It happened during Christmas dinner.
I took out my iPhone XR to check a text — surely someone was finally wishing me a Merry Christmas — and one of my wife’s relatives asked: “What’s that?”
“It’s an iPhone XR,” I replied, sinking, as many people do, to the Eks-R pronunciation.
“What’s that?” she replied.
I paused, a touch stumped for an explanation. Doesn’t everyone know about iPhones the minute they’re released — and often before?
“Well, it’s the newest iPhone,” I said.
“Never heard of it,” she replied. “Never seen one either.”
My thoughts drifted to how Apple has advertised these new, cheaper beasts. First, it did the usual phones-floating-in-mid-air sort of ad, with all sorts of product benefits featured in words.
Depth control. Liquid retina. Color-accurate LCD.
Did these things impress anyone? Did they even mean anything? And isn’t it a touch odd to see Apple splatter so many product benefits over an ad?
It used to be that Apple would simply present the phone, play a little modern music and the phones would enchant masses.
Then I seemed to remember another iPhone XR ad that had invaded a recent NFL game on my TV. This one touted the phone’s marvelous battery life. (And it is marvelous, for an iPhone.)
Could it be that Cupertino doesn’t have a clue how to sell a phone that, to many eyes — including my own — offers a far more satisfying value than, say, the XS?
It was fascinating that, on the morning of the XR’s launch, there were no lines outside the Apple store I visited. The staff were stunned.
Could it be that, by launching three new iPhones in quick succession, Apple has muddied the perception of all three?
This could be especially troubling at a time when people are keeping their phones longer and not being persuaded to trade up to the next supposed big thing.
And the XR/XS naming conundrum doesn’t offer a true differentiation either. It’s almost as if they’re minor variations on a theme, rather than each being a truly compelling proposition in its own right.
Of course, there are no numbers that reflect whether the XR is doing well or badly — and there may never be, as Apple is no longer releasing sales numbers for individual phones.
This week, however, research company Consumer Intelligence Research Partners emitted a survey suggesting that the XR enjoyed 32 percent of all US phone sales in its first month.
That’s 2 percent more than the X in a comparable period. Another optimistic suggestion from the survey was that 16 percent of buyers were Android switchers. This compares to a mere 11 percent for iPhone X.
Many might conclude that the XR’s lower price is what makes it more attractive to sensitive Android types.
I wonder, though, whether it’s all so simple.
I fear many people, Android or not, are still attached to their home buttons and headphone jacks. They see these as offering a simpler way of life. They look upon FaceID with a fair helping of skepticism. Indeed, when I demonstrated it to my wife’s relative, she replied: “Hmm, that’s nice, but I’m not sure I’d want to do that.”
“It’s a bit creepy.”
Many commentators wafted between startled and depressed when Apple created a very generous trade-in offer to potential upgraders from older phones.
Perhaps, though, the balance is shifting for Apple between selling hardware for as great a margin as possible to trying to find every way to get customers to upgrade, so that they disappear more deeply into the company’s service business.
Still, I fear Apple needs to be a lot clearer about its phones’ individual identities.
Otherwise more people will merely wonder “what’s that?” and move right along. If they even notice the phone at all.
Previous and related coverage:
Apple switched up release strategies a bit in 2018 with the two high end $1,000+ models released initially, followed by one priced $250 to $350 less. The iPhone XR arrives in six color options and honestly it may be the best option for the masses.
The iPhone XS is the smallest of Apple’s 2018 iPhone lineup, but don’t discount it.
Apple’s iPhone XS Max is as big as it gets.