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Has the Apple Brand Lost Its Edge? (Yes, It Has.)

It’s tough to be a luxury brand—no, really. Just ask Apple, whose “most important thing in the world ever” iPhone rollout seemed designed to appeal to both lower and higher-end consumers but failed to impress either (according to the tech blogs).

There were no surprises today. The products were pretty much what we expected: there was the “cheaper” 5C phone (which is still expensive once you consider monthly data fees, etc.) and the “fancier” 5S phone with “a better camera” and the much-touted “Touch ID” technology that allows you to unlock your phone by touching the screen rather than typing and swiping. The rumored gold phone is real, but it’s not really fabulous. Oh, and there’s yet another new operating system. iTunes Radio could be cool, but again it’s nothing new, and to many this all feels like Apple trying to catch up to its competitors.

What happened?

For one, there’s no clear answer to the question “why should I buy the new model?” Unless you’re an obsessive techie for whom the phrases “4-inch Retina display”, “A6 processor” and “8-megapixel rear camera” mean something, this new upgrade isn’t anything too terribly exciting. It’s more like a “fear of missing out” marketing trick.

Second, the cheap model is designed to compete with Android overseas, where most consumers can’t afford the iPhone—but they still won’t be able to afford it now. And since large-screen smartphones are great substitutes for the far pricier iPad, why would Chinese consumers want to switch to Apple anyway? The brand does not truly offer them anything they can’t get somewhere else for less money.

Third, Nokia just released this ad:

So: ouch.

Fourth, as The New York Times puts it, Apple risks compromising its reputation as a brand whose luxury price tag is justified by moving into the mid-range market with the 5C. Some would argue that the brand is already irreparably damaged.

Apple desperately needs some positive media coverage, but today was not the game changer the brand had to deliver to maintain its edge—its biggest guns weren’t big enough. Steve Jobs is gone, and with him went his company’s established personality: no amount of spin can erase that fact. Hell, the first thing we thought reading all this coverage was “Is the iPhone really that much better than the Android?”

It’s a question worth asking.

*Photo via Stephen Lam/Reuters

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