Who wants an apple when there's Apple's iPhone

Appleheads are emotionally in thrall of and bonded with the company's design philosophy


By Chidanand Rajghatta

Published: Wed 28 Sep 2022, 7:33 PM

The word apple is now so synonymous with the company that dishes out nifty hardware and seamless software across the globe that if you were to key in the term in the address bar or search function, the website of the firm and news relating to it and its products will pop up first. The storied fruit it takes its name from is relegated further down the results.

According to Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, Jobs chose the name Apple for his company because “it sounded fun, spirited, and not intimidating... plus, it would get us ahead of Atari in the phone book.” Atari, a pioneer in home computers and video games, which was Nintendo before the 1990s, is now largely forgotten except among the older generation of tech geeks and gearheads. Going by recent developments in the Apple/apple world though, the fruit too is in danger of being eclipsed.

A recent story in this newspaper details how a Kerala businessman flew to Dubai earlier this month to buy the latest reiteration of iPhone (14Pro). He did not want to wait a few extra hours or days it would take for its release in India. Apparently, he has done this for the past several versions of iPhone, an act of apple polishing that should endear him to the company famed for its fan following. Appleheads are now a legion, with Apple critics following them at a distance.

What is it about Apple that generates such passion and veneration? Well, in the words of Indian business guru Harsh Goenka, chairman of RPG enterprises, Apple sells design and ease (of use), not electronics - just as Rolex sells status, not watches and Harley Davidson sells lifestyle, not motorcycles. He believes great companies sell emotions, not products. Appleheads are emotionally in thrall of and bonded with the company's design philosophy, which its founder distilled into the quote “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” With clear lines, uncluttered look, and simple operating procedures, Apple has seduced consumers across the world.

But while Apple with a capital A is on the march, with its revenues nearing $ 400 billion and a valuation of over $ 2.4 trillion, it turns out that consumption of the fruit it is named after is plateauing across the world, despite the hoary belief that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." Recent studies have shown that the claim behind the aphorism may be a trifle exaggerated. Although other studies have shown an apple a day does lower bad cholesterol, the difference in doctor-visits between apple-eaters and non-eaters is not statistically significant.

Apparently, it was America's apple lobby, which preceded Apple evangelists, at work to boost sales of the fruit. The original quote, which came from Wales, was “Eat an apple on going to bed and you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” With typical American operating philosophy of simplifying everything (doughnut to donut, catalog for catalogue), it was compacted to “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Remarkably, apples aren't even a native American fruit. Apples originated in Central Asia and the Middle East before branching out to the rest of the world. They came to America only in the late 1700s and were popularized in the 1800s by evangelist John Chapman, who was given the name Johnny Appleseed for the fervor with which he preached the virtues of the fruit, eventually leading it to be used in pies. During World War II, it became common for American soldiers to say they missed, or enlisted for, "mom and apple pie.” That in turn led to the phrase "as American as apple pie" to describe symbols of American pride.

Funnily enough, America does not have a stranglehold on Apple or apples, with China looming large on both fronts. China is the world's largest apple grower, accounting for 45 per of the production (44 million metric tons), with the US running a distant second, growing only around 5 million tons. Both countries export apples worth around $1 billion annually. Overall, global sales for fresh apples exported by all countries were worth $7.6 billion in 2021.

That is chump change compared to revenues from Apple products. Indeed, Apple’s iPhone, released in 2007, is now the company’s most successful product, accounting for more than 40 percent of Apple sales and bringing in a staggering $ 200 billion annually. Although 90 per cent of Apple products are made in China by contract manufacturers, China makes only pennies to the dollar on them.

Even that is now being whittled down, with Apple deciding to shift some of the manufacturing to India, where Foxconn, the Taiwanese contractor, has started making iPhone 14 at its plant in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. The Kerala man who came to UAE to buy the latest may soon be able to purchase it nearer home. As for the fruit, it may well become rarer than the cell phone in the future. - The writer is a senior journalist based in Washington

Funnily enough, America does not have a stranglehold on Apple or apples, with China looming large on both fronts

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