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The iPhone Not A Success?

Posted by: David Kiley on June 22, 2007


In the current issue of Advertising Age, marketing consultanat Al Ries argues that the Apple iPhone won’t be a success. In the same issue, editor Jonah Bloom argues the other side. Ries’s argument reminds me of the time when I was in college, and was assigned to argue that “Adam was Eve’s Son” in a debate.

Ries argues that the iPhone is a convergence device and that few if any of these such devices have been successful. Examples: One example Ries cites is the computer/TV. Apple, Gateway and, Toshiba, Philips and others tried to market combination products with little success. Another example cited by Ries is Interactive TV. Microsoft, he notes, spent $425 million to buy WebTV and then poured more than a half-billion into the venture, which didn’t help.

There are two and possibly three key things Ries misses here. The first is the power of brand. Apple as a brand in this space of personal electronics/communications is in a class by itself. Its “convergence” of design, cool-factor and technical execution in its products is unmatched. Second: The execution of the iPhone appears to be stunning. Third: Ask anyone who walks around with an a iPod and Treo strapped to them, bulking up a pocket or laying about on the front seat of their car if they aren’t genuinely interested in a cell, well executed device that combines the functions of both. I actually believe the iPhone will prove to be an unmet need for people who are slaves to their mobile phones and at least devotees of their Ipods.

For a significant number of consumers, the cell-phone and MP3 player have become as essential as car keys and wallet. We simply don’t go anywhere without them. If we get a mile away from our homes and find we forgot one or the other, we very often go back rather than go through the day without either one.

None of the other examples of failed convergence in Ries’s article fit that description.

I’ll go out on a limb and state that Mr. Ries will be proven wrong by Mr. Jobs.

By the way…that college debate. As in most college debate competitions, I had to argue both sides of that rather absurd statement: “Adam was Eve’s son.” I won both sides.

Reader Comments

Charlie Rockwave

June 24, 2007 7:34 PM

Apple is a brand and not just any brand. Try to measure the success of the iPod. iPod changed our culture.

Apple is a great company that makes great products, therefore Apple is in the unique position of having a truly loyal user base. Let's call them 'fans', as in fans of a pro sports team, movie star, etc.

Worst case scenario is that Apple can rely on it's fans until the iPhone naturally hits critical mass. I think that

If iPhone is not a runaway success among non-fans, then I think we can assume that the age of mobile communications is dead.



June 30, 2007 6:11 AM

Well, I'd start by rejecting Al's premise that the iPhone is a convergence device, unless you also believe that a car is one. For that matter, the iPhone isn't a phone, unless you also believe that my notebook computer is one.

As the wise old sage of branding, Al should understand how powerful Apple's brand is for this type of product, and stop trying to explain theories that have no application here. It's sad when the best and brightest fall on their sword this way.

see: for more detail on what's wrong with the convergence argument and other analysis.


August 13, 2007 3:11 AM

The best use of an iPhone thus far! (other than a paper weight)

John Graham

August 15, 2007 4:26 PM

There's a reason why every cell phone comes with an incomprehensible full length manual. There's nothing intuitive about them. Because it's nearly impossible to figure them out, few users even try to fathom their capabilities. In the final analysis, they're no fun. Anyone who uses an iPhone knows it is right the moment they touch it. There's a manual, to be sure, but it's not needed to use the iPhone's monumental capabilities. Instead of feeling like a klutz, you feel it's an extension of yourself. Most cell phones are sold on their cases, not their functionality. The one exception is the iPhone. So, is Al Ries right or wrong about the ultimate failure of the iPhone? It would appear that he has not had the iPhone experience.


September 30, 2007 10:40 AM

iphone, i believe is going to be a success for a certain period of time. but for the long term, i don't think it will match nokia or any other mobile phone companies out there..the power of focus as preached by mr. ries..

yes, apple is a very strong brand...but for laptops..
yes, apple sells ipod, however ipod itself is more of an independent brand now rather than a diversified subbrand of apple..(more like walkman and sony in the old days)

for iphone to have bright future, it must sell enough volume to justify its bottomline first...

Sarah Gutz

October 17, 2007 10:49 AM

Can the iPhone be a success?

It's possible.

I was in Denver a few weeks ago, checking out a Cingular/AT&T store, when I spotted the iPhone display. Standing in front of the phones was a ten-year-old girl, flipping through the sample music on the phone. I began to play with one, and soon found myself lost. This small girl leaned over and got me right back to the homepage.

Apple has hit the mark on advertising to younger and younger people- and it's most likely those generations who will make or break the iPhone's success.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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