SLAM! And Stay Out! Why Apple Shutting the Door on Pre Users = Marketing Fail

My thoughts about Apple's new iTunes update which effectively shuts the door on Pre users.

Catherine Gouge
4 min read

Okay, full disclosure: I own a Pre that I purchased, in part, because it would sync seamlessly with iTunes. I like iTunes. I love my MacBook Pro. I have owned multiple iPods and still use my Nano with Nike+ on runs.

But I am also one of those proverbial Kumbaya-singing liberals who is perhaps just a tad naively optimistic about our human potential to get along and, one day, become one, giant, well-adjusted human family--if only...and this is where the ironic cynicism comes in...people would just stop being so anti, well, getting along. And by "people," here, I include those who run corporations.

iTunes Version 8.2.1

So I am listening to NPR talk about how Apple's recent attempt to block the Pre from syncing with iTunes Version 8.2.1 (which Apple says, "provides a number of important bug fixes and addresses an issue with verification of Apple devices") might escalate anti-trust allegations, and it's got me questioning why Apple responded as they did to Palm's challenge.

Now, I am not a lawyer and I do not study copyright or competition law, so I can't speak to whether or not this will lead to a lawsuit that Apple should fear or pursue. I am, however, a consumer (make something worth buying that I want or need and can afford and there is a good chance I will buy it) who has been a big fan of the Apple brand image for about 4 years now.

This consumer's response

Not positive. I mean, I can not update iTunes (big deal, there isn't any benefit to consumers in it anyway) and there are obviously non-iTunes options for syncing media on the Pre, but I don't 100% get why Apple decided to respond so predictably to Pre's sticking their foot in the door. Sorry to mix metaphors here, but maybe they saw a slippery slope ahead and imagined the rest of the media-device-making market jumping on their backs if they let this go.

Apple's response kind of makes me wonder, though, if Apple execs somehow forgot to consider seriously that this presented them with a terrific opportunity to increase their customer base and add a fresh, new dimension to their brand image--a dimension that would associate Apple with the forward-thinking ideals of a more open, global economy. Instead, by dedicating themselves to slamming the door (impressively fast) they essentially did the work of propelling Palm into this progressive role and defined themselves as gate-keepers, defenders of the establishment. Doh!

Think about it

When news first broke that the Pre could sync seamlessly with iTunes by making iTunes think the Pre was an iPod called "Palm Pre" (wink), potentially millions of interested consumers stopped to watch how Apple would respond. They had the attention of their active customer base before, but now they also likely had hundreds of thousands of others (at least) with money in their pockets watching them. And Apple chooses a defensive, implicitly threatened posture?

First, they release a statement that says (is it such a stretch to hear the voice of a spoiled, albeit corporate, teenager here?)

Apple designs the hardware and software to provide seamless integration of the iPhone and iPod with iTunes, the iTunes Store, and tens of thousands of apps on the App Store. Apple is aware that some third-parties claim that their digital media players are able to sync with Apple software. However, Apple does not provide support for, or test for compatibility with, non-Apple digital media players.

And then they slam the door with the release of iTunes 8.2.1. Really?

Now, I'm not saying that Apple should be expected to donate their services to any other competing company. Even I'm not that naive. But did they consider other, more creative responses?

Like, allow Pre users to get used to syncing with iTunes...even facilitate it to whatever extent is possible. Help them see them that Apple is not against them, not threatened by Palm, not adverse to playing well with others. Allow consumers to see that Apple understands that not all consumers buy according to brand loyalty. For a time, encourage consumers to see Apple as generous, taking the high road even. And then, after a time of accruing the kind of aforementioned positive image publicity you can't buy, charge a reasonable, competitive (with other media syncing options) fee for access.

Say what you will (and if this sponsored blog is getting any traffic, I'm sure you will)...I trust that Apple ran some cost/benefit analyses and determined they had more $$ to lose than they had to gain, but this consumer sees Apple's door slamming as a big ol' marketing fail.