How Apple lost its cool (and how it can win it back)

How Apple losts its cool

While I was watching the coverage of Margret Thatcher’s passing, something the former Prime Minister once said stuck with me. “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” 

I think the same thing applies to cool. If you have to tell someone you’re cool, or your product is cool, you aren’t, and it isn’t. Right now, Apple has to tell people it and its products are cool.

What happened? Samsung did to Apple what Apple did to Microsoft, skewering its devoted users and reputation, only better. The irony here is that Apple recently accused Samsung of copying its phone and tablet, but it missed the real threat. What Apple should have been concerned with is that Samsung copied its strategy against Microsoft, improved on it, funded it better and turned it against its creator.

There is a way for Apple to fight back, but the company no longer has that skill, and apparently doesn’t know where to get it, either. Let me explain.

Losing your cool

You see this same effect with celebrities who are really cool for a while, then they have a movie flop, fall out of favor, do some really stupid things, and suddenly they aren’t cool anymore. Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Donald Trump (was he ever really cool?) and so on. Each had their time in the sun, and either faded from being cool or pulled a publicity face plant.

…just because you lose the image of being cool doesn’t mean you can’t get it back.

Products do the same thing. Think of the Atari, Palm Pilot, RIM BlackBerry, PlayStation 2, and Nintendo Wii. All were also cool, and eventually passed their prime, but cool is all perception. Look at Justin Timberlake: He went from being cool, to being nobody, and seems to have come back. You could argue Charlie Sheen appears to be coming back as well (his new show is actually, in my opinion, better than his old show is without him; sorry Ashton Kutcher).

So just because you lose the image of being cool doesn’t mean you can’t get it back. But what if someone is going out of their way to make you look uncool, which is what Samsung is doing very well to Apple. What do you do?

Well, firing back is an option. Politicians do this to each other all the time. But generally they just make each other look like dicks, so fighting fire with fire doesn’t work. If Samsung execs really cared about being cool, they would probably try to improve their horrid customer support. They’re OK with trendy and cheap. Exclusive, which is the part of “cool” Apple strives for, isn’t part of Samsung’s image, so Apple couldn’t try to target Samsung the same way.

Apple’s mistake

Apple’s mistake was running the old “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign against Microsoft. This is like coming up with a nuclear bomb, but not really having a clue what to do when someone else produces their own.

im a mac im a pc ads

Now, Apple did some damage to Microsoft with its campaign, but by the time Vista shipped, Microsoft really wasn’t that cool anymore anyway, so Apple’s damage was pretty trivial. The ads both showed how effective attack ads could be, and that companies like Microsoft didn’t really have enough cool to knock down. But someone over at Samsung saw the potential in Apple’s nuclear bomb, and knew it could be even more powerful if used against Apple. Apple essentially invented a weapon that it was particularly vulnerable to, and it’s coming back to bite it in the ass now.

Recovering cool

If you want to seem cool in school, you hang out with the cool kids. The same goes with a product. If folks see people they think are cool, acting cool with Apple products, they will connect the folks to status, and Apple will start to recover its aura. That generally would mean taking on people who are cool, making sure they use Apple phones and tablets (many already do), and ensuring that use was very visible, so that we could connect the device to the folks using it. Apple already tried with those celebrity Siri commercials, but someone missed the meeting where they heard they needed to make sure the celebrities look cool using the technology; in most cases the ads make them look like they are mentally challenged. Apple’s ads often make their users look really stupid. This suggests that Apple not only doesn’t understand Samsung’s attack (despite pioneering the same approach), it never thought through how to defend against it.

But Apple not only has to defend against Samsung’s efforts to make its brand look uncool, it has to stop doing stupid things that result in the same thing. Moves like selling iPhones in Walmart have to stop, because no one is going to connect a Walmart product to cool no matter what the ads and PR say. If this type of thing continues, it could actually damage Apple’s reputation far more than Samsung could.

I have no doubt Apple could be cool again, but I doubt the company knows what to do to make this happen. That’s probably the most important difference between Jobs and Cook: Jobs would know what to do, and I don’t think Cook even sees the problem.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


The Teslasuit could turn Black Mirror’s terrifying ‘Playtest’ into a reality

We spoke with Teslasuit co-founder Dimitri Mikhalchuk about VR gaming at CES 2019. With all its features, the future of the Teslasuit and virtual reality look bright. And it also sounds a bit like a Black Mirror episode.

Short on phone storage? Here's how to delete apps in Android

With everything we tend to use our phones for, it is all too easy to let your Android device get filled up with apps. Time for a clean out? Then check out our simple guide on how to uninstall apps in Android.
Smart Home

Eight Sleep’s Pod bed keeps you cool (or warm) and tells you how you’re sleeping

Americans are chronically sleep deprived and startup Eight Sleep wants to change that. The company recently announced The Pod, a biometric-tracking, temperature-regulating smart mattress.

Need to combine a PDF? Here's how to get it done on both Windows and Mac

Sometimes juggling multiple files at once is more of a hassle than a convenience, especially when a single file would do. This quick guide will teach you how to combine PDF files on Windows, MacOS, or with online tools.

Ditch your data for good with these hard drive wiping tips

Putting files in the recycle bin doesn't erase them, it just makes them harder to find. Here's how to totally, utterly obliterate files from a hard drive before you give it away or trash it.
Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.

Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.

AT&T jumps the gun with deliberately misleading 5GE launch

As excitement about 5G networks continues to build, AT&T jumps the gun with a ridiculous and deliberate attempt to deceive the public with 5G Evolution – a speed bump that’s based on improvements to 4G tech.

Netflix’s rate hike is a good thing. Wait, wait, hear us out

Upset at Netflix for raising its rates? We don't blame you. Nobody likes to pay more for anything -- even if they love that thing. But you really should be thanking the streaming entertainment giant. The hike in prices is a necessary and…

Bezel-less phones are terrible for typing on, and it’s only going to get worse

Bezel-less smartphone screens look great, and foldable smartphones are an exciting part of the mobile future; but we don't like where the typing experience is heading because of these two trends.

Blizzard's dismal updates to 'Diablo 3' make 'Path of Exile' the better option

'Diablo 3' season 16, the 'Season of Grandeur,' is live. It attempts to shake up the stale meta-game with a minor tweak, but it falls far short of what fans of the franchise want. Better games like 'Path of Exile' are eating Blizzard's…

A wearable may save your life, thanks to A.I. and big data. Here’s how

Wearables are morphing from devices that send you smartphone notifications and track your fitness into gadgets that can monitor your health -- and maybe even save your life.

'Wargroove' is a delightful tactics game that lets you recruit cute armored pups

Wargroove is a fantastical Advance Wars successor with beautiful pixelated visuals and rewarding grid-based combat. In addition to a meaty campaign, Wargroove has an intuitive map editor that lets you create robust campaigns of your own.
Smart Home

Will everything from lamps to fridges be spying on me? Yes, and I’m creeped out

With the debut of Panasonic’s HomeHawk lamp with built-in video camera, should we be concerned that everything -- from couches to dishwashers -- could soon be spying on us? Here’s why the answer to that question is yes.