The first step in understanding Apple's mystique, said NYU's Raghubir, is to look back to 2001, when the first-generation iPod and its software platform launched, marking the turning point for Apple from oddball computer maker to mainstream consumer tech monster. "That was where the big change occurred," said Raghubir, noting that the iPod, which cost several hundred dollars, finally gave consumers a cheaper entry point into Apple's world.Then there was the innovation: The iPod marked the first time that a digital music player really took off. Precursors from Samsung and Sony ( SNE) were big, clunky and buggy.
Whereas Branson relishes the spotlight, Jobs carefully limits his public appearances -- and statements -- for maximum effect. The end result is that Apple and its products are cloaked in an air of mystery, which for many customers equals exclusivity.Even the media is largely in Apple's thrall, despite Steve Jobs' recent complaints that the company is not getting the respect that it deserves. There was a weird moment during Apple's iPhone 4 launch when Steve Jobs calmly told the massed ranks of journalists live-blogging the event to turn off their Wi-Fi connections, which were wrecking an on-stage demo. "Turn it off!" screamed a voice from the back of the auditorium, as Apple flunkies made their way around the press area telling bemused hacks to close their laptops. The incident, albeit brief, was revealing. In the church of Apple, Steve Jobs calls the shots. It's not surprising that Jobs has characterized Apple's iPhone problems as "a bump in the road." NYU Professor Raghubir, however, thinks that the recent iPhone 4 brouhaha will ring around the corridors of Cupertino for some time. "They are a very successful company, but I believe they will learn from this," she said. "They are too young to be sitting on their laurels, they are too new as a mainstream brand." -- Reported by James Rogers in New York Follow James Rogers on Twitter.