Unwanted: Every iPhone until now

Apple has long listened to customers. If only when it suited them.


Anyone ever read past the Macalope’s columns to his author description? There’s an interesting if little-exercised clause in there that reads:

…the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.

It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. Like, say, right now.

Writing (and recording) for Macworld, Oscar Raymundo writes, “With the iPhone SE, Apple finally made a product people wanted.”

[spit take]

Were people just buying Apple products to date because it was required by law? That sounds unlikely, since these days it seems the government would really rather we all buy Android phones.

OK, to unpack this a bit, Raymundo is, correctly, coming at the iPhone SE from it being a positive: Giving customers a choice of screen sizes is a good thing! No argument there. It’s also true that, for the first time in the iPhone lineup, Apple has three screen sizes with modern internals. But even a positive message wrapped up in a headline like that is like someone giving you a Cadbury cream egg and saying “Oh, by the way, that’s not chocolate on the outside.”

The launch of the 4-inch iPhone SE not only marks Apple going back to smaller phones, but also indicates a shift in the company’s design philosophy: actually incorporating customer feedback.

Of course, this isn’t at all the first time Apple has listened to its customers. There are a number of examples, but one is the translucent menu bar in OS X Leopard. They don’t react to every whim, but they’ll do it when it makes sense.

More importantly, however, Apple has pretty demonstrably been making “products that people want” for quite some time now. OK, not Ping.

But can the company continue to innovate by taking into consideration customer feedback?

Yeah, well, listening to your customers isn’t always a good thing. But it’s not really clear that Apple was “listening to its customers” in making the iPhone SE so much as reading what was going on in the market, something they do all the time. The difference is not just one of semantics because reading the market is what drove them to make larger phones in the first place. Here’s Jan Dawson’s take.

I believe Apple wanted to keep its portfolio simple and was also betting no meaningful competitor would take advantage of that window, so it could safely ignore the 4-inch size without losing those customers to competitors. However, what’s happened is many of those owners of smaller iPhones have simply stuck with them, which has also dampened iPhone sales over the last year and a half. By introducing a new 4-inch phone, Apple is giving those customers a reason to upgrade.

A lot of customers wanted big phones, so Apple made big phones. Big phones, big phones, big phones! Remember big phone fever? You said you were going to tile your bathroom with them! Ah, we were all so young two years ago. You had that pony tail and still lived in the old apartment with Lorraine. Where does the time go? Too soon we die.

But not everyone upgraded to the big phones. It’s not clear how many of these customers like small phones and how many simply hang on to their phones longer. The Macalope sure wanted a small (new) phone, but as you can tell by his caricature, he’s not necessarily typical. A tweed suit? What is this, a poetry reading?

Hey, we’re all happy Apple’s providing more choice in their lineup. But it’s not exactly the first time.

Subscribe to the iOS Tips & Trends Newsletter