We’ve been preaching “less is more” when it comes to the rate of consumption, we as Americans have, and it seems that some of that message might be finally getting through. People just aren’t upgrading their phones as often anymore. Of course, this could be more about how Apple seems to have tapped their wells of inspiration with these latest rounds of phone releases. Regardless, the change is moving us in the right direction.
Why less really is more
The idea of overconsumption is slowly coming into popular consciousness, and we can only hope the shift in thinking leads to a complete detour in how the human race interacts with this planet—before it’s too late.
It can be argued that consumption is the single biggest reason we have environmental issues. Sustainability was built-in to simpler living, when all the packaging that existed was paper and cloth. Everything was reused until it was literally dust or compost, and it was that way for thousands of years.
But, as our consumer palate was refined, synthetic materials made way for rapid manufacturing and consumption craze. Along with that shift, technology became a driving force for our livelihood, which introduced even more exotic materials into the increasingly unsustainable mix of products.
In the face of this reality, that manufacturers and retailers are pushing unsustainable options on us, the only thing to do to lessen the impact we make on the Earth with our consumption is to reduce the amount we consume. There are even some manufacturers, like Patagonia, who see this as the only option moving forward.
But, let’s get to the Apple iPhone slump. I brought this idea up during one of my talks with Sage’s CEO, Bob Houghton, and President, Jill Vaské. And we had an interesting round-table about what is really going on.
My take: Why more is too much
Since they were first introduced almost twenty years ago, smartphones have changed the world. They fulfill a critical need in the lives of those who use them, and—for better or worse—they have become a fundamental instrument for living.
Even when not “wasting time” on it, I use my phone dozens of times throughout the day. Between maps, texting, calling, looking up that 80s commercial I was telling my kids about, and checking the weather, this device is my constant companion.
But there are several apps that lie dormant 100% of that time I spend on my phone. And it’s an older model. Which brings us to what I feel about Apple’s latest round of phones: more apps and higher resolution doesn’t necessarily do it for me anymore. And that’s when Bob spoke up.
Bob’s take: innovation limitations cease sales
Bob took my personal motivations to the larger community and explained that “once you reach a stage where products aren’t meeting a critical need—reaching the maximum level of innovation for that product—people just don’t see a reason to upgrade.”
This is to say nothing of newer models actually performing worse than previous models, which, as Jill pointed out, is actually what happened with iPhones in recent iterations; there has been a decline in reliability. Newer models are not working as well, and so, in the used market, the more reliable models actually sell better than any of the other used equipment.
Jill’s take: Our palate is changing
Another reason for this shift in Apple’s numbers, as Jill pointed out, could be that we’re maturing as a consumer culture. New phone models are less-buyer friendly since carrier plans are not available on current phone options. This makes discerning buyers wary of future purchases. Overall, the economics have changed, and this creates enough pause in consumers that they stick with their older phones for a little while longer.
Ultimately, as these phones try to outdo each other with bells and whistles, they are only serving to alienate their consumers. “After all,” said Bob, “when product capabilities overshoot the "job to be done" consumers will not pay the incremental price for enhancements.” In other words, as we grow accustomed to this technology, we are better able to ignore the snazziness of those enhancements we don’t really need, much in the same way as our grandparents did with appliances and automobiles.
Jill’s consideration of consumer culture is a perceptive one since we have reached a penultimate level of consumerism: to consume for status. In fact, many people buy their stuff purely for status (Lexus, Rolex, iPhoneX, etc.) when they need a confidence boost or for a show of power. “It’s like “retail therapy,” she told me.
Jill added, “I suspect Apple is keeping its prices Rolex-high to increase exclusivity and perceived value. But Apple’s new phones are just not as cool as they used to be; they are nearing the end of their hype-cycle, in my opinion.”
Apple might be cresting the wave of phone sales, but the result is consumers of cellular phones are becoming more responsible--whether they mean to or not. The hope, then, is that this responsibility of consumption spreads to other areas of consumption—or turns them over to the incredible world of used equipment. And that’s a shift that could really make things change for the better.
Your take: ?
Now that you’ve heard what the three of us think, what are your thoughts? Do you think the dip in Apple’s sales indicates something bigger? Is it just a slump, or is there a trend beginning to emerge? Why have you, or why have you not, purchased an iPhoneX? Leave a comment below to keep this discussion going!