Can Tim Cook Beguile Consumers the Way Steve Jobs Did?

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Apple CEO Tim Cook found the reality distortion field generator that Steve Jobs left behind. He's taking it for a spin this week with design guru Jony Ive by his side. But are they using it the right way?

I'm talking about the new TV ad spot for the iPhone 5C:


Why does this ad rub me the wrong way? Because it backtracks on the qualities that brought Apple this far. It's a potentially dangerous step backwards that undermines Apple's carefully constructed brand image. Tim, you're doing it wrong.

From the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5s, Apple always presented its handsets in premium materials. You don't get a plastic shell, but a solid aluminum housing. You don't get a scratch-prone plastic screen, but a strong Corning Gorilla Glass slate. The glass is hardly unbreakable, but nevertheless a huge upgrade over flimsy plastics. These design choices underscore the iPhone's high-end market positioning, and attempt to set the product line apart from supposedly lower-quality Android and Windows phones.

But all of that quality focus is forgotten in this ad. Apple titled it "Plastic Perfected," which is a throwback to the age-old iPhone 3/3GS era. You know, when Apple hadn't yet figured out how to make bulk orders of high-quality aluminum casings and had to settle for plastic.

If the plastic design was an attempt to reduce manufacturing costs, then Apple failed to pass those savings along to the consumer. Both AT&T and Verizon -- Apple's largest retail partners in the U.S. market -- offer iPhone 5c at the same contract-locked price that last year's iPhone 5 commanded. Neither carrier slaps a discount on this model, even though the materials involved must be cheaper.

In fact, consumers who prefer to buy their iPhones unlocked and free of contract ties pay a $100 premium for the new, plastic model.

Let me just underscore that the iPhone 5c offers no new features that you can't also get by installing the newest version of Apple's iOS software on an old iPhone 5. If you're looking for any hint of innovation, you'll need to pony up another $100 for an iPhone 5s. You're paying extra for the colorful new design, is all.

So this is the budget phone without a discount. The marketing message in this ad is pretty clear: Look, plastic is fun again! Please ignore everything we told you about premium materials since the iPhone 4!

Yeah, that's Steve Jobs' old reality distortion field again. I guess he didn't leave a manual behind, because this is a botched attempt to run it. The iPhone 5c still looks like a solution looking for a problem, missing both the lucrative high-end market and the high-volume budget end.

We all know what comes next in mobilemispricingdebacles. Look for Verizon and AT&T to drop their contract prices on the iPhone 5c before the holiday season arrives, maybe even backed by Apple charging them a little bit less.

Apple loves to kill its darlings
Apple has a history of cranking out revolutionary products... and then creatively destroying them with something better. The iPhone 5c looks like a rare misfire in a stunning sequence of big wins. Read about the future of Apple in the free report, "Apple Will Destroy Its Greatest Product." Can Apple really disrupt its own iPhones and iPads? Find out by clicking here.

The article Can Tim Cook Beguile Consumers the Way Steve Jobs Did? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any company mentioned. Check out Anders' bio and holdings or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Corning. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Corning. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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