Opinion

Is a thousand bucks too much for an iPhone?

Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, discusses features of the new iPhone X at the Steve Jobs Theater on the new Apple campus Tuesday.
Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, discusses features of the new iPhone X at the Steve Jobs Theater on the new Apple campus Tuesday. AP

I need a new phone. My old phone, an iPhone 6, has developed a habit of freezing and turning off without notice. That might be because it’s getting old, or it might have something to do with my running over it in my driveway a couple months back.

I’ve held off getting a replacement because I knew Apple was planning to announce a new lineup of iPhones. That happened Tuesday, and that announcement included the iPhone X, Apple’s 10th anniversary phone. The iPhone X has new features such as face recognition and an edge-to-edge screen that’ll set your heart thumping, if your heart thumps at that kind of thing. The price for this premium phone in Apple’s premium lineup? $999.

It’s true. A thousand bucks for a phone.

Some folks are less than thrilled.

Actually, the discontent surfaced earlier this summer, when speculation began about a $1000 or even a $1,500 iPhone. Annoyed consumers said not only that they would NEVER pay a thousand bucks for a phone, but that they didn’t much like Apple charging that. How could the company effectively deny the iPhone X’s features to its loyal customers by pricing them out of a purchase? Said one: “It’s Apple decisions like this, to basically forget the public as a group of buyers who support them and think only about profit margins.”

Of course, that’s exactly what companies are supposed to think about. But Apple has built its empire by persuading its customers that they deserve a better and grander life – and Apple is the company that can deliver it. The iPhone is no longer about just having a phone. It’s about having everything on a phone – your personal information, your data, your music, all connected with your other Apple devices in that glorious Apple universe.

Sure, you can still exist in that universe with an older or cheaper iPhone. But Apple created something else, too – a culture where technology is status. And status is not old or cheap.

So why are some people annoyed? It has less to do with Apple than our increasingly outsized expectations of what our money should buy. We’re in a golden age of consumer entitlement, where people believe they deserve premium goods and services just because they’ve worked hard and been good.

It’s not a terribly new phenomenon. Researchers fretted last decade about consumer entitlement in health care – and about parents who thought that paying college tuition entitled their children to the Sandals resort treatment on campus. It’s why retailers have become hyper-sensitive about keeping checkout lines short, and it’s why (ahem) consumers bark at paying for content or gripe about ads that help fund the reporting they read.

So here we have Apple bucking that trend with a common consumer product that’s getting more expensive, not less. It’s worked up to this point because Apple is so expert at creating and cultivating lust – and because consumers can stomach the big price tag by breaking it down into digestible monthly payments.

Now we face a new milestone: A thousand dollar phone. It’s too much for me, but I’d like to think the big price tag is a good thing for everyone, a reminder that you can’t always get what you want. But it’s probably just a really pricey phone.

Is it too much? Businesses have known the answer to this for as long as there have been price tags.

Too much is more than your customer is willing to pay.

pstonge@charlotteobserver.com; @saintorange

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