The early days, when the iPhone was new, were special. 15 years ago, Steve Jobs and Apple engineered what could best be described as a hype monster to launch a product.
First, Jobs unveiled the iPhone at Macworld in January 2007, but it would be months before the iPhone was officially released. Whether by design or necessity, this delay turns out to be the best possible way to unleash what will become a technological and cultural touchstone.
Availability details and official launch date were created and predicted until Apple announced, and of course, the tech media reported it.
Hype Central turns out to be the one-year-old Apple Flagship Store on Fifth Ave. While I remember launch day, I don’t remember attending or even walking. However, reports from that time described a line that was literally running down the front steps of the shop and meandering around the block. There have been outside media and companies trying to ride this rising wave of excitement. It was pandemonium.
the old way
Apple produced all this without the benefit of social media. Facebook was only two years old and most of them were only undergraduates. Twitter did not catch up with the general public. There was no Instagram.
All of this is built on traditional media hype and word of mouth.
The apple leaned hard on him. There were store employees serving as cheerleaders, leading people into chants like “When I say ‘I’, you say ‘iPhone’.”
Sights of people waiting all night (Opens in a new tab) (sometimes for days) outside of Apple Stores has been replicated across the country.
Apple and Jobs have spent the past eight years building a dedication to a brand that some would argue has gone beyond the simultaneous quality of their products. I don’t see it that way. There has never been a company, technology or otherwise, that has been able to combine great design, industry-leading quality and utility with a brand affinity created in something close to cult.
As one man told the New York Times in 2007 (Opens in a new tab) While waiting online outside an Apple Store in Chicago to get his first iPhone, “If Apple made slices of bread, yeah, I’d buy it.”
The dedication was born from products such as 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 loyal to his job as he was to his iPod.
Loyalty and Repetition
After that first launch, I became a regular at annual launch events, which eventually moved from summer to September or October. For a while, the noise machine continued unabated. Upon the launch of the iPhone 6s, I remember meeting one of the first enthusiastic iPhone recipients (Opens in a new tab)a young woman who traveled from Lithuania to get a pink device that she still couldn’t buy back home.
However, by that time, the course of events had changed. Yes, there were still queues, but it was often full of professional waiters buying phones for other people and those buying for resale. Pre-orders, home delivery, and at-home activation are all commonplace — and easier than waiting outside an Apple Store.
The lines were starting to shrink, but Apple’s team of redundant customers was growing and getting bolder.
After the Lithuanian woman brought her new still-trapped phone outside, they demanded that she take it out of its case for the public. She complied and seemed excited, but I thought she was a little forced.
Never the same
There are some surprising moments harkening back to past excitement, like when Apple introduced the iPhone X in 2017. Its radical look and new notch created a stir we haven’t seen since the days of Jobs. I thought of the line at Fifth Avenue It was among the biggest I’ve seen in years (Opens in a new tab). I had the phone early on and when I waved it in front of a few future iPhone X owners, they visibly fainted.
Obviously, the pandemic evaporated this phenomenon for a few years, but even before that, I’m not sure that the lines of iPhone customers were as large as the groups of professional Apple fans who 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 bubble of hype that Apple and Steve Jobs nurtured and grew is clearly deflated. We still love devices and buy them by the millions, but that cultural moment is over.
I’m looking forward to the next product that can generate that kind of thrill.