An open letter from Apple to its customers last month revealed that company was about to go to battle with the FBI over the data encryption and security their products.
Apple has refused a request to develop a version of their mobile operating system that is less secure so that they can break into the iPhone used by one of the shooters who killed 14 people in San Bernardino California, late last year. Apple argues that this would effectively create a ‘master key’ that the FBI—or anyone else who gets hold of it—could use to break into any iPhone, rendering their encryption and security methods more vulnerable to hackers.
Opinion is pretty divided in the US on the issue—and for what it’s worth I’m on Apple’s side here—however, there’s something else going on here with Apple in my opinion.
When I first saw links to Apple’s letter on social media, it struck me as quite a bold move on their behalf. Normally these things play out behind closed doors, however, by publishing this letter to their customers Apple decided to get on the front foot and go public on the situation on its own terms.
After reading the letter, interestingly, the first thing I thought of was Apple’s famous 1984 Macintosh Commercial, where they used their SuperBowl spot to position their brand around the idea of empowerment, and the Macintosh as a tool for combating conformity and asserting originality against ‘Big Brother’ – which some people interpreted as being IBM at the time.
Challenging the status quo has been the essence behind Apple from the very beginning.This was expressed most successfully and concretely in their ‘Think Different’ campaign from 1997, which captured the essence of Steve Job’s vision for his company so eloquently. Apple wasn’t about just building computers, Apple was about pushing things forward through technology.
Which brings me to my point.
The decision to take such a provocative and public stand against the FBI is the first time since Steve Job’s death in 2011 that Apple has really returned to its brand essence in a tangible way.
While the Apple brand is still very powerful, come 2016 it doesn’t seem to me to be as clearly differentiated from its competition as it used to, because it feels like a long time since they have really challenged the status quo or taken the lead like they have done in the past.
This could be Tim Cook’s moment to realign the Apple Brand with its essence, using their position on security and privacy to drive conversation about the brand towards something much bigger for all of us than speculation about the size of the next iPhone, or what type of headphone jack it’s going to have.