Hype in the tech world is part of the game. There are entire events dedicated to hype: CES, E3 and Mobile World Congress are all platforms for various companies to get in front of crowds and unveil groundbreaking technology. Some companies are better at this than others. I would argue that Apple has mastered the art of hype more than anyone else. At this point, Apple merely needs to send out an invitation to a press event and the tech world stops to pay attention.
Even Apple’s invitations themselves become the objects of scrutiny. Serious tech journalists will spend time and effort trying to decipher the meaning of every word and image on an invitation. It says a lot about Apple — and about the tech news industry — that people will go to these lengths just to get a glimpse of what might be coming down the road.
But it doesn’t stop there. Reports from supply chain companies invariably leak out ahead of a major announcement (this is particularly true for Apple products). Everything from a device’s form factor to specifics like the types of chips you might find inside it could become public knowledge weeks before the official announcement. By the time Apple held its press conference for the iPhone 5 launch, we all knew what it would look like. Spy reports and leaked images had beaten Apple to the punch. It was as if we discovered a stash of presents and peeked inside two weeks before the big birthday party.
And, just like my birthday party analogy, when it came time to reveal the new iPhone many people felt underwhelmed. It was exactly what they expected because of the endless reports that flooded newsfeeds about the design of the device. We learned some particulars — like exactly how thin and light the handset would be. But many of us weren’t floored by the unveiling — partly because we had already peeked in the presents closet.
Next, I saw several tech news outlets express a sense of disappointment or apathy. Apple failed to knock our socks off. But if we already know what Apple is going to say, how could we expect any other outcome? In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not an iPhone owner. But I can still appreciate the beauty and utility of the device. Even as someone who is in no way an Apple fanboy, I felt the reaction to the iPhone 5 event was a little unfair.
Some argue — legitimately, I believe — that we’ve entered into an era in which improvements to smartphone technology will be gradual and small. The days of driving a crowd bonkers with a new smartphone may be behind us because we’ve defined the form factor and the basic set of features. Someone may still come up with a killer feature that sets one phone apart from all others but it seems to be increasingly unlikely. If that’s the case, even if we didn’t know anything about the iPhone going into Apple’s presentation we wouldn’t have come out of it impressed.
There’s also something to be said for tech news fatigue. Apple draws a lot of attention and many tech news outlets cover the company extensively (and repeatedly). That creates a bit of a backlash in the tech news community — some people grow tired of the endless coverage. By the time Apple’s announcement goes live there’s already a sense of dissatisfaction.
All that being said, despite the unenthusiastic reaction to Apple’s announcement across the Web, despite the fact we had peeked into the closet and seen what we were going to get as a present and despite the implication that we are in the “ho-hum” era of smartphones, the iPhone 5 pre-order numbers broke all records. According to Apple, within 24 hours people ordered more than 2 million handsets. That’s twice the number of iPhone 4S pre-order figures.
That may mean that it really doesn’t matter if we know what’s coming or if tech experts remain unimpressed. It may not matter that developments in smartphone technology are evolutionary rather than revolutionary from here on out. In the end, people want the phone.
Will we back away from covering every move Apple makes so that future presentations will pack more of a punch and offer up more surprises? Don’t count on it. With Apple breaking more records, tech news outlets get the message — people love Apple more than ever. I’m guessing we’ll see even more intense coverage in the future. It’s going to become incredibly challenging to keep an Apple product a secret from the public at this rate. But then, looking at the sales figures, maybe that’s the way Apple would want it.