One glance at the Chinese flag and it’s clear red is a very important hue in China. So, it’s a cinch that, when Apple unveiled its red iPhone 7, there might be some questions when the company went to try to market that model in China.
Once those questions started, it didn’t get any easier for the company, which has maintained a troublesome relationship with the Chinese government in the past. See, the whole purpose behind the red iPhone is to raise cash to support research into a cure for HIV/AIDS. While Apple has used its lesser products or accessories to raise money for Project RED in the past, this is the first time the charity has been connected with the company’s undisputed flagship product.
Red phones will be available in China, but they will come without the charity-specific branding noticeable on the other limited-edition handsets. There’s a reason for this, and it involves a mix of charity PR, government oversight, and cultural landmines that Apple simply wished to avoid.
Global AIDS charities and other watchdog groups have not been shy about declaring HIV and AIDS to be a coming epidemic in China, claiming the country is soon to face a true humanitarian crisis dealing with the disease. The government has been trying to battle the disease, and is making some headway, but not in every sector. The disease is still on the rise among gay men in China, and that apparent lack of success – can’t call it a failure – creates a troublesome sticking point for Apple, a company who has already had to tilt with the Chinese government more than once.
In one instance, China took Apple to task due to the way its phones use location data, something the Chinese government took issue with. Apple was able to resolve that issue just as another factor outside its control soured relations with China a bit. That factor? President Trump, who came on strong with regard to trade and manufacturing, especially with China and Mexico. Neither Apple nor China were amused but found themselves on the same side of that argument … albeit a tenuous alliance.
So, Apple has gone to the expense of making a red phone without the other RED branding in an effort to keep from offending China. But will that investment pay off? Sure, the Chinese see red as a symbol of patriotism, but Apple is coming to the red phone race a bit late. Other companies already market various different red handsets. So, really, the true test will come down to the phone itself. Will the i7 itself offer enough to impress Chinese consumers, who have been inundated with different smartphone options in recent years? If Apple wants to win this one, they will have to go back to what made them famous in the first place: just being the better option.
Daniel Palmier is a leading Boston CEO, Real Estate Investment Manager, and Founder of UC Funds.