They started within minutes of the launch of the new iPhones. And have been growing in volume and lack of logic ever since. I am referring to the complaints about iPhone prices, in particular, that of the iPhone X. There have been the usual “for the same amount of money, you can buy a notebook or even a motorbike” (as if someone looking for a phone will make do with a notebook or a motorbike, or vice versa – “I want a phone…wait, I will buy a bike and make calls from it!”) as well as the usual math equations showing how many phones you can buy for the price of a single iPhone X (Xiaomi’s complete 2017 phone portfolio in India, for starters).
On the surface, all these seem to be fair. After all, the iPhone X IS an expensive device. But then it has been that for ages now. It was never intended to be a super affordable phone for the masses, anyway. Anyone who knows Apple’s history will know that the company charges a premium for its products – whether it is justified or not, or is excessive, is another story. What surprises me is the element of surprise and outrage that follows the price announcements, almost as if everyone expected a USD 300 device from a company that has consistently priced its phones at more than twice as much. In fact, if you look at the recent pricing of iPhone models, even the Rs 89,000 price tag of the iPhone X does not seem too over the top – not too long ago Apple introduced the Product Red range of its iPhones in India, and their prices started at Rs 82,000. Considering that the iPhone X is a phone with markedly superior hardware, the price jump does not seem too sensational. And this might scandalize some, but the fact is that even the Google Pixel XL’s high-end variant was not too far south of the price of the iPhone 7 Plus last year – it was priced at a rather princely Rs 76,000 for those who remember it not, or have chosen to forget it.
No, the iPhone X is not for everyone. And actually neither are the iPhone 8 or 8 Plus. Actually, in a “country like India” (a phrase that is brought out at the drop of a hat), even the iPhone SE (which is available for under Rs 20,000 on some portals) remains a super expensive proposition for most users. But to project it as some sort of evil object because of its price tag is downright daft. There are different price segments in all product markets. And there are niche players who seem to command staggeringly high prices for products that sometimes do not seem to merit them. But at the end of the day, a high price tag is something that is set by the manufacturer. A consumer is NOT obliged to pay it. A product does not become a hit or miss because of its price tag – it does so because consumers opted to pay or not pay that price.
Please note: I am not defending the high price tag of the iPhone X. Just Apple’s right to fix it. In a perfect geek world, we would all be getting iPhones and Pixels for a few Dollars, and 5G would be a fundamental right that one would not have to pay for. Alas, the ground reality is rather different.
The iPhone is many things – innovative, well-designed, sleek and so on – but one thing that it has never been is being super affordable. Its price tag leaves it open to accusations that it is meant only for the filthy rich and the elite. And these are justified. But then on the flip side, the phone keeps selling too. Just check Apple’s figures if that sounds difficult to digest. Now, that would justify Apple’s pricing – the company is charging what a lot of consumers are willing to pay. And at the end of the day, in a competitive market, it is the consumers that call the shots.
Only a naive person would call the iPhone X very affordable. But it would take a person equally naive to dismiss it solely on its price tag, which is what is happening in many quarters. And a super naive one to have even expected an iPhone at a very low price! Similarly, a phone does not become evil because it is expensive or noble because it is less so.
For, at the end of the day, it is the consumer that holds the whip hand in the market – if they find the price too high, they can simply choose not to pay it. And force Apple to reduce prices in the future – just as they have seemingly made other brands do so.
Steve Jobs explained it best when he addressed criticism about why Apple had left out support for Flash in the iPad:
We’re trying to make great products for people, and we have at least the courage of our convictions to say we don’t think this is part of what makes a great product, we’re going to leave it out.
Some people are going not to like that, they’re going to call us names…but we’re going to take the heat (and) instead focus our energy on these technologies which we think are in their ascendancy, and we think are going to be the right technologies for customers.
And you know what? They’re paying us to make those choices…
If we succeed, they’ll buy them, and if we don’t, they won’t, and it’ll all work itself out.
It really is not about what the company charges.
It is about what the consumer is willing to pay.