iCulpa is iBad

Monday’s announcement by Apple® that it has sold its one millionth iPhone ™ is good news and bad news. The good news is that they sold their one millionth iPhone. The bad news is they now have their one millionth angry early adopter!

Last week, in an open letter, Apple® CEO Steve Jobs responded to customers “upset” about the company dropping the phone’s price by $200 two months after it went on sale. After explaining the company’s rationale for such a move – and in an attempt to assuage angry buyers – Jobs offered up a $100 store credit towards the purchase of any product at an Apple Retail Store or the Apple Online Store.

It reminds me of a moment in Caddyshack when Carl the Greenskeeper (Bill Murray) shares a story about his experience caddying for the Dalai Lama: “So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something for the effort?’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

Apple just stiffed their loyal, early adopters, oh, uh, there won’t be any money, and it’s beyond the company’s power to grant total consciousness. Instead, they’re offering their customers in-store or online credits. So they’ve got that goin’ for them, which is nice. Or is it?

Mr. Jobs wrote, iPhone is so far ahead of the competition, and now it will be affordable by even more customers. It benefits both Apple and every iPhone user to get as many new customers as possible in the iPhone ‘tent.’ We strongly believe the $399 price will help us do just that this holiday season.

In reality, what Apple has is a $200-million oops on their hands. I may be wrong, but I believe that people who paid the original $599 price tag could care less how many new customers will buy at the more affordable price or what a great deal others will be getting during the holidays!

Read between the Open Letter lines, and you might conclude (as I have) –

  • Betting on the power of their brand, Apple gambled on a higher-than-otherwise-justified price, and lost.
  • Apple and AT&T (their exclusive iPhone partner) must more than double average daily iPhone sales to hit their published goal of 4.5-million units sold by year-end. Their best chance to accomplish this is to slash prices and try to cash in on upcoming holiday gifting.
  • Mr. Jobs wrote that there is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the operating system or the new whatever. The problem with this statement is that the iPhone is two months old and there is no new operating system or new whatever, just a new sense of urgency to sell more iPhones.
  • Apple’s This is life in the technology lane, we’re slashing the price, so what, get over it attitude may provide a short-term shot-in-the-arm for iPhone sales, but create a long-term hangover by reinforcing the Apple is arrogant perception held by many or damaging its brand equity by eroding trust in the company and its motives.

This pricing issue, and the Steve Jobs response to it (borderline contempt), may – deservedly so – come to be regarded as a huge blunder. As Oscar Wilde once said, “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

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