The $10,000 Device

4 Feb

Mass-market advertising is not dead. In fact, sometimes it can be immediately and powerfully effective. Apple, the hip, cool, and bleeding-edge company, spent $133 million in 2008 on advertising, which includes TV commercials. The other night, a minute or two after watching an ad for Apple’s iPhone, I downloaded a new app (“as seen on TV!”); five minutes later, after a second commercial, I downloaded another app (Classic books!).

Appropriately enough, both commercials ran during NBC’s Medium. Though not the definition for the subject of the show, one way OED defines a medium is as “an intervening substance through which a force acts on objects at a distance or through which impressions are conveyed to the senses.” I’m thinking airwaves here. Very influential airwaves.

As it turns out, I’d been wondering recently how much I’ve spent on iTunes since I bought my first green Mini in January 2004. Although I fell instantly in love with the device, it took me a while to warm up to iTunes. Most of the music I initially downloaded was from CDs I already owned, so it’s not really surprising that in the first 20 months, I spent just $8 in the music store. In 2006, I spent $12. It wasn’t until 2007, when I bought my second iPod, that I really began tapping into iTunes for both music and video. Over the next two years, I spent a whopping $100.

I think the problem was that even as I thought the iPod was the coolest thing I had ever owned, I still treated it as if it were my old Sony Walkman. A single purpose device.

And then I bought the iPhone. Suddenly, iTunes looked completely different to me. It was no longer simply a place for music. I discovered podcasts (NPR on demand!); I renewed a childhood interest in word games, stayed connected to friends via social networks, and iTunes gradually became my preferred – and only – provider of music. In ten weeks of ownership, I’ve spent about $80, roughly about eight times my monthly spend pre-iPhone.

I’ve been joking that my iPhone will become my $10,000 device. Truth be told, if you add up all the costs – the iPhone itself, the monthly fees, 3,000 or so songs, a few hundred megabytes of apps, video and audio – it might be a $4,000 device. That’s still a staggering number for a small electronic device that slips into my purse.

Yet, I won’t be surprised if it actually ends up costing me more than that, particularly since I can swap files with new podcasts, audiobooks, etc. After all, my external storage device holds 500GB.

The reason the Apple iPhone apps ad is so effective is that it does a good job of making me aware of applications that are relevant to my life. Apple then makes it extremely easy for me to find and download those apps – instantly. It may be that wireless download is the future of mass advertising.

People keep talking about how innovate Apple is. First they change the game in the phone market, next they’ll change the game in wireless downloads (I’m all for instant gratification, by the way). And now they’ve figured out how to innovate an old medium by making mass advertising relevant again.


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