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The psychology behind Apple’s fans. Blind loyalty or just wanting to belong?

iSheep

The reputation of Apple’s fans is as well known as Apple’s products. These are the people who have already started lining up outside Apple stores, just to be first to own the latest iPhone due to go on sale this Friday. When they are not in line, they scour the Internet for articles that affirm their belief in Apple’s products, reacting swiftly to articles and comments from those that don’t share their views, principally anyone who uses a different phone.

These are amongst the most loyal customers of any brand and are often insultingly referred to as “iSheep” for their seemingly unquestioning following of Apple. In fact, in a survey earlier this year, 78% of iPhone users “couldn’t imagine having a different type of phone”.

Rival phone maker Samsung has lost no time in parodying Apple customers as iSheep. It started its campaign with a now famous 2012 video ad that highlighted the average Apple fan as shallow and largely ignorant of what they were actually buying. Apple fans waiting to buy the iPhone 5 were shown to be willing to forgo functionality because it would certainly be in next year’s version if it wasn’t in this particular model.

Psyched?

The irony here of course is that wherever Apple goes, Samsung is usually right there alongside, including having its own version of the unquestioning fan. Whilst Apple scores highly on the all important measure of brand retention, Samsung is actually not that far behind. 76% of Apple customers will replace their current iPhone only with another iPhone, whilst 58% of Samsung’s do the same. Samsung does better in attracting customers from other brands though, attracting 34% of all migrating customers. No other phone company comes close to the two leaders.

Setting aside the fact that although the caricature of an Apple (or Samsung) fan may have some elements of truth to it, we are still talking about a continuum of interest. Only a small number of consumers actually spend their time in lines waiting for the first iPhone or attacking Android users in comment streams.

But what makes someone identify with a brand so strongly as to show this type of behaviour at all? Not surprisingly, this question has been an area of extensive research which has covered three different aspects of the phenomenon although what has become clear is that the interaction of different factors makes determining the exact relationship of these drivers complicated to unravel.

Self-identity

The first driver behind why we buy a particular product is self-identity). We buy products that have an aesthetic appeal for example, because it helps build our sense of self. Apple in particular has done a very good job of creating a brand that allows their customers to identify with those who “think different”. Even though Apple is now a market leader and buying an iPhone is the equivalent of buying a PC in the days of Apple’s think different advertising campaign, there are still vestiges of this which can be associated with a person’s sense of self.

Brand drivers

The second driver behind our relationship with a product has to do with the actual product and company itself. This is influenced by factors such as the perceived value of the product, the level of service that came with the purchase and after and the overall level of trust placed in both the product and the company.

Social-identity

Although not completely distinct from the previous two drivers, possibly the most important is the concept of our social-identity which helps us again define ourselves through the groups we belong to. As soon as we have defined which groups we belong to, our so-called “in-groups”, it positively influences our attitudes towards members of those groups and conversely, dictates our attitudes to groups of people outside our in-groups, the “out-groups”.

A key consequence of being in an in-group is that we ignore failures of the group and see attacks on the group as an attack on the self. In particular, these attacks damage our self-esteem. This is why arguments between Apple and Android users can become so personal, because in effect, they are.

Being part of groups is a critical aspect of being human and is part of what guarantees our survival as a species. It is not surprising then that it plays an important role in everything that we do, including the “brand groups” we may belong to.

So, before accusing someone for being an iSheep, remember that the reason you may be saying it is because you are part of your very own “Sheep” in-group.

Apple plays catch-up to Android with 2 new phones and smart watch

Apple Watch

After weeks of intense speculation about exactly what Apple would announce at this event, CEO Tim Cook finally took the stage at the Flint Centre for the Performing Arts in Cupertino and settled the score. Even so, it came as quite a shock though at how accurate the leaks had been.

Two new phones

Cook and other Apple executives presented the details of two new versions of the iPhone. The 4.7 inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5 inch iPhone 5.5 plus. The phones will be powered by a new chip, Apple’s own A8 processor, which will deliver a performance and graphics boost over the iPhone 5S. The phone also come with better camera, new sensors and yes, as predicted, the long awaited NFC chip!

A new payment system

The NFC chip will work with a new payment system launched by Apple called Pay that will allow users to add credit cards to their iTunes account and use the phone to tap and pay where this is supported. The finger scanner built into the phone is used at the same time for security and Apple has used a special mechanism which transmits one-time codes for the payment instead of card’s details making the transaction itself more secure. As with Android NFC payment systems, the cards can be disabled remotely if the phone is lost.

The added security around the payment system is a welcome announcement. After the hacking of celebrities’ photos from iCloud in the past week, Apple will need to reassure customers that it really can protect access to their personal finance. The addition of fingerprint scanning to the payment system will also set the bar a little higher for Google and Android manufacturers like Samsung who currently don’t require this additional protective measure.

Pay will launch in the US with support for Mastercard, Visa and American Express and support from a range of merchants. It will be interesting to see however whether this now spurs other merchants into adopting contactless payments which is yet to be as widespread in the US as it is in countries like Australia.

iOS 8

The new iPhones will launch with iOS 8 which will be available for download on September 17th. iOS 8 was previously announced at WWDC in June, and its release will now properly launch Apple’s new mobile health (HealthKit) and home automation (HomeKit) frameworks presumably with many products that integrate these frameworks to follow.

Apple Watch

And then came the announcement of the Apple Watch. Although it is quite attractive, on first sight, it is not that radically different in overall design to any of the watches that have already been released by Samsung, LG and Motorola. Apple has created a range of different straps for the phone which itself comes in 3 different sizes.

The most notable features is a button called the Digital Crown on the side that acts as a Home button and looks similar to the old fashioned winding mechanism on a regular wrist watch.

The phone is powered by an S1 chip and has various sensors including a gyroscope and accelerometer built in along with sensors that can detect a wearer’s heart rate. These sensors will drive the activity tracking capability of the watch. The watch will be available next year and the price will be $349 in the US which caused a very much less enthusiastic response in the audience when announced. This price makes it more expensive than other smart watches available.

The reaction

The market initially reacted with an a 5% jump in Apple’s share price on the announcements of the new phones but dropped back as the event covered the details of the new watch. It is hard to read too much into this reaction as previous launches of Apple’s iPhones have had unpredictable responses in the market.

Ultimately, there are too many variables that influence whether the new phones and watches will boost Apple’s revenues and profits enough to please market analysts. Even though these phones and watch are expected to be popular, the market is reaching maturity in most parts of the world, with far more competition in the rest.

The other thing to consider is that the phones and watch are essentially again responding to what is already in the market from other companies. Although Apple’s new products will help the overall market for wearables and mobile payments, there main role is to bring Apple customers products that are already available to Android users.

The reaction to Apple’s products will likely be split along technological partisan lines. Apple users will be excited, Android users will be happy that they are not missing out on anything significant.

Why Google and Samsung will be cheering Apple’s new product announcements

Leaked working iPhone video

Apple is widely expected to announce 2 new phones and a smart watch at an event to be held on the 9th September at its headquarters in Cupertino, California. In what is now considered normal for these events, a great number of the details of what will be announced have already leaked. Photos and video of the new 4.7 inch iPhone 6 have been appearing from Chinese sources with the latest leak appearing to be an actual working model of the new phone confirming several anticipated features.

Leaks about a device become more likely as it moves through the testing stages and into final production. By comparison with the iPhone 6, not much is known about Apple’s new watch because it is thought to be still at the “engineering verification test” stage. This stage is below the “device verification test” stage, which is immediately prior to production. The fact that the watch is at this stage means that there will be far fewer opportunities for leaks about the device and also that even if announced on Tuesday, it won’t be on sale until later this year, or early next.

Why Google and Samsung have the most to gain from Apple’s Smartwatch

Although the announcement of new competitive products from Apple will be a concern for its competitors, at least two of the announcements are expected to have major beneficial impacts for a range of industries that will ultimately benefit significantly companies like Google and Samsung.

Apple’s iWatch is widely hoped to provide a massive boost to the wearables market. Although accounting for $100 million in worldwide sales, smartwatches from Samsung, LG, Motorola and Pebble are still nowhere near to being considered a mainstream device. Amongst the general public, awareness of the devices is still low, and features such as bulkiness, short battery life and price are deterants for people wanting to buy one.

Apple’s entry into the market will boost awareness of wearables dramatically and it is hoped that they will have gone a long way to resolving the bulk and geek image that most smart watches have today. The issue they will still have, however, is convincing the public that the short battery life and cost of the watch are still worth it.

The other benefit will be that as soon as Apple leads in new design approaches, these features will be rapidly incorporated into all other watches, meaning that all smartwatch consumers will benefit.

Mobile payments’ tipping point

The other really big announcement from Apple is expected to be the incorporation of NFC-enabled payments into its phones. Apple’s refusal to support NFC has been a major bugbear of the mobile payment industry. As contactless payment such as PayPass and PayWave is increasingly becoming the norm in Europe, Canada and Australia, the ability of mobile phones to support “Tap and Pay” has been limited by Apple’s lack of support for this feature. Banks that have provided smartphone Tap and Pay have had to make small card chips that are stuck onto a phone as a workaround. Other banks have been put off entering the market at all because of the lack of support from Apple.

In the US, contactless payment has not yet established itself and this is expected to change rapidly now that Apple has entered this market. Given that Google has been driving this largely single-handedly for the past 4 years, it will be a welcome boost for consumers generally that Apple has finally put its weight behind the technology.

What Apple’s announcements signal is the power of technology companies competing for mutual benefit. It is the participation of a range of companies that allow a market for a particular technology to actually succeed and share the challenge of educating consumers into the particular benefits of the technologies.

Of course, this entirely depends on whether Apple actually does announce what has been predicted and for that, we will have to wait for Tuesday.