Thursday, September 13, 2007

What would Jesus do for an iPhone?

It’s symptomatic of the society in which we live that Steve Jobs had to apologize to his customers for lowering the price of Apple’s hip new gizmo, the iPhone.

Ours is a sick society, in which people feel entitled to, well, pretty much whatever they want, usually with someone else paying the tab.

Two months after Apple devotees made a spectacle of themselves, standing in line for days to pay $599 for Apple’s new high-end toy, they’re doing so again. When Jobs announced last week that Apple was lowering the price of the iPhone by $200, many of his staunchest acolytes in the Cult of Apple cried foul.

They had stood in line. They had shelled out nearly $600, plus tax and the cost of phone service. They had extolled the life-changing virtues of the iPhone to anyone who would listen, and some who wouldn’t. And now their hero, Jobs, was slapping them in the face by giving everyone else — the mundanes! — a 33 percent discount! How dare he!

The angry roar was deafening. And a day later, an apologetic Jobs announced that customers who had already purchased a full-price iPhone would receive $100 in credit good for other Apple products.

It was probably a necessary concession, if only to quiet the Cult. But you Apple fans shouldn’t feel too smug because Apple didn’t cheat you in the first place.

Remember when you finally had your brand new iPhone in your grubby little hands? Remember when you were skipping down the street with glee as you left the Apple store? Remember when you were showing off all of your phone’s cool features to your friends?

You were happy then, weren’t you? In fact, you were deliriously, nauseatingly giddy. The rest of us hated you and your stupid iPhone, and that made you even happier.

You would gladly have paid $800 or more to be the first on your block with an iPhone. At $600, it was a steal, even if it meant eating nothing but ramen noodles for a month to pay your rent.

As economists would say, even at $600, your iPhone gave you a big-time consumer surplus.

Then came the price cut, and that sense of entitlement kicked in. As loyal Apple customers, you felt entitled to the same deal everyone else was getting.

In fact, Apple was just practicing smart business. Apple charged one price at first, knowing its most devoted — one might say insanely devoted — customers would happily pay it. Then, later, it started charging a lower price to everyone else.

Because everyone else isn’t insane, but they still might like an iPhone for Christmas.

Economists call that “price discrimination.” That is when businesses try to divide up their customers, charging each group as much as it’s willing to pay. Businesses like to do this when they can because, obviously, some things are worth more to some people and worth less to others.

By being such a rabid Apple cultist, all of you rabid Apple cultists have practically begged Apple to charge you more. There is no use crying about it now.

I know, you Apple folks still think it’s just not fair that you paid more for your iPhone than all those unworthy latecomers did. So, maybe you should ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells the story of workers in a vineyard. At the end of the day, the workers who had been there all along receive their previously agreed pay. Meanwhile, the workers hired later in the day receive the same amount.

The workers who had been there all day complain to their boss, saying they deserve more than the latecomers.

The boss, however, reminds them that they were paid the wage to which they had agreed beforehand, so they have no cause to complain.

Thus endeth the lesson.

So, if you’re still upset about “paying too much” for your iPhone, take it up with the man upstairs.

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