Is Apple in danger of losing its priceless cool?

Apple has just been voted the UK’s coolest brand by something called the CoolBrands expert council (Yes, it’s a new one on me too) displacing Aston Martin.

But sometimes topping such polls is the kiss of death.

On the face of it there’s little to be unhappy about at Apple. It’s the world’s biggest company by market capitalisation, its shares still continue to rise, it’s selling as many iPhone5s as it can make (it makes about $400 profit on each one) and it’s got $120bn or so spare cash stashed away in various tax shelters. And it’s just won a big court victory in the US against deadly rival Samsung.

But the mood music is anything but good.

In part this is because it just doesn’t seem to be the same company since the death of founder Steve Jobs (pictured) although it’s likely that the company would behave in just the same way (on major issues anyway) had Jobs still been alive.

But, for the first time in a decade or more, Apple needs some better PR.

Its cash pile is a PR problem simply because it shows that Apple is a tax avoider on a monumental scale. Its profits are a problem because the company makes miles more money than it needs, suggesting it charges too much. Its recent advertising has been panned while Samsung’s latest US effort is winning plaudits.

Today it’s emerged that there are more labour problems at the Foxconn factory in Taiwan where the low-paid workers seem to be revolting, not good for Apple generally and a reminder that it’s selling stuff that’s cheap to make (arguably too cheap) but expensive to buy. And battering Samsung in a US court for supposed plagiarism (Samsung thinks it was done over) is not what you expect of an innovator. Shouldn’t it just concentrate on making the best products and leave everyone else to try to catch up?

Longer term Google’s Android system looks certain to dominate the global market for smart devices. This doesn’t necessarily hurt Apple in financial terms (it makes far more profit per unit than all its rivals) but leaders like to be market leaders too.

Apple has always been a secretive, control freak of a company and, to an extent, there’s good reason for this. When Microsoft ruled the tech world Apple felt that its own innovations were copied by other makers who pushed out worse products to captive markets. But is that really the case now? Samsung or no Samsung.

Sometimes it just becomes silly. When Jonny Ive and his design team pitched up at the UK’s D&AD awards last week to collect a design team of the millenium award or some such only Ive was identified in case a rival tried to nick the rest. How daft is that?

The issue for Ive, CEO Tim Cook and the other Apple C-suite executives, who no doubt go around with bags over their heads, is how to conduct themselves as the world’s biggest company without just becoming another big, nasty, monopolistic corporation that’s happy to stuff the world if it keeps shareholders happy.

Such behaviour, whatever CoolBrands thinks, ain’t cool.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.