For many consumers, this fall’s Apple Inc. iPhone lineup may not be a “must have” with its modest improvements compared with last year’s big 5G upgrade. But the smartphone maker is doing something, well, smart. The company is focusing feature enhancements for its new models toward a key constituency: creators and influencers. And it will pay dividends.

Last week, Bloomberg News’s Mark Gurman reported that the next-generation iPhones will have designs similar to the 2020 models but with a faster main chip and better screens. Here’s where it gets interesting. Gurman says the models will have new camera and video capabilities —  including an AI-driven filter system that stylizes photos and a higher-quality video-recording format. The filters will let users adjust the color temperature, shadows and contrast more precisely than with traditional software app methods, while the video offerings will enable more editing flexibility and the ability to change the amount of background blurring afterward.

At first blush, it may not seem like much, but these additions are tailor-made for online creators such as short-video makers on TikTok and the fashion and beauty stars of Instagram. Nearly every influencer is going to need to get the new iPhones to compete. According to SignalFire, a venture capital firm that tracks industry data, more than 2 million people work full time creating content for social media and video sites. That means any edge they can get to publish the highest quality photos and videos, along with the ability to edit and manipulate quickly, is critical.

And then there’s the follow-on marketing effect. According to a Piper Sandler survey earlier this year, 90 per cent of teenagers said their next phone would be an iPhone — the highest level ever in the teen survey’s history. Anecdotally, it seems as if the vast majority of creators use iPhones. With the top influencers sporting the latest Apple devices, it should keep the smartphone giant on top of the most sought-after brand rankings with the younger demographic, driving more sales.

In addition, catering to the creator economy should plant the seeds for future growth at Apple. First, as large technology companies invest large amounts of money to expand the category, it is only going to get bigger. For example, Facebook, Inc. announced last month that it would pay more than US$1 billion by 2022 to creators who make content on its social media platforms. Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube and ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok have also disclosed similar payout funds for the next two to three years. Second, Apple also benefits from keeping the creator community loyal to its hardware in another way. It can then track their activities closely for clues about which innovative ideas it should add next before the competition.

Ultimately, will influencer-driven demand be enough to spark a big upgrade cycle this coming year? Probably not. But it should buttress demand with minimal engineering effort, allowing Apple to bide its time before the better iPhone release next year. That’s a pretty good deal for the company.