The Apple rumor mill is a funny thing. While there are thousands and thousands that follow Apple products closely, blog about them, write about them as a full time job, or somehow work with them. For most of us, speculations around what the iPhone 5 will look like, feature, and when it will be released is not that important. Meet the average consumer.
Apple’s marketing team is smart in how they use the rumor mill to gain and gauge interest in their products, but most of the time the rumor mill is about other companies/publications/individuals trying to gain economically from the interest around their products. Most of the people i have talked to that have shown any interest in the iPhone 5 rumors are those that work in the field of media/marketing/pr or in general are tech geeks. The rest have a much more relaxed, un-obsessed relationship with the rumor mill.
Being one of those that have an above average interest in the iPhone and smartphones in general, i have to admit that most of the time the rumor mill is just confusing and full of stories that have no base in reality. In other words, bullshit! The spin doctors are working hard to find different and perhaps interesting angles to make non-relevant news seem newsworthy. In part that is down the strenght and cult-like following of the Apple brand by a group of people that in the larger picture represents a very small minority of consumers.
One of the dangers for Apple though with the rumor mill is the almost impossible expectations it builds up around product upgrades and new products. Take the iPhone 5 for example, at the most extreme the rumor mill will have us believe that the next iPhone will be revolutionary and different to the current iPhone 4. Fact is that the iPhone 4 is a very successful smartphone that is still maintaining a strong leadership role in the smartphone market despite the perhaps technologically superior Android phones out there. Apple knows that they don’t have to reinvent the iPhone every year, they are in the driving seat, and they are doing a very good job at crowd control, keeping the competitors firmly behind them. Apple can’t be focused on delivering a new handset that delivers all the futuristic stuff that the small minority is asking for, they have to balance cost and market size, delivering an iPhone 5 that will sell in volumes. Of course they can’t ignore the ‘Apple elite’ as early adopters can be powerful, but Apple has grown to become so much more than just a product for the niche market.
Imagine if the Apple fanboys were in charge of the marketing of the iPhone 5. There would be large pre-launch campaigns hyping up the device that in the end would culminate in a lot of disappointed users. It would break the golden rule that you should always “under-promise and over-deliver”.
If you surveyed the majority of the market you would probably find that most people would rather see the iPhone becoming more affordable than it necessarily getting a slightly improved screen, an A5 processor, or become revolutionary thinner than it currently is. I know that the people who might read this is more likely to be among the minority, but still, take the below survey and we can see what the result will be.
While there is a lot of money in selling high-end hardware, there is even more money in building up a large customer base that will spend money with you regularly over the years. The smartphone war is about controlling the mass market, the distribution of media and advertising, and not necessarily about delivering the most revolutionary technical handset.
So while the majority of the market patiently awaits the next iPhone, enjoying their current one, the rumor mill will continue to build up expectations amongst the minority in their chase for retweets, traffic, and more advertising money. There is always a story to spin inside the rumor mill.
In the meantime Apple will continue with whatever their strategy is. Based on what we have seen so far this year, the focus will be on getting more people to buy their products (think Verizon iPhone) through expanding the reach, more carrier networks, and improving market penetration in large emerging markets such as China. That is not done through expensive state-of-the-art technologically superior handsets that cost a fortune, but through delivering affordable and desirable products with a superior user experience.
Based on this reasoning, i am lowering my own expectations for 2011 to an iPhone 4s, and i might just sit on the fence with my upgrade until next year. Either way, i’m expecting whatever iPhone comes next to sell like hot cakes!