A reader writes:
You got it right; any attempt to frame Apple's products in terms of utility and economic value added misses the point. In that sense there is also similarity to the faith you reference in your original post. I work at an advertising agency. As you probably know, there is a great deal of copy-catting in advertising and marketing. But here's the thing: when we present case studies of great marketing, we don't use Apple anymore because it is viewed as an outlier of such magnitude that many of us in the industry regard it as inimitable.
Apple really does great marketing. But our clients feel like there is nothing to learn from Apple because if you could deliver - with nearly every single product - an amazing user experience, genuine technical innovations, uncompromisingly stylish packaging AND be backed by a company who is unafraid to pursue a singular vision vs. what the focus groups say, then it'd be EASY to do great marketing because all you'd have to do is a great product demo. Which, by the way, is what most Apple product ads are.
As a marketer, I know that people will evaluate the facts about products but decide to buy them because of what they feel. Apple products nurture a crazy kind of hope in people. It's the hope of modernity: that new ideas can make us better. Part of Apple's genius is to deliver those new ideas in a way that celebrates humanity and the things that make us human (like the jolt of pleasure you get when two songs that you would never have put together on a mix tape are serendipitously juxtaposed on your iPod's shuffle mode to stunning effect. That's only possible because Apple realized that it'd be great to be able to take your entire music collection with you.)
Then there is this: Apple reaches for greatness without apology. Market share and profitability are important only as outcomes. They are not its purpose, which is to achieve the "insanely great." It is as if they are on an ongoing Grail quest. (As Professor Henry Jones said to Indiana: "The search for the Grail is the search for the Divine in all of us.")
Yeah, it's just some metal, plastic and silicon. And, yes, Apple makes a lot of money. But those two observations miss completely the point of Apple. It's about inspiration, hope and an embrace of the future and humanity's place within it.
(Image via GOOD Design: "A portrait by Greek designer Charis Tevis for the Italian magazine Panorama that uses hundreds of Apple products created under Jobs's tenure to make up his likeness." More versions and close-ups here.)