The stars are out.
Five of them, according to my colleague Jason Cipriani.
In reviewing the iPhone XS Max, he describes it as “the future of the iPhone.”
What, though, do real people on the street think about this and its smaller sibling, the iPhone XS?
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks asking people on both coasts.
Also: iPhone XS Max first impressions: It’s big, but not too big
Now, when I say people, I mean real people: The 99 percenters who are taken advantage of every day.
They’re bartenders, baristas, and store employees. They’re those who can’t throw their money around on just anything.
Frankly, just about any human being I encountered was subject to a (polite, naturally) question about their thoughts on the new phone.
Where’s the Hologram?
I began near my home in the Bay Area, shortly after the XS and XS Max launched. Some of the replies left me a touch quiet.
“I’m not going to care until they make a hologram phone,” Sherine, a Starbucks barista, told me with some venom. “Anything else, forget it.”
Her fellow barista Danny was supportive: “She’s right. I’ve got a 7 and I’m not going to upgrade unless my plan gives me a new phone or I break mine. But the hologram would be great.”
That day, I went to a physical therapist. She didn’t even know there was a new iPhone. She was sure, though, that she didn’t need one.
“What’s so different about this one?” she asked.
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I tried to explain.
“You know how I make my phone look different?” said the physical therapist, not entirely interested in my explanation. “I buy lots of cases. They’re 20 bucks, and I’ve got six of them.”
“But don’t you want your phone to do more? To take better pictures, for example?”
“I just don’t need a new phone. My phone’s fine. I’ve got a 7. Wait, I think it’s a 7.”
It seems that there’s no stopping the arc of phones becoming important, but utilitarian objects.
It works, so why should I change it? And as the price of the newest phones has kept rising, many people don’t see the value in seeking them out.
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“Fifty bucks a month for a phone?” a (refurbished) iPhone 8-owning bartender told me. “That’s my gym membership. I’d rather pay for that.”
Bartenders need exercise in order to perform at their peak.
Does New York love it?
Still, perhaps New Yorkers would think differently. They can be a little more showy than Northern Californians. So, I jumped on a plane to find out.
“Yeah, maybe I’d think about getting a new iPhone,” said Kristen, a Manhattan restaurant server. “But they’re not all out yet, are they?”
This was something suggested by famed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who believes that four-times as many Max phones as XS phones have been sold because people are waiting for the iPhone XR.
“You mean you’re waiting for the XR?” I asked Kristen.
“Is that what it’s called?” she replied. “The cheaper one with the colors.”
I fancy Kuo might be right. It isn’t just that the XR is a cheaper phone and a very good phone for the money, relatively speaking. It is, I fear, that Apple’s insistence on releasing its most expensive phones in muted shades has muted some people’s enthusiasm.
The minute they saw that there could be bright blues and yellows, some people thought they’d wait.
Also: iPhone XS smartphone beauty really is only skin deep
That might seem shallow to some. But specs never were and never will be the main reason people buy phones. This is hard for hardened tech types to swallow.
However, Kristen was one of the rare people I talked to who knew there was still one more phone to go. Most had no idea.
“I’ve already got an iPhone X,” a server in a sushi restaurant told me.
“It came with my plan,” she explained. “All my tech friends laugh at me because it’s not Android.”
“Do you know anyone who’s got the XS?”
“One of my friends got it, but that’s because his girlfriend paid for it. He’s a kept man and he loves it.”
“No, being a kept man.”
Come on people, get giddy.
Still, I was looking for excitement. I was looking for people to tell me how cool the new iPhones were, how excited they were to try the new camera.
Despite badgering 50 to 60 people, I failed to find those enthusiasts. Except for a few who loved the fact that they now had an enormous iPhone in the XS Max.
“I was so happy to get a big one,” an employee of a fancy-ish clothing store told me. “It’s like an iPad, but it isn’t.”
I nodded furiously.
Also: iPhone XR outshines XS value for upgraders
An Android-loving New York hotel receptionist laughed when I asked what he thought of the new iPhones.
“They’re like the old iPhones, just a little less scratched up,” he said.
They’re funny in New York. Or, at least, they think they are.
I finally thought I’d found a sure target, a young man I met at a business reception. He worked in real estate.
Surely he’d have strong opinions about the XS. Surely he’d already have one, probably the Max.
Real estate types tend to lease BMWs and Mercs and wear Apple Watches to show how affluent people should think they are.
This young man had a highly structured suit and strong opinions about the XS.
“Not for me,” he said.
As I made the overly perplexed face I use for strangers, he reached into his pocket and declaimed: “Ta-Da! This is what’s called an iPhone SE!”
“Why have you got that?” I asked.
“Hands like the president,” he replied.
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