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Apple’s marketing boss attempts to demystify the misunderstood iPhone XR

Updated 4 years ago
Published Oct 22nd, 2018 3:52PM EDT
Phil Schiller interview
Image: Apple

Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller knows some people may be loaded with questions about the iPhone XR. Like, what the heck does the “R” in the name mean? Just who is this phone for? Why, in light of the tradeoffs it makes and the lower price point it offers, even make it at all? It’s with questions like those and others in mind that Schiller, a longtime marketing hand at Apple who was also a key Steve Jobs lieutenant, recently sat down with a reporter to walk through the ins and outs of this phone, which will start showing up in stores Friday, and to talk about how Apple is very much hoping this particular model will help grow the company’s overall customer base.

One of the key points Schiller tried to get across in his interview with an Engadget reporter about the XR is how its development was an outgrowth of Apple likewise trying to push the bounds of what it can do and what it can offer customers at the higher end of the scale. “If we’re going to push the upper boundaries with XS and XS Max to make something the best, how do we make something that’s more affordable for a larger audience?” Schiller told the reporter. “To make the overall iPhone audience even larger? What choices can we make and still make it a phone that people can hold and say, ‘I have the best too’?”

Apple’s answer to that is the XR, preorders for which kicked off this past Friday. The model so far has certainly been described a number of different ways, getting tagged as everything from the cheap iPhone to the depressing iPhone to in the case of the Engadget interviewer “the fascinating iPhone.” Fascinating, because it was built with the best component technology Apple could use to manufacturer the handset, which starts at $749 for the 64GB model, that would allow Apple to also very much aim it at the mass market. To that end, Apple analyst extraordinaire Ming-Chi Kuo is out with a new analyst note today somewhat deflecting the conventional wisdom that demand for the XR looks weaker than expected. “In his latest report published earlier today,” a Phone Arena report explains, “Kuo confirmed that, just as expected, iPhone XR pre-orders are indeed outpacing those of last year’s iPhone 8 and 8 Plus by a considerable margin. Despite this, he noted that demand is still quite a bit lower than the peak registered by the iPhone XS and XS Max, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“According to Kuo, while initial iPhone XS demand was higher, it has since experienced a significant drop-off. The iPhone XR, on the other hand, is set to encounter a significantly smaller drop which will lead to ‘more stable’ sales in the long run.” That, the report goes on to note, is due to the XR’s lower price point and the fact that it caters toward regular consumers who don’t usually have any “urgent replacement demand.”

As we’ve noted, of course, tradeoffs the XR makes include featuring an LCD display as opposed to the OLED panels used on the iPhone XS. Other features iPhone XR users will miss out on include support for 3D Touch and a higher ceiling on LTE speeds.

In the Engadget interview, Schiller downplays criticism of the XR display being lower-res, arguing that the numbers eventually start to become “fairly arbitrary.” “If you can’t see the pixels,” he says, “at some point the numbers don’t mean anything.” He also notes that the designations “R” in the phone’s name doesn’t mean anything much — at least, not anything specific. But almost immediately after noting that, he transitions to the world of sports cars, where the letters R and S denote cars that are “really extra special.” Which — you know, maybe Phil’s on to something. Maybe we ought to consider that R in the XR’s name as standing for Rorschach. This being Apple’s Rorschach phone, in other words. Maybe that’s the right way to look at this latest model. You see in it whatever it is you bring to the table. It’s either a continuation of Apple’s greatness, of spreading the company’s magic around to even more people, or an example of the company continuing to muddle along. Whatever you think that ink blot shows, just take your pick.

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Andy Meek Trending News Reporter

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.