but nobody using an iPhone to explore a creative pursuit shouldn’t feel self-conscious that they haven’t dropped $1200 on a camera they’re not sure if they’ll really want to use more than once.
But, if Apple really is designing the features of the new iPhones to target amateur creatives, it would represent a massive shift in one of the core marketing philosophies they’ve had since the last century.
Because, it used to be that Apple products were preferred by artists. Apple monitors displayed a greater range of colors, opening and switching between programs in an Apple OS was more streamlined than Windows – the first Macintosh having popularized the GUI, the computers and peripherals themselves were more elegant and simple machines, and Apple designed software like Final Cut became industry standards. It really was as those now-iconic commercials with John Hodgman and Justin Long said: PC was for business, Apple was for art.
Of course, advertising to artists also attracts anybody who wants to be an artist, and so Apple became more of an aspirational brand than a functional one. Also adding to this were factors like Adobe making artistic software like Photoshop and Premiere more accessible on Windows machines; and the growing ubiquity of home PCs and then Laptops making it so artists using those tools would want greater customization and flexibility within the hardware and operating systems, something Apple has never encouraged.
Today, Apple simply can’t own the creative market in the same way they used to, but they can still sell people who want to get into creative endeavors on prestige and style. Apple has become a master of selling aspiration through selling themselves as the tool of realized artists rather than an entry point. Apple knows that it can’t compete with specialized tools, but it also knows that that doesn’t matter yet to the aspirational-amateur crowd who are just looking for a tool to begin to unlock their creative potential, or alternatively, people who just want to feel like they could be an artist but don’t have any concrete artistic goals.
And that sort of marketing philosophy would go a long way to explaining why Apple products are ubiquitous in spaces like college campuses and start-ups – because Apple is a brand that signifies artistic potential, the ability to go on to do great things and revolutionize the world.