A response to the responses:
Contra your responders, the iPhone wasn't Apple’s alpha product, the iPod was. (Although the iMac was the i-progenitor).
When the iPod launched it was purchased by owners of colored clamshell laptops; translucent, literal desktop computers; and soon to be ebayed cube shaped G4s. It wasn’t Seal or Moby’s testimonials that sold the product, brand loyalty did. Yes, the “fanboy-ism” predates the iPhone too.
But the iPod soon broke beyond the longtime Apple loyalists. As it did, through each iteration — except maybe the insane four button version — each new 30 second silhouetted celebration of song, each unit sold on the eventual path to 400 million, it created a growing wave of new Apple loyalists. People who previously bought PCs in cow patterned boxes. People who had long been told by PC-savvy friends to occasionally defragment their sluggish hard drive, whatever the hell that meant.
You can see the immediate impact of this growing loyalty on iMac sales: when iPod units sold surpassed iMac units, iMac sales went up. And up and up along with the iPod’s.
You can see the loyalty spurred by iPod growth in the immediate success of future products. When the iPod launched it took 3 years to reach 10 million units sold; it took the iPhone less than 2 to get there. And with the iPhone brand loyalty grew exponentially. The iPad reached 10 million units in the 3rd quarter of its first year.
Beginning with the iPod, Apple captured a tremendous amount of mind share over the next 15 years. And mind share once captured is hard to cede. Hard but not impossible and over a long enough timeline impossible slowly becomes probable.
One distant day from now Apple may be synonymous with the company that used to make amazing stuff. People may encounter an iPhone with the same wistfulness they feel in a Sears department store today. I remember when.
Brands die. It’s an established fact of life. The revenue streams and products may live on in some modified form but the brand — the original meaning that was filed away in someone’s mind — will wither away. It happens to the best of them and it’s just a matter of time before it happens to the current incarnation of the Apple brand too.
The same powerful perception that has such a firm grip on our minds may hasten its own demise. Every new product will be judged against the brand the new customers filed away in their heads — a high bar to clear. And since this perception lives hidden inside each of us, its “health” over time is much harder to evaluate than year-over-year iPhone sales.
But unlike Alphabet, who is now free to launch new brands as the old ones wither and die, Apple’s future is hitched to its present because it remains a master brand. How long can the present image be sustained, what can Apple itself do to sustain it and how can it be leveraged without reducing its long term power?
If I were an investor I would be asking these questions. I would also implore Apple to not launch a new product capriciously for fear it would drain existing brand equity.
And if I were in Apple’s shoes I would be thinking not about the next Apple product, but the next Apple company. For creating new perceptions is often easier than trying to keep an old one alive. If the current brand perception has set too impossibly high of a bar, the most successful Apple brands of the future may be ones not named Apple. Why try to leap the bar when you can set a new one somewhere else? The Apple of the future doesn’t have to compete with the Apple of today — a fact too often forgotten.