The Power of First Impressions

And what it means that Apple nails them all.


At a time when many brands were moving away from retail, Jobs invested in the design and construction of great houses of worship to Apple — churches, some might say — that, in the same way that true churches used to, invoked withinpeople a feeling that they were closer to the divine simply by entering. To have ever walked into an Apple store is to understand what this feels like — the curved (stained) glass windows, the savvy, casually dressed employees (priests and priestesses), the tables on which working examples of coveted devices sit, waiting to be engaged with (shrines, altars) — all of it contributes to a sense of elevated consciousness, that the store you’re in is making you better simply by having you within its confines.  — “The Luxury Network


The process of opening an iPhone is akin to entering a church; first impressions — in business, as in life — are everything, and both Apple and those who built the churches of old understood that down to a science. It is unsurprising, then, that Apple has always focused so heavily on first impressions; they are powerful parts of the Apple experience, and nowhere is that focus clearer than the iPhone. The original, released in June of 2007, was unlocked with nothing more than a swipe — a simple, elegant gesture that would come to define interaction with smartphones, whether to move around a page, through a list, or even to type. Eventually, of course, Apple would extend the swipe to be not only the gesture that opened the phone, but the gesture which afforded users easy access to specific tasks from the lock screen. Nothing within the iPhone, it seemed, was immune to delight; nothing within the iPhone, it seemed, would ever be only functionally accessible. The trend continued as fingerprints became passwords on the iPhone 5S; Touch ID was an elegantly simple solution to an eternally nuanced issue, and a beautiful one, at that. So too was it a savvy move by Apple because it even further fulfilled the promise of Apple’s name for their flagship device: “iPhone,” and like the rest, was a first impression that impressed.

After a decade, finally, Apple has released the iPhone X, and Face ID. For all the hype surrounding the X, there seemed to be as much if not more pessimism about the security and general applicability of Face ID. Reviews may show that both feelings are, to certain degrees, justified, but I’ve had the X for three weeks now and will admit that while Face ID took some adjustment, I consider it now to be indispensable. Admittedly, I expected as much, though many others didn’t (and still don’t); as I wrote in The Luxury Network:

Apple’s willingness to omit features that have been integral to not only their products, but those of the industry as a whole, suggests a reason for the company’s success — when you’re the industry leader, you lead, and the indicator of any great leader is the ability to make the unpopular decisions that, when reviewed in history books, seem like the obvious ones.

To have made Face ID such a focal point is a uniquely Apple move; every few iterations, Apple releases devices that — along with being objective improvements over what came before — come with more engaging and personal methods of entry, or better first impressions. Face ID is, thus far, the ultimate expression of that focus. And yet, its effectiveness could have come at a cost. Though it would have been pleasing to know that your face was your password, to claim that understanding would be comparable to something tangible — Touch ID, or swiping to open, for instance — would be to again miss the power of the first impression. Face ID had the capacity to work so well such as to fail to alert users of its brilliance, and fail to achieve that which Apple has always baked into every part of their experience: an extraordinary entry point into — and by extension, first impression of — their flagship product. To release a phone that lacked this piece of the experience, given Apple’s history, would’ve been nothing short of heresy.

A personalized greeting (and also a shameless plug).

Unsurprisingly, the issue (if it ever was one) was addressed prior to release; now, whenever a user unlocks their X with Face ID, any notifications on the screen will evolve to reveal a previously hidden part of their message, almost as an acknowledgement of the presence of the user. This, admittedly, may seem like a small detail, but it is small details like these that have captivated users and built Apple its cultish fanbase; it is small details like these that have placed Apple on its current trajectory. To say that Apple’s emphasis on the first impression is unintentional, then, is to miss how powerful of a framing effect any first impression is and can be; as anyone who has ever entered a church or been greeted in just the right way by a beautiful stranger will tell you, the frame of the experience—the first impression — is as much a part of the experience as the experience itself.

Apple’s brilliance, then, has come in realizing that every part of the experience is a frame for the next one — the Apple Store for the purchase; the purchase for the package; the package for the product; the product for the experience. Apple, like no other company in history, understands that every opportunity to make a first impression — down to the very curvature of the laptop on which I type this, or the packaging of their products, or the architecture of their new headquarters — is an opportunity to thrill, to delight, and above all, garner the loyalty and the trust of users. Apple succeeds, then, because they intrinsically understand in a way their competitors do not that it is not one part, but every part of the experience that matters.


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