“Siri, Am I in a Manipulative Relationship with Apple?” Why We’re Enjoying the Decline in iPhone Sales


“Siri, Am I in a Manipulative Relationship with Apple?” Why We’re Enjoying the Decline in iPhone Sales

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Who doesn’t remember the first time they bought an iPhone? You peeled off the delicate cellophane skin and held the top of the box with one hand, allowing gravity to overcome suction as the bottom gently glided itself free into your other hand. An intoxicating aroma filled your nostrils; the scent of high-end electronics mingled with the submission of low-cost labour. The intensity of the surrounding light as its reflection flashed across the pristine, untouched screen let you know you had arrived. For a moment, you forgot the dull pain on your left side from the kidney you had to give up in exchange for the device back at the iStore.

The betrayal we have all felt in being beholden to Apple products has built up gradually. Like an ill-advised high-school crush, we have allowed Apple to set its terms, while offering us very little in the bargain. Each time a friend or relative has suggested that maybe we were being taken for a ride, we brushed it off as mere jealous Android rants. After all, who can deny that something so shiny and flawless shouldn’t command a premium?

As the years went by – it’s been 12 years today since Steve Jobs announced the launch of the iPhone – we found ourselves plunging even deeper into Apple’s vortex of offerings. More of our devices were replaced with Apple counterparts. The MacBook, the iPad, even that weird router that looked like the beginnings of a robot upheaval. Each time you went to the store, it felt like you were applying for a gadget, not buying it. Apple store employees don’t fall over themselves to sell you products. They evaluate you, to deem whether you are worthy of acquiring one of their shiny trinkets. This why when you come home and unbox the devices, you don’t feel indignant over the complete lack of accessories. Instead, you hold up those two free Apple logo stickers feeling like a winner.

It hurts all the more because Apple was never meant to conform to the “big bad company” stereotype. Growing up, it was always Microsoft that personified the role of the evil overlord, while poor Apple struggled to remain relevant despite putting out products that were arguably better. In 1997, when Bill Gates invested 10 million USD in Apple to save the company from bankruptcy, it genuinely felt like the good guys had lost. And yet, 22 years later, there is little doubt that Apple has squeezed every drop out of us as consumers and feels no shame in the way it continues to do so.

The betrayal we have all felt in being beholden to Apple products has built up gradually.

The pain starts with the price point – the store people don’t even bother justifying it when they interview you. Sure, you can speak about it being user-friendly, super stable and such, but for the most part, if you don’t feel entitled enough to own an Apple device, they don’t really want you anyway. Ultimately, the commercial decision is between you, your credit card, and the lady who calls up asking if you want to split the purchase into EMIs over the next eight years.

Once the initial shock of buying the new device subsides, the game gets really exciting. Because, while you may think you just bought a new iPhone and don’t intend to buy another one for a while, the folks at Apple are doing all they can to shorten the time it takes you to upgrade. Subtly, they start messing with you. They remind you that a new model is coming up shortly, which is going to make the one you just bought feel like it was crafted by cavemen. They re-calibrate your phone while you sleep so the battery life doesn’t quite hold its own anymore. I’m convinced that they somehow get the cables to shrink, so that you’re literally banging your head on a table if you try answering an iPhone while it’s charging. Siri starts developing an attitude. Apparently, she’s now friends with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and doesn’t have time for your rubbish anymore. She reminds you (while you sleep), that The Rock has already upgraded to the new model. “Don’t you want to be like The Rock?” she asks you, subliminally. This has led to some confusing dreams that I’m not completely comfortable reminiscing about.

As loyalists, I’m not sure what we were expecting after years of being treated with absolute indifference. As each subsequent iPhone model offered less and less by way of additional features, and boasted even more exorbitant price tags, it became apparent that Apple was clearly experimenting with how far they can push us. Like that analogy about the frog in hot water, they’ve been gradually turning up the heat to gauge whether we will jump, or just wallow in ever-increasing discomfort.

They re-calibrate your phone while you sleep so the battery life doesn’t quite hold its own anymore.

When Apple announced last week that they were expecting sales to decline, we all breathed a sigh of relief. It meant we weren’t the only ones thinking they had finally gone too far. Maybe now they can look inward and start asking those awkward, customer-centric questions. Like, “Why do our devices randomly decide certain wires are no longer compatible?” or “Why did we laugh at that customer when he asked if there were any discounts?” Apple has been so convinced that its loyal clientele will never look elsewhere, that they forgot to check with us regarding the authenticity of this assumption.

We all got hooked to Apple at a time when every other gadget was either too clunky or too unreliable. Now that the others have caught up, it remains to be seen whether Apple can still stay one step ahead. The evidence doesn’t look great and the way Apple has behaved, one can’t exactly feel sympathetic to their decline.