I adore my iPhone. So many things I do on a daily basis would be impossible without it and I’m grateful to have one. That said, Apple and I have some issues. Namely, with this iPhone 5c and 5s craziness.
It’s not as though Apple is a stranger to the “shiny new stuff” contest. iPods, MacBooks, and every other product they sell pander to our desire to have the newest and best stuff to show off to your peers. The second you score the latest and best iPad, the countdown begins to the release of an even “better” one that renders yours obsolete.
No surprise there — that’s just how companies make money — but these two new iPhones take the comparison game to a whole new level. In stores today, these two new iPhone models are already having an impact on your status. As soon as they see the color — Red? Gold? – people will immediately know whether you can afford the shiny, brand-new, metallic iPhone, the colored “consolation prize” iPhone, or can’t afford a new one at all. As journalist Jenna Wortham noted on The New York Times‘ Bits blog:
One of the iPhone’s biggest strengths has always been its branding as a luxury item, a device that lends its owner an unparalleled aura of cool and chic. Having the newest iPhone or iPad was an even stronger symbol of status.
A trip to the Apple Store begs the question: Would you like the station wagon of iPhones or the Rolls Royce of iPhones? To me, it’s reminiscent of the awkwardness that happens when people don’t know how to treat someone because they don’t know how much money they make. Are you a trustafarian hipster who dresses like a homeless person on purpose? Are you $60,000 in credit card debt and subsisting on PB&J sandwiches, but always in a fab outfit from designer stores?
Of course, anybody who owns an iPhone at all is already more privileged than most of the world. If we have a mobile phone, let alone one with a hefty monthly usage fee, we’re doing alright. And that, too, makes me feel icky about phone hierarchy: We’re living in a time when the income gap between the haves and have-nots in this country is at a record high, isn’t it a little depressing to further rub that in? It’s the symbolism that comes with the fact that the nice phone is meant to look like freakin’ gold while the cheap ones look like toy phones you’d find at Claire’s.
Of course, creating this competition among consumers is just a good business move, and clearly Apple has something figured out marketing-wise that a lot of other corporations can’t grasp. But that doesn’t make it any less elitist or awkward to me.