Credit Tim Cook and the Apple brass for thinking outside of the glass box when it hired Burberry's CEO Angela Ahrendts as their new SVP of retail operations. Ahrendts comes with a strong dossier of senior positions in successful upscale retail operations, and oversaw a tripling of Burberry's stock value under her leadership. That bodes well in certain ways for Apple's iconic stores, which have served Apple well in helping to create the aura of a brand that superior both in technology and social status. Ahrendts will bring with her a deep understanding of how to keep a premium brand seeming magical long after its core assets have become familiar to the public. She will also bring insights into how to make a brand that is actually fairly masculine in its core appeal a strong draw for upscale women, also.
according to recent research, built on the aura of attainable luxury. While an iPhone or an iPad is not a trivial purchase for most folks, in spite of the temple-like atmosphere engineered by Apple for its stores in prestigious locations, ultimately you're slapping down just a few hundred bucks - if that - to get that Apple social aura. That's the sort of money that someone pays for a good but not amazing watch these days - techno-jewelry accessorizing for the socially minded striver, if you will. By contrast, the lobby of the old General Motors building in New York City behind Apple's storefront in midtown Manhattan used to show Cadillacs and the like that were worth thousands even decades ago. Apple's attainable luxury is popular, but, ultimately, built on very small sales units.
So Apple may have the right strategy for marketing attainable luxury, but it's not clear that their product lifecycle matches how their competition attacks the same markets. Be it BMW or Burberry, most consumer markets work on the same calendars. For both autos and clothing, there are spring and fall introductions, and all of your competitors will be in the same mix. For technology, especially services oriented technology, you're in a 24/7/365 introduction cycle. So whatever Apple introduces has to be so worth it that your customers are willing to wait for your traditional-cycle introductions tied heavily to retail operations. And increasingly, the only thing that will make people wait is that they're loyal to the brand and its aura. That's sensible enough for many, perhaps, but for a small-unit brand based on perishable and finicky cutting-edge technology, a big gamble.
Apple may yet be able to pull all of this off as a branding and retailing play, but the combination of product lifecycles and diffuse competitors all linked by Google services will make it harder for Apple to maintain this formula. Apple's best hope in this mix is that some of Google's major Android partners are getting fidgety about having their fates tied so closely to Google's Android software. Samsung is notably trying to push its own interfaces and features aggressively, and even pushing for its own apps and operating system for its mobile devices. This sort of fragmentation is likely to play into both Apple's and Google's hands, though, as it's hard to withdraw valuable services from customers and expect to compete on hardware and software alone. So Samsung may wind up empowering Apple as a brand that never "compromised," even as Google builds up partnerships that are built around encouraging better value via Google software and services.