Apple’s announcement today of two new iPhones — the expensive iPhone 5S and the cheap iPhone 5C— gives consumers, indeed society, a clear choice: gold iPhone or plastic iPhone?
This is not a simple question.
It’s about your identity, your status.
Gold or plastic?
Can you afford the new gold iPhone, at $US399 for the high-end model? Or will you be forced to take the $US99 deal on the plastic iPhone?
(Let’s not even mention those of you who are thinking of taking an iPhone 4S. Sure, it’s now free with a contract. But what does that say about you as a person? It doesn’t bear thinking about.)
The iPhone was already a divisive phone. Samsung has made a great business over mocking the snobbery that surrounds it. For Apple consumers, the choice has been simply, iPhone or “other” phone.
Now it’s more complicated. Especially if you’re a teenager, or a member of Harvard Business School’s Society X, or anyone else concerned with status and class — which is to say, everybody.
Gold iPhones are going to be like a Gucci bag or a pair of Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses — they’re going to scream your status as one of Apple’s higher end customers, standing behind Silicon Valley’s mobile velvet rope.
Likewise, those red, blue and green iPhone 5C’s will announce their presence with a different message: “Can you spare any loose change?” They’re expected to be big in China.
Apple insisted that its cheap phone needed no apology. Chief designer Jony Ive said, “iPhone 5C is beautifully, unapologetically plastic.” It seems odd that he felt the need to preempt the idea that plastic ought to be apologized for.
The gold iPhone, of course, didn’t get such a defensive pitch.
Which one do you think Ive will be using?
Karl Marx, in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, wrote:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, gold iPhone user and plastic iPhone user, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
How right he turned out to be.
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