Why The Gold iPhone Is An Ominous Sign From Apple

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Smartphone ownership is as much about conspicuous consumption as anything else. And the iPhone in particular is prone to this; there are entire subcultures that have sprung up mostly to show off that you own an iPhone. And the gold iPhone is Apple playing off of that, as they struggle to figure out what comes next.

In case you missed it, yes, a gold iPhone is on the way. Why? Because Apple believes in consumer demand:

…gold is one of the most popular after-market color adjustments for current iPhones (including gold cases). Perhaps most importantly, I’m told that the golden iPhone will not be a totally blinged-out gold. Think: less “gold” and more “champagne”.

Really, I can sum up my entire reaction to this in one GIF:

This is at least better than the seemingly endless parade of tacky monstrosities farted out for people with far more money than sense and a desperate desire to get mugged. And, Apple fans will know that this isn’t the first time Apple has put out a golden product; the iPod Mini originally came in gold.

But a history of Apple-watching indicates that this means Apple doesn’t really have anything exciting in the pipe; whenever Apple isn’t feeling innovative, it tends to start offering its toys in bright shiny colors. By all accounts, the iPhone 5c, their “budget” offering that seems inevitable, is just an iPhone 4S in a plastic colorful case.

This is a problem because Apple has never been more vulnerable. The iPhone 5c is widely seen as Apple’s attempt to keep history repeating; after all, Apple has pioneered new markets only to be undermined by cheaper competitors imitating their ideas, and sometimes doing them better, before. And Android in particular is pervasive, to the point that even device manufacturers are a little scared of Google.

But more to the point, Apple isn’t comfortable unless it’s innovating, and it seems stuck at a frustrating impasse in that regard. The iWatch is a concept Apple is struggling with and seems likely to dead-end. The long-rumored Apple Television is probably never going to happen, although we’ll likely see some form of the technology.

It’s been spending money left and right, but one suspects that Apple’s hitting walls or that their next major product is still a few years away. That means Apple is weak, for now, and it has to try and fight off Android’s overwhelming market dominance somehow.

It’s foolish to write off Apple; it’s a company that every five years or so grabs a moribund market by the throat and completely changes it. If I had to lay down money, I’d say that Apple next big One More Thing will be a dive into home automation and voice-activated computing; they’ve been steadily improving Siri, and making computers ubiquitous as small appliances is a natural direction to go. But until we see Siri For The Home, expect a lot more gold iPhones.

(Image courtesy of Linzexu on Flickr)