Editor’s note: Billy Warden and Greg Behr run the communications firm GBW Strategies in the Triangle.
DURHAM, N.C. – Tech geeks and fashionistas go together like frayed flannel and fine fur. Yet they recently shared the pop culture catwalk – perhaps signaling a new era in the way we think about and consume gadgets.
Two extravagant exercises in style and striving very nearly overlapped in September – Fashion Week in New York and the release of the new iPhone around the country.
As usual, Fashion Week felt far away for most of us – less about what to wear this fall than well-heeled and trendy true believers worrying over which gala to attend. And for perhaps the first time, much of pop culture greeted the new iPhone in a similar way – a ritual without a lot of real life urgency.
The ritual, of course, involves gads of gushing advance press, lines of eager buyers and soaring sales. What felt new or at least more pronounced was the dissenting voices. A popular New York morning radio show, for example, admonished listeners not to make too much fun of Apple addicts and their phone fixation.
More tellingly, tech columnist Will Oremus gave the new gadget a glowing review, only to conclude “the iPhone 5 is merely the finest exemplar yet of the phone that can do it all—except for all the things in life that you really need to do.” A New York Times pundit asked, “Has Apple peaked?” And most tellingly, iPhone5 missed some analysts’ sales expectations.
So, are we witnessing the opening of a new cultural chasm?
In the fashion world, there is haute couture – outre fashion that dazzles on glitzy runways but is generally outside the wants and needs of workaday consumers. Are we now witnessing the emergence of ‘haute gadture’? A world in which tech geniuses turn out gadgets that while beautiful are outside most people’s real needs?
The analogy isn’t perfect. Tech has long been about wowing us with the bigger and better. But the comparison can be useful. It led us to categorize our take on tech offerings along the lines we think about our clothes. You may not agree with our conclusions (everyone’s got a slightly different fashion sense), but we encourage you to try your own list and share it here:
- The Gap (the basics): A mobile phone is essential. Texting, perhaps not. A camera and mountains of apps, definitely not.
We’ve come to depend on Amazon-Prime – pretty much anything you want in a couple of days. In this category we also include Web services that, while not glamorous, perform necessary chores – like Shoeboxed.com, the company that tabulates our business receipts and posts them to our online account for tax time.
And a Kindle, because toting books onto planes just ain’t happening anymore.
- Banana Republic (the snazzy, mostly affordable upgrade): Here we put a mobile phone that texts smartly and can grab a reasonably sharp photo. Plus, a few apps that serve a purpose beyond trendiness.
For us, the iPad and other tablets belong here. And, like any contemplated trip to Banana Republic, the savvy consumer will know to shop around before committing to items here — a coupon or special deal is always right around the corner.
- Fashion Week (admirable in theory, wearying in reality): Columnist Oremus effectively put iPhone5 into this category. A fantastic phone, but one that many of your friends may point to and say, “Well, was that upgrade really necessary?” Maybe we’re wrong and we’ll all have tall iPhones and Google Glasses by next year.
This way of looking past marketing to set practical priorities harkens back to the First Droppers concept we introduced in 2010. The flip side of Early Adopters, First Droppers are the first wave of dissenters – and perhaps a key indicator for companies like Apple. Criticisms of iPhone5 – even yawns – are finally catching up with the praise, and Android nips at Apple’s heels.
The emergence of ‘haute gadture’ may lead consumers to more finely hone their personal priorities, giving us more First Droppers. In other words, ‘dressing down’ may yet become the new ‘looking smart.’
(C) GBW Strategies