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Will the world’s 9 billionth person own an iphone?


Two big hits in a world that seems to hang on big numbers:

  • 4 million new model iphones sold by Apple over its launch weekend.
  • 7 billion people expected to be sharing this planet on October 31st.
Ok, so the phones aren’t really a big deal but think about this. The new iphone has only launched in 6 so-called advanced nations and is set to be available in 70 more countries by the end of the year. As per the bombastic game of being the greatest, latest, best thing since sliced bread that we all play in product launch world, records tumble, bought media swoon, etc.
Despite Apple missing an earnings forecast for the first time since 2004 the company is lauded and applauded the world over for the best global product launch since the last Harry Potter installment. And all the while the $80-odd billion wad of cash burns a hole in Tim Cook’s chinos.

Will this new person be a future iphone owner?

And what about the planet’s 7th billion person who the UN are predicting to arrive ahead of schedule on October 31st (give or take)? Will this new person be a future iphone owner? Well, they might be but I’d wager not. This milestone new entrant will most likely be born in India or China and judging by the discrepancy between the haves and have nots in both countries, his chances don’t look good. Cracking under the enormous strain we are putting it under, the world probably wont be able to help Apple break new megamarkets, to which our 7th billion fellow human will belong, for much longer. A recent chart-laden post by enviro-God Lester Brown (which you should check out) explores some future demand scenarios for China (1.1 billion cars anyone?). Not pretty.

And when we add that a soft landing for export-roided (or should that be synthol-ed) China is described as ‘mission impossible’ by Nouriel Roubini – on account of overinvestment and all the rest, our greatest hopes quickly morph into our greatest fears :

China massages/manipulates its macro/GDP data. 1st country to publish GDP estimate 2 weeks after end of a quarter. In US it takes 4 weeks

— Nouriel Roubini (@Nouriel) October 18, 2011

What’s more, in today’s rebalancing world, the fissures will probably mean that even those once safe bets (which made up that stellar opening weekend) wont be there in perpetuity. So here is the question: For a few years to come Apple goes through the roof breaking sales records, stockpiling cash, the most valuable, feted company in the world. Then all of a sudden, one day, the world stops working. The megamarket vanishes. Social unrest crashes nations, Apple’s share price plummets. This lowly product manufacturer is powerless to stop this from happening. They’re not a government, a central bank , a minted sovereign wealth fund. What could they have done about it? They were busy being the most successful company in the world. And anyway, as the Queen might be wheeled out to repeat: why did no-one see this coming?

Even Beijing is in a tizz about #OWS

Well the answer to that is of course that the first rule about fight club is … Apart from this time round that rule has been holed below the waterline. Because now its not just(!) about the planet, the world’s voiceless, the climate refugees and the rest of the have nots that weren’t factored into the strategies of the Fortune 500 during our last prosperity bump. Prosperity, or the dream of prosperity, has melted away for most and people are prepared to do what they can to force change through. See Occupy Wall Street. See the indignados across Europe, hunger strikes in India, student protests in Chile and much more. This a global connective movement, dubbed by Umair Haque as the meta-movement, where even Beijing is in a tizz about #OWS. So maybe Apple should think about doing something about it. Maybe it isn’t powerless. Maybe the world’s 7 billionth person wont own an iphone but he or she may end up connecting with Apple at some point in their life ( and not in a Foxconn kind of way) in a way that isn’t about being part of a global product launch.

Wants and needs are blurring

I’m not suggesting that Apple becomes UNICEF (though i do think they should never sell another new phone). But what i am gently getting at is that perhaps things are not the way they used to be. Wants and needs are blurring, changing with an expanding, ever more global population, with the death throes of a defunct Western model, with life giving resources becoming more scarce and with us more interconnected than ever before (see Bratislava sneezing, New York catching a cold…or sthg) So in this new blurred zone, churning out units and sitting on billions probably will break records, but probably not for that long. The real advantage is in thinking about what these new wants/needs are and realigning yourself with them. Perhaps we should stop gaming the system, pull our heads out of the sand and maybe talk about fight club in the fora where it doesn’t usually get talked about. It might just be that these firms that are making the headlines at the beginning of the third millennium are simply living off the fumes of the last one. What we need are new ideas (they might be firms but don’t have to be) whose power source is an altogether different brew; an undiscovered reserve that is now fighting its way to the surface (no, not fracked gas). The question is: do we have the ability, wit and foresight to tap into it before it is too late?

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