Why I celebrated iPhone's 10th birthday by buying a Pixel

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When trust is eroded, there is no need to pay for a brand premium, writes the head of creative at Betaworks.

It’s the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone. So I bought a Google Pixel. 

Creatives get bored. 

Maybe you’ve noticed this in your meetings with creative people. Our minds tend to drift off. Sometimes it’s because we’re genuinely bored, but hopefully most times we are thinking, "yeah, but what’s next? ... what if ... ?"

A reaction to the mainstream or the status quo is how we progress and get to interesting ideas. When I worked at Anomaly, there was a George Bernard Shaw quote on the wall.

I’m sure it’s still there: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

So it’s easy to say creative people are unreasonable, but I actually think we are very rational.

Ten years ago, Anomaly pulled off one of the greatest advertising stunts in the modern era when they lined up for five days to get the first iPhone. Why did that work as an idea? It had the "what if" element, but it was also incredibly rational. This thing is hot, there is going to be a shit ton of press.

Fast forward 10 years and I’m bored of the iPhone. Why? A few reasons.

What was truly innovative back then is now standard. There is no real difference between a Galaxy Note, Pixel or iPhone. When we all had iPods we were tied into Apple’s music ecosystem but as Richard Turley, a former MTV creative now at W+K London, so eloquently puts it: "Fuck me, Apple Music is terrible." What was once a lock is now a deterrent. Same for photos.

Steve Jobs once said, "It’s better to be a pirate than the Navy. ‘Think Different’ and ‘1984,’ we are about putting one over on the man." But Apple has become the man.

Someone said they had never seen Donald Trump laugh and that was a sign that he had deep psychological problems. I’m not saying Apple is analogous to Trump, but I can’t remember smiling at anything they’ve done. We laughed when they forced U2’s new album onto everyone’s phone, but that’s somewhat different. Steve Jobs had something of the cheeky pirate about him. Tim Cook seems like a thoroughly decent man who would probably make a first class naval commander. Captain Cook?

Ok, there’s no spark with iPhones anymore. But why buy a Pixel? Is not Google the man? Yes, but in the Phone Wars it’s still the underdog. Also, with the Pixel you can use this thing called Project Fi, which means you don’t need an account with Verizon, AT&T or any of those other crappy man-like carriers. So, you’re dealing with one man rather than two and saving 100 bucks every month.

I don’t necessarily trust Google any more than Apple. But when trust is eroded there is no need to pay for a brand premium. This is a huge problem, not just for Apple, but any premium brand. Name a bank you trust. A news organization you trust. (Of course, if you’re smart you can turn this problem into an opportunity.)

Current successful technology is about convenience and cost. That’s the winning combo. Uber and Airbnb are not winning because people like sharing. People don’t like sharing, they like convenience and lower costs. The Pixel has both.

Even without all that rational stuff above, I’d still get a pixel. And this is the most important point. Because it’s new. Creative people like new things. This is the natural cycle of taste—it’s how the entire fashion industry works. 

We like to experiment, we like to be different—and we like to be seen as different. That’s our brand. We would be unable to charge a premium if we were the same as everyone else.

Of course, this is not to say Apple is a bad company. I’m typing this on a MacBook, and I’ll watch Netflix tonight on my Apple TV, but the omnipresent star that is the iPhone has been shining too brightly. So thanks iPhone. There were some good times (early playlists) and bad times (trying to actually make a call). But after ten years, it’s time to move on.

—James Cooper is head of creative at Betaworks.