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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Social researcher claims Apple no longer 'hot' to Gen-Y buyers

Social researcher claims Apple no longer 'hot' to Gen-Y buyers
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May 22, 2013, 01:40 PM
In a article that could have been written by Samsung's advertising department, the Sydney Morning Herald has published an article detailing claims from "social researcher" Michael McQueen, who tracks the ever-shifting tastes of the group he calls "Gen-Y" (meaning people who reached their teenage years after 2001). In it, he says that despite wide evidence to the contrary, Apple is "losing its cool" with youth.

McQueen says that Apple has already hit its peak on his "relevance curve" (which tracks a company's importance to its core market), and added that he believed the company could be "largely irrelevant" to people under 30 within five years -- unless, of course, Apple brings out another new product that finds an audience during that time. Painting the Gen-Y crowd as considerably more shallow and fickle than loyalty studies have so far indicated, McQueen claims that Apple is "past the turning point" unless it can "release another game-changing product like they did with the iPhone and iPad. It's been a long time between drinks for them."

Though his statement seemingly ignores the fact that "game-changing products" from tech companies other than Apple that up-end established industries on a similar scale are exceedingly rare, McQueen thinks that "the next 12 months" will be "absolutely critical" for Apple if it wants to maintain its status among younger buyers. "They're not as hot as they were two years ago," he said.

As proof, he points to an annual ranking of innovative companies published by Forbes magazine -- not normally known for its insight into the under-30 crowd -- that listed Apple as the 26th most innovative company, down from fifth place the year before. McQueen claims that the "rising profile" of companies like Samsung is creating a "subtle shift in what's now cool."

Though it is certainly true that the younger end of the "Generation Y" spectrum change their tastes more quickly than older demographics, there remains little evidence to support McQueen's postulations. The iPad and iPhone remain the most wished-for tech items on teens' Christmas lists, and a recent survey of high-schoolers showed declining interest in non-Apple brands of smartphones or tablets. The iPhone 5 and the nearly two-year-old iPhone 4S (and the nearly three-year-old iPhone 4) remain in the top four top-selling individual smartphone brands in the world.

While Apple certainly could lose its cache among young people if it fell seriously behind its competitors, there's again little evidence that this is going to happen. A new, restyled iPad and spec-bumped iPad mini -- along with both a new iPhone "5S" model and a possible low-cost iPhone variant -- are expected this year, as is a refreshed MacBook lineup, a new Mac Pro and potentially all-new Apple products such as the rumored branded HDTV device. Both iOS and OS X are likely to get a refresh and design overhaul this year, and other software is likely to see significant updates as well.

Still, there is a perception -- particularly on Wall Street -- that Apple has slowed its innovation cycle since the death of its visionary co-founder, Steve Jobs. Again, this view ignores the historical record for the company, but the four-year gap between the release of the first iPhone and the first iPad has created the impression that consumers should expect another revolutionary product every four years, which means that another such product is "due" over the course of the next year -- and that Apple will suffer if one does not appear on "schedule."

McQueen does point out that both Sony and BlackBerry were once kings of their own respective hills, but failed to take into account the changing needs of the emerging younger consumers and consequently fell -- and very quickly. BlackBerry had 42.6 percent of the business smartphone market in 2010; today it clings to around five percent. He says that the decay usually starts when management atrophies into groupthink, not bringing in fresh talent to shake things up and keep the company from becoming isolated from its base.

Fortunately, Apple has -- as much as is possible -- a culture of reinvention. Under Jobs, the company would routinely create new versions of products such as iPods that made the older models not just uncool but practically obsolete by looks alone. It embraced a philosophy that it would rather invent the successor to a popular product before someone else does, and Cook has vowed to foster that kind of thinking.

To a significant extent, he has already shown that its possible for Apple to innovate without Jobs. Mountain Lion has many significant new features that put it far ahead of the last couple of OS X releases; the iPhone 5 was a daring redesign that continues to sell like a brand new model seven months after release, and the iPad mini -- a sizing that Jobs famously opposed but accepted in the end -- has likely surpassed its big brother in sales.

With new versions of iOS and OS X ahead and potentially some all-new products, Apple is likely to continue its role as the leading industry innovator for a long time to come. Whether it's enough to satisfy the famously attention-challenged under-30s of today remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: succeed or fail, Apple has no intention of resting on its laurels.
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May 22, 2013, 02:18 PM
Up next is generation Z.
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May 22, 2013, 02:19 PM
Unfortunately perception often becomes reality. Remember how that worked against Apple during the entire "I just HAVE to use Windows" era? Once a meme gets out there it can be difficult to stop. In this case, there are also some real factors working against Apple. The most common complaint I hear from the teenage sector (so maybe not technically Gen-Y?) is that Apple locks down their hardware too much. Personally, I agree with this, having to jailbreak every iPhone I've owned (3 of them now), just to get them to perform the basic functions I require out of a smart-phone. They could solve this with a simple "I'm an advanced user" function, which, when-ticked, would void your warranty but allow your iOS device to function in ways not "ideal" to Apple. At any rate, that's definitely a deciding factor now, and Apple needs to wise-up and cut out the micro-management. The second problem I hear frequently is that the cost of Apple accessories has gotten too high, I hear this mostly from people stung by the move to the lightning connector, making so many of their old (often costly) accessories either useless or cumbersome to use. I do feel that Apple should give up this battle and jump on the standard USB connector which seems to work perfectly for everyone except Apple.
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May 22, 2013, 02:36 PM
(Not quite so) Coincidentally, McQueen's new book is titled "Winning The Battle For Relevance"
PRICE : AU$ 22.95
This new release explores why many of the world's most iconic brands are becoming obsolete and offers tips for leaders and organizations committed to avoiding the same fate.

Also, his clients include Nokia, which is either ironic, or revealing, or both.

…next, please!
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May 22, 2013, 02:41 PM
I wonder how much Samsung paid the guy..
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May 22, 2013, 06:32 PM
Panjandrum-"The most common complaint I hear from the teenage sector (so maybe not technically Gen-Y?) is that Apple locks down their hardware too much."

You must know a lot of teenage nerds. Last year my 16 year-old daughter was having a party. One of the dads who stopped by while dropping his son off likes to engage in a little friendly Apple-bashing now and then. He said something very similar, to which I said that I would bet him that not only did the iPhone owners in the group not care about "lockdown", that none of them even knew what jailbreaking was. He refused to bet so we polled the approx. 75 kids attending the party. Of the 62 that had iPhones, about a dozen had heard of jailbreaking, 3 could define it and NONE cared that much, if at all, about lockdown. Now your experience and mine are anecdotal at best, but until someone does a comprehensive, reliable study, I wouldn't make assumptions based on your limited access.
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May 22, 2013, 07:46 PM
@panjandrum what exactly is it that you "need" to do with your iPhone that needs jail breaking? I don't think a 16 year old girl that is on facebook and those other waste of time social media nonsense is that technical, they just type quickly with their thumbs.
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May 23, 2013, 01:29 AM
Apple does not need Wall Street people telling it how to run its company. Wall Street never predicted Apple would ever be a company with one of the highest market caps in history. Apple could buy and sell every brokerage house and bank on Wall Street. No analyst ever told Apple how to acquire $140 billion in reserve cash. As near as I can tell, Apple did that on its own by selling to consumers who are willing to pay for their products. It's true that I can't tell the future, but I suspect it's Apple's own game to win or lose without the help of outsiders. Apple is not a perfect company, but then again, no company is. Any company can rise and fall or fall and rise. Apple will just have to make the right adjustments as the times change. Apple certainly has the money and resources to make those changes as well as any other tech company around. A company of that sort of wealth should be able to weather a few bad quarters and still come back strong as long as there is someone in the company who has some decent product ideas. All it will take is one strong product to gather consumers' interests in Apple products. All I can do is hope for the best.
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May 23, 2013, 08:20 AM
I guess you learn to hate them after working on them all day long at school. Kind of like no one "loves" textbooks.
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