The early days, when the iPhone was new, were special. Fifteen years ago, Steve Jobs and Apple designed what could best be described as silly product launch hype.
First, Jobs introduced the iPhone at Macworld in January 2007, but it would take months for the iPhone to officially launch. Whether by design or necessity, this delay turned out to be the best possible way to launch what would become a technological and cultural landmark.
Anticipation by availability details and the official release date built and built until Apple announced and of course the tech media reported.
The central Hype turned out to be the year-long Apple Flagship Store on Fifth Ave. While I remember launch day, I don’t remember attending or even walking around. However, accounts from the time described a line that literally ran down the front steps of the store and wound around the block. There were media and third-party companies trying to ride this wave of excitement. It was pandemonium.
the old fashioned way
Apple spawned all of this without the benefit of social media. Facebook was only a few years old and mostly only college students used it. Twitter has not caught on with the general public. There was no Instagram.
All of this was built on traditional media hype and word of mouth.
Apple leaned into him, hard. There were store employees acting like cheerleaders, leading people in chants of “When I say ‘I’, you say ‘iPhone’”.
the scenes of people waiting all night (opens in new tab) (sometimes for days) outside Apple Stores were repeated across the country.
Apple and Jobs have spent the past eight years building a brand devotion that some might argue trumped the concurrent quality of their products. I don’t see it like that. There has never been a company, tech or otherwise, that has managed to combine exquisite design and industry-leading quality and utility with a brand affinity that has become something close to a cult.
as a guy said The New York Times in 2007 (opens in new tab) as he waited online outside a Chicago Apple Store for the first iPhone, “If Apple made sliced bread, yes, I would buy it.”
The devotion was born out of products like the iMac, iBook and iPod. Steve Jobs was the glue that held it all together. It was hard to find an Apple fanatic who wasn’t as devoted to Jobs as he was to his iPod.
devotion and repetition
After that first release, I became a regular participant in the annual release events, which eventually moved from summer to September or October. For a while, the hype machine continued unabated. At the launch of the iPhone 6s, I remember to meet one of the first eager iPhone recipients (opens in new tab)a young woman who traveled from Lithuania to obtain a pink device that she has not yet been able to purchase in her home country.
Still, by then the tenor of events had changed. Yes, there were still lines, but they were often full of professional waiters who bought the phones for other people and those who bought them for resale. Pre-orders, home delivery and home activation have become commonplace – and easier than waiting outside an Apple store.
Queues were starting to shrink, but Apple’s hyperactive team was growing and getting bolder.
After the Lithuanian woman brought out her new phone, still boxed, they demanded that she unpack it for the crowd. She complied and seemed excited, but I found it a bit forced.
never the same
There are the occasional dots back to the excitement of yesteryear, like when Apple released the iPhone X in 2017. Its radical new look and notch created a buzz not seen since the days of Jobs. I thought the line at the Fifth Avenue store was among the biggest I had seen in years (opens in new tab). I had the phone earlier and when I waved it in front of some would-be iPhone X owners, they visibly fainted.
Obviously, the pandemic vaporized this phenomenon for a few years, but even before that, I’m not sure the iPhone customer queues were as big as the professional cheerleading squads on Team Apple that created a challenge for new iPhone owners. .
15 years later, Apple’s iPhone is still an excellent smartphone, clearly a leader in its field, but the hype bubble that Apple and Steve Jobs nurtured and grew is visibly deflated. We still love devices and buy them by the millions, but that cultural moment is gone.
I’m looking forward to the next product that can generate that kind of emotion.