Apple’s Forward Stance

Apple doesn’t need a miracle, but clearly the marketing department thinks the company needs to step things up. To wit: Apple’s latest iPhone web page, which touts “There’s iPhone. And then there’s everything else.” It’s a brassy, ballsy statement worthy of Steve Jobs himself and it seems to show an Apple undaunted yet clearly aware that it can’t just say nothing about the competition.

For most of the past few years, Apple has ignored other manufacturers. Except for the Mac vs. PC ads, there has historically been a sense that Apple is above the fray and is not fighting down. They produce, others imitate.

However, now that Samsung has finally figured out how to build a phone that everyone (who doesn’t have an iPhone) wants, they’re in a slightly more offensive stance. I’ll call it the forward stance – that stance in Karate where you stand sideways, arms up to block, knees bent. It’s not as rigid and obvious as, say, Iron Horse, but it suggests a certain readiness.

Where am I going with this? Well the fact that Apple is ready to fight at all – albeit the the same cold calculation as they usually express in their advertising – is important. It means that people can now point to the Samsung line of mobile devices and say, “Oh, hey, you can multitask on that big phone thing” and that “You can print a book right from your photos and it makes an album from everywhere you are!” It shows that finally, after a decade of fumbling around in the dark, Samsung has finally switched on the light.

I won’t give my opinion on the Galaxy S4 yet – I’m still slightly high from the time they apparently hot boxed Radio City Music Hall – but I will say this: They figured out that people didn’t care about specs. Instead, they care about use cases. For years, Apple talked up the features: The iPhone can make video calls very easily, help you have as much fun as Zooey Deschanel, play Angry Birds and take fun videos. With the Galaxy Note you could be kind of a petulant snot or Mrs. Claus’ sex partner. Apple was aspirational, everyone else was confrontational. Samsung was dysfunctional.

I would argue that the S4 marketing is a step away from that tone (although it’s still pretty rough). The idea, however oddly implemented, is that this is the phone that works and does lots of cool stuff and you can, for one shining moment, use a Samsung product to woo the girl or make your mom happy. That’s important.

Apple’s response is to remind us that nothing Samsung (or anyone else does) is new or particularly noteworthy and that no launch can diminish the laurels iPhone receives on a daily basis. As Mark Gurman notes, Apple’s response page is all about how iPhone was better before Samsung (or anyone else) was even in the game.

Apple wasn’t rocked back by these launches. But Samsung is pulling something off that it has never pulled off before: accessibility. It is a human product, not a product for robots and, barring further missteps, I suspect the S4 will sell very well. Does Apple care? Clearly it does, but it’s been in the game a lot longer and has a lot more to lose. I think the company under Tim Cook still has a lot of tricks left and getting into fighting stance is just the first one.