Frankly, I blame Barbara for initiating me into the cult of Apple and sparking an addiction I’ve been unable to shake off since.
It was six years ago this autumn when the PA, whose services I shared with a handful of colleagues, took one look at the antiquated mobile phone I’d been allocated by my employers and shook her head in dismay.
‘Nothing but the best will do for my boys,’ she told me (the average age of her ‘boys’ at the time was a little over 60). ‘Just you leave this with me and I’ll make sure you get a proper phone.’
As it happened, I was perfectly happy with the reconditioned model that so horrified her.
Tom Utley was initiated into the cult of Apple, sparking an addiction he has been unable to shake off since
True, it wasn’t a thing of beauty, its camera wasn’t very sophisticated and its general performance was a little sluggish.
But since all I asked of a smartphone was that it should enable me to make and receive calls and messages, it seemed perfectly adequate for my needs.
Yet there was no point in arguing with Barbara. Once she had decided that my mobile was an affront to my dignity as a senior journalist, nothing would shake her determination to make the management issue me with something better.
Sure enough, a few days later she presented me with a spanking new iPhone 6 — at the time, the last word in cutting-edge technology (although I note that no fewer than 14 models have been released over the six years that have passed since, each claiming to be more miraculous than the last).
Reader, it was love at first sight of its beautifully designed packaging — that simple white box, adorned only with the globally recognised logo of a bitten apple, whose lid fitted so perfectly that it slid open with the gentle whisper of a Chippendale drawer.
Never mind that as a fully paid-up member of Technophobes Anonymous, I knew very well I’d master only a handful of the hundreds of extraordinary things it could do. Nor did I care when one of my sons sneered that entrusting me with an iPhone 6 was like handing a Ferrari to an orang-utan.
All that mattered to me was that it looked lovely and was completely reliable. It made me happy just to feel it in my pocket, knowing that, for the first time in my life, I was the envy of my young.
He was given a spanking new iPhone 6 — at the time, the last word in cutting-edge technology (although no fewer than 14 models have been released over the six years that have passed since, each claiming to be more miraculous than the last)
The trouble is that, from the day I took delivery of that iPhone, I’ve been hopelessly hooked on Apple products, shelling out a fortune on a desktop, a laptop, an iPod and now my third new iPad (but I’ll come to that in a moment).
I must, therefore, be held partly responsible for this week’s astonishing news that the stock value of Apple Inc has overtaken the combined worth of all 100 companies in the FTSE’s blue-chip index put together. As recently as August 2018, it became the first publicly traded U.S. firm to be valued at more than $1 trillion. Just two years later, it had broken through the $2 trillion barrier.
Then on Tuesday this week, its shares rose another 4 per cent, increasing its total worth to $2.3 trillion. Call that £1.7 trillion — or roughly the entire national output of Canada in 2019, as reported by the IMF.
Truly, Apple has come quite a way since Steve Jobs sold his VW Microbus for a few hundred dollars to co-found the company back in 1976. So what is its secret, and how can we learn from it?
More from Tom Utley for the Daily Mail…
As it happens, on the very day that Apple overtook the FTSE 100, I had my first, eye-opening experience of the ethos that sets Apple apart from any other company I’ve encountered.
I was on my way to lunchtime drinks with friends in Central London, when I stupidly left my iPad Mini on the train.
Either that, or somebody picked my raincoat pocket on the Tube, but I find that less likely, since social distancing and half-empty public transport have put all sorts of difficulties in the way of the capital’s pickpockets.
Anyway, it was only when I discovered it was missing that I realised how much I had come to depend on it. As withdrawal symptoms kicked in, I couldn’t face the thought of a day without my iPad, while I waited on the off-chance that some kind soul would hand it in at Lost Property.
So I went straight from my drinks to Apple’s flagship shop in Regent Street, 20 minutes away, to buy myself a new one. The first thing I noticed was that this was the only shop in the whole street with a queue of customers on the pavement.
Outside Hamley’s, the toyshop on the other side of the road, staff in striped dungarees were performing a comical dance, vainly trying to lure people inside. Apple’s problem, by contrast, was limiting the numbers it could admit.
Inside, it was unlike any shop I’d visited before — more like a Bond villain’s lair, indeed, or a scene from a science fiction movie set in the 22nd century.
There were no shelves stacked with goods for sale. Just examples of Apple devices tastefully displayed on bare wooden benches, with trees stretching up to the ceiling between them.
The Apple store on Regent’s Street was more like a Bond villain’s lair or a scene from a science fiction movie set in the 22nd century
Everywhere, highly trained shop assistants — or ‘Geniuses’, as Apple prefers to call them — were gliding about, talking customers through the marvels on offer.
No sooner was I through the door than a Genius swooped on me, smothering me in flattery and charm. In an accent I took to be French, he asked me what interested me and declared himself entirely at my service.
At one stage, he even told me that I seemed to know more about technology than 90 per cent of Apple’s customers.
I looked round at my fellow shoppers, asking intelligent questions about gigabytes, processor speeds and heaven knows what, and reflected that this was a dollop of soft soap too far.
I may possibly know more about computers than the average orang-utan. But more than most Apple fanatics? Pull the other one!
Everywhere, highly trained shop assistants — or ‘Geniuses’, as Apple prefers to call them — were gliding about, talking customers through the marvels on offer
To my surprise, at first my Genius urged me to wait for a while, rather than rushing to replace my lost iPad.
Lost Apple products had a way of turning up, he said, thanks to the company’s app for tracing them. But I told him I couldn’t wait, claiming that I’d come to depend on my iPad for work.
It would have been slightly more honest to admit that my initial panic on losing the old one had rapidly given way to delight at this excuse for treating myself to a bigger and better model — although, God knows, the old one did its job perfectly well. The upshot is that I’m now £349 poorer, and Apple is that little bit richer.
Therein lies a great part of the company’s success. By constantly bringing out new models, Apple cashes in on our irrational desire to own the latest thing, whether we need it or not.
Add the brilliance of the company’s packaging, design and marketing, the excellence of its products, the first-class customer service offered by its Geniuses in those sci-fi stores — and the trend for working from home, thanks to the coronavirus — and you begin to understand how a company founded only 44 years ago has grown to become the most successful on Earth.
Amazon is destroying our High Streets and putting publishers and booksellers out of business. Pictured: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
But, oh dear, I know there’s a terrible price to pay for feeding American giants such as Apple, Amazon and Uber. They may do a brilliant job of satisfying our every wish.
However, Apple is utterly merciless to its competitors, and arguably takes advantage of musicians and media companies by deducting a large percentage of their earnings from music and news-streaming apps.
Meanwhile, Amazon is destroying our High Streets and putting publishers and booksellers out of business, while Uber exploits its employees and throws qualified cabbies out of work.
Oh, and all such companies hire the sharpest tax lawyers in the world, to help them dodge their social responsibilities.
Yet here I am, rejoicing in my possession of a brand new iPad, a little bit slicker than the last. Oh Barbara, Barbara, what have you done to me?