By Quentin Fottrell
Just as fans snatched up the music of John Lennon, Ray Charles or Michael Jackson in the days and months after their deaths, now Apple acolytes are lining up to buy iPhones and iPads in memory of the company’s founder, Steve Jobs.
Low-tech memorials of flowers and photos, and handwritten messages are being placed outside Apple Stores around the world, as The Wall Street Journal reports today. At Apple’s flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York, mourners scrawled messages to Steve Jobs on the scaffolding surrounding the location’s famous glass-cube entrance, the report said. In Beijing, one customer said he bought an iPhone today in honor of Jobs’s legacy, noting “this is truly the end of an era.”
While there’s no sales data available yet for the hours since Steve Jobs’s death was announced last night, the company’s new iPhone 4S — which was given a lukewarm reception following its unveiling this week — has suddenly taken on mythological status. Some Apple devotees across the blogosphere are even speculating that the model number — 4S — stands for “For Steve.”
And many retail experts predict shoppers — from the truly Apple-obsessed to the company’s casual fans — will hit Apple stores and other retailers to snap up his products. “Steve Jobs was one of the few people who had that rock star status in a quintessentially non-hip industry,” says L. J. Shrum, president of the Society for Consumer Psychology. When people are grieving or are reminded of their own mortality, they restore their sense of belonging – by shopping, he said, “Buying nostalgic products is one way of connecting with the past.”
The surge in sales, however, will likely be short term, say experts. The true effect of Jobs’ death on Apple’s product line won’t be known — or felt — for years. The company is infamous for planning its products and launches far into the future. When it introduces its next laptop, phone, music player, that product will surely bear Jobs’ magic touch. The first truly post-Jobs products are still years away.
And unlike the typical pattern for posthumous memorabilia, prices of Apple products aren’t likely to spike to cash in on the sudden demand. Apple retains a tight grip on the pricing of its products. iPads, iPods and iPhones are rarely discounted, and are sold for the same amount at Apple stores as they are other retail outlets. That said, prices on the secondary market for old iPhone models will likely jump, says Anthony Scarsella, chief gadget officer of resale site Gazelle.com. “With the passing of Jobs, we predict trades rapidly increasing over the next 60 days,” he says.
The release of a new iPhone always leads to long lines and shortages in some places, so given the heightened interest there’s a chance the 4S may be hard to come by at first. That’s because the iPhone 4S, despite being a long-planned incremental upgrade, will take on intense sentimental value, analysts say. “There may be some people who will want to buy it since it represents the last creation of Steve Jobs,” says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. (Apple was unavailable for comment.)