Review of the iPhone Launch Perceptual Map

About the iPhone Launch Perceptual Map

At the 2007 launch of the first ever iPhone, Steve Jobs used a perceptual map to highlight the market gap that Apple had identified (please see videos below).

His perceptual map used two axes of:

  1. easy to use and hard to use and
  2. smart and not so smart

Firstly, I should point out that this is probably the most famous perceptual map ever made, especially as it formed part of Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch – a product that has gone on to become one of the most successful consumer products in history.

He referred to the iPhone perceptual maps as a “business school 101 graph of the smart axis and the easy-to-use axis”. And this is how is described the proposed positioning of Apple’s new phone:

  • Regular cell phones are not so smart, and they’re not so easy to use. Smartphones are definitely a little smarter, but they actually are harder to use. They’re really complicated, just for the basic stuff, people have a hard time figuring out how to use them.
  • Well, we don’t want to do either one of these things. What we want to do is make a leapfrog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has ever been and super easy to use. This is what iPhone is. 

As part of his presentation, Steve was referring to the following perceptual map…

iPhone perceptual map

Please note that this perceptual map was created in one minute using the free Excel template available of this website.

Review the iPhone assessment video, or scroll down for the full article…

Was this a Good or Poor Perceptual Map?

Here’s my breakdown…

What’s Good About the iPhone Perceptual Map?

Great Communication

This map is a very effective form of communication. Steve was able to describe the product and its differentiation very simply and quickly with the perceptual map.

Essentially it was:

  • “This is where we are going, here are our competitors, here are the cell phones. This is how we’re going to be differentiated.”

It was fantastic, very clear communication. Within seconds, everybody got the sense of the iPhone.

Now, if you’ve sat through business presentations, perhaps marketing presentations, and they pile on charts and tables, and sometimes it’s so confusing that there’s just too much. Well this map just cuts through = very simple, very straightforward.

Clear Differentiation

The second thing is that the map paints a very clear picture of differentiation.

He identified key differences between Apple and their competitors and their generic competitors of cell phones.

It clearly highlights how the iPhone is going to be different and how it will stand out.

Relevant Product Attributes

In any good perceptual map, we need to pick out attributes that are important to the consumer.

That is, what the consumers want in the product and what attributes are going to help them choose between brands.

In most cases we want to make sure that these are decision-making attributes,  sometimes called determinate attributes.

In this map we have ease of use, which is a centerpiece of Apple, so that is a smart and logical attribute to include. And of course, being smart, as in the capabilities of technology and the ability of the phone to do things – is another great attribute to use, especially for smart phones!

Internal Marketing

Next we have internal guidance, or internal marketing.

While this perceptual map was presented at the launch, it was probably used internally from time to time to help guide the new product team, marketing people, and whoever else was involved in this project.

This iPhone perceptual map gives great internal guidance as to what we are trying to achieve with the new product = what’s the end goal?

Clear Positioning Goals and Outcomes

While the map is quite simple in its design, it should be noted that there is a lot of decisions sitting under those two attributes that will need to be executed. These would include the design of the phone, the functionality of the phone, among many other (potentially 1000s) of decisions.

And of course, the positioning goal is ambitious – which leads into other marketing mix factors – such as premium pricing, selection of retail channels, and even how to present the product with packaging.

All of these marketing mix factors and decisions need to be aligned to our ultimate positioning goals and overall competitive strategy.

What Could Be Improved with the iPhone Perceptual Map?

Now let’s look at the negatives and concerns with the map.

It’s Overly Exaggerated

From a marketing perspective (or an analyst) perspective, this is an exaggerated map.

This is because we have huge differences between the competitors and Apple. And the main competitors have been lumped together as well with no real differentiation between them.

And while the collective cell phones are a little bit dated now, they were a big part of the market at the time – yet, they too, have been largely disregarded as being serious competition.

The end result is significant over-exaggerating of the competitive positioning of the iPhone. But, as discussed above, the perceptual map was presented in this manner to help the communication.

However, it needs to be stated that this map, as constructed, does not adequately reflect market reality. For example, the competitors should have been scattered around parts of the map, rather than all being grouped down at the bottom..

As the map was presented, it indicated that all these competitors were classified as being really hard to use, whereas some of these brands were probably reasonably easy to use at that time.

It is Management’s View

Secondly, this map is a positioning map that is based upon the view of management – it is not based on consumer perception.

Obviously, the iPhone was a new product at the time and consumers didn’t know anything about it. But the other brands were existing products and consumers would have had perceptions of them.

Therefore, it should be considered that this perceptual map is actually a strategic positioning map, rather than being a map of consumer perceptions.

In other words, it’s a map that shows where we want to end up = it’s a future map, reflecting the market once Apple comes in and reshapes it.

It Shows the Proposed, Not Current, Marketplace

If we go back a year to 2006, before the iPhone, then we would have a completely different map because the perceptions of these brands would scatter.

The iPhone map shows what happens is a superior product comes in and then pushes, or repositions, existing brands.

But that was the purpose of this particular map – to indicate the future of the market. While this is not necessarily a limitation with the iPhone perceptual map used, it is worth remembering that perceptual maps generally show current (or prior) actual perceptions, rather than hypothetical plans (that is the role of positioning maps).

It Is Too Ambitious

Finally, it’s too ambitious. But, it’s Apple.

I would suggest that for virtually every company (more than 99%), this is a bad approach and a bad strategy.

Because we are coming into a market with established players and established competitors and Apple was the new player. Sure they had a joint venture with Motorola before with the iTunes phone, but they were just a strategic partner. They hadn’t made their own phone at that point.

Think about it. They’re coming in, walking into a market, and saying something like:

  • “Hey, we’ve never done this before. You guys have been here for years, you guys know what you’re doing, but we’re coming in, and we’re going to leapfrog you so bad that you’re going to be smashed, and we’re going to be number one.”

However, for most businesses, attempting such a bold move would be ill-advised. Entering an established market and attempting to leapfrog well-established competitors would likely result in failure for the majority of companies.

The reason that Apple was able to achieve this ambitious goal was due to several factors:

  • They were already a large company with ample resources
  • They had a talented team of designers and engineers working on the project
  • They had the success of the iPod, which served as a stepping stone in terms of technology and user experience
  • They had the leadership and vision of Steve Jobs
  • They had a large base of loyal customers who were eager to try their new product.

Here is a summary video of Steve’s presentation and use of the perceptual map…

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